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Emily of New Moon Read Along: Chapter XXX: When the Curtain Lifted

Chapter 30: When the Curtain Lifted

By Caroline E. Jones

In this penultimate chapter, L.M. Montgomery resolves a major plotline, opening a window into the uncanny in the process.

When Emily succumbs to a particularly virulent strain of measles, her delirium gives her access to information no other living person has about Ilse’s mother, Beatrice Burnley. Thanks to Emily’s fevered “lifting of the curtain” between the present and the past, Beatrice is acquitted of both wrongdoing and ill-intent when her remains are found in the old Lee well. In the moment of revelation, Emily sees the young woman joyfully on her way home, eager to be with her husband and child, unaware of the open well in the field. She witnesses the fatal moment, unable to undo it, and agonizes over her own helplessness. Then she fixates on doing the only things she can: collect the remains and salvage a reputation.

As a younger reader I fixated on Aunt Laura’s characterization of Beatrice Burnley’s death: “It was a dreadful ending to her bright young life—but not so dreadful, after all, as what we believed” (26). Wasn’t it dreadful enough, I wondered, that she died so alone and so senselessly? I didn’t fully understand the importance of Beatrice’s lost reputation (and, reading with my modern lens, still don’t), but now I see, within the imperative for moral purity, the role of grief. Because Dr. Burnley believed his wife’s death tainted by infidelity, he could not grieve, and his inability to grieve separated him from the child of that “tainted” love. With the restoration of Beatrice’s reputation, Allan Burnley can let go of his anger and repent of his sins against wife, daughter, and God. The infidel is healed, and father and daughter discover a “rapturous” love for each other.

While chapter 30 ties up this very significant plot point, it also solidifies the cautious but burgeoning love between Emily and Aunt Elizabeth. Emily realizes, even before her illness, that she is no longer a duty to Elizabeth (315). This affection is solidified by Emily’s measles when Elizabeth and Laura watch ceaselessly at Emily’s side as the illness progresses, and Elizabeth is surprised and troubled by her fear of losing Emily. She also calls Emily “dear” for the first time, and has “a sudden bitter realisation that she really did not know much about the child’s mind” (320, 319). Emily, in turn, owns her absolute faith in Aunt Elizabeth’s integrity, recognizing Aunt Laura’s reassurances as meant to soothe her ravings, but knowing that if Elizabeth promises to search the well, she will (322). 

The lifting of the curtain on the uncanny also creates a central point for each of the subsequent novels, a way for Emily to reach beyond her Murray pride and acknowledge truths about herself—although those incidents are, sadly, beyond the scope of this discussion! More importantly, we see Emily maturing as a person and as a writer. In the first part of the chapter, the narrator elides the summer months, marking time not with the calendar or even incidents of Emily’s life, but with Emily’s inner growth: she recognizes the immaturity of her early work, and burns much of it; for the first time, she must keep a secret from those dearest to her, and bears the burden alone, knowing it isn’t true, but having no proof and no one to share it with. Emily is, indeed, growing up.

This recognition of her “old stuff” as “trash” is overshadowed by the dramatic revelation in the rest of the chapter. Yet it is these realizations that prepare Emily and the reader for the vocational affirmation of the book’s final chapter. Her ability to objectively critique her own work, and to respect her writing enough to critique it at all, prepare her for the final chapter’s “momentous bar” of judgement (330). 

Work Cited 

Montgomery, L.M. Emily of New Moon. 1923. Bantam, 1923.

Bio:

Caroline E. Jones lives in Austin, Texas, and has never, to her regret, had an experience of second-sight. Or (thanks to being born in the mid-20th century, and also, vaccinations) the measles.