Chapter XXIII- Deals with Ghosts
By, Emily Woster
“It was awful but interesting.”
“Deals with Ghosts” contains some of my favourite bits of Emily. Not just my favourite bits of the text, but some of my favourite things about the novel as a whole. The chapter can probably be summed up by Emily’s perfect little comment, regarding a book on Dr. Burnley’s now-forbidden bookcase, “It was awful but interesting.” Shouldn’t all ghost stories be just that?
The chapter also provides another example of Montgomery’s genius at mixing genres in and for Emily’s story. I love that a novel by a writer about a writer contains such a variety of styles and tales. Emily of New Moon, and remember we’re only a bit over ⅔ of the way through, contains traces of fairy tales and fantasy in the Wind Woman and Emily’s fancies; regional comedy and farce in so many of the Blair Water residents and Emily’s local scrapes or faux pas; tragedy and melodrama in Emily’s orphan hood and in her dealings with her new family; oral storytelling and family lore in Jimmy’s stories, appropriately told around a fire; allegory and parable with her poisoned apple and lessons learned; metafiction; autobiography; and even epic. After hints at the Gothic in Chapter 11’s adventure in the spare-room, Montgomery gives readers a full, if humorous Gothic ghost story in this chapter, complete with a Pink Room that is clearly another nod to Jane Eyre’s episode in a Red Room.
The Gothic notes of the chapter are woven beautifully throughout both the narration and Emily’s thinking. There is a lovely dark and ghostly chill about Wyther Grange, as Vappu Kannas noted last week, but now Montgomery doubles down and nearly every page is given over to images and impressions that set the stage for Emily’s terror later. The chapter is also chock full of italics, enough to stress that Emily is our focalizer and that things have gotten rather dramatic.
Our ghost story begins with the descriptions of Caroline and Nancy. “If Caroline were a witch she was a very small one. She was really no taller than Emily herself. She wore a black silk dress and a little string cap of black net edged with black ruching on her yellowish white hair. Her face was more wrinkled than Emily had ever supposed a face could be and she had the peculiar grey-green eyes which, as Emily afterwards discovered, ‘ran’ in the Priest clan.” While Great Aunt Nancy looked somehow “like an old fairy—an impish, tolerant old fairy, who might turn suddenly malevolent if you rubbed her the wrong way—only fairies never wore long, gold-tasselled earrings that almost touched their shoulders, or white lace caps with purple pansies on them.” Caroline has a “thin, rattling laugh” and she leaves Emily in the Pink Room with the comforting thought: “‘Good-nite. Nancy and I sleep in the old wing, of course, and the rest of us sleep well in our graves.’ With this cryptic remark, Caroline trotted out and shut the door.”
As Emily tries to sleep, she can’t help but think of Old Kelly’s boiled toad ointment and listen to the window rattle, a dog howl, and the creak of the floor. “Wasn’t there somebody--or something--tiptoeing round outside the door? Didn’t something move in the corner? There were mysterious sounds in the long hall.” She vows to write it all out in the morning, writing being her finest coping mechanism when things get hard to explain or process. But then she hears the “moans” and she admits that “Wyther Grange suddenly became a dreadful, uncanny place. Isle was right--it was haunted.”
After her horrible, sleepless night of trying to drown out the moans and flutters of ghosts, she finds out that, of course, the dreadful sounds she heard were just birds. By the light of day, the most horrible terrors are generally explainable by the most prosaic of things.
But in the framing of this chapter, Montgomery has let Emily’s early thoughts come true. For she “felt like one of the heroines in Gothic romance, wandering at midnight through a subterranean dungeon, with some unholy guide” as she enters Wyther Grange. She didn’t just feel like one, she got to be one. For our Emily had read The Mysteries of Udolphoin which another Emily-heroine succumbs to the strain of her own vivid thoughts. That earlier Emily notes that “her imagination, ever awake to circumstance, suggested even more terrors, than her reason could justify.” And our Emily experienced the same, leading her to make that most ironic of declarations, “Aunt Elizabeth was right, novels aren’t fit to read.”
Bio: Emily Woster is the past Visiting Scholar for the L.M. Montgomery Institute and current co-editor of the Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies. She is an assistant professor in the department of English, Linguistics, and Writing Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth and earned her Ph.D. in English Studies at Illinois State University. Emily’s work has focused primarily on the reading lives and textual worlds of L.M. Montgomery, including a chapter in L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys: The Ontario Years, 1911-1942. Her broader research interests straddle the worlds between women’s life writing, children’s literature, and English Studies.