Excerpt: This is the heartwarming tale of a young motherless girl called Emily who has recently lost her beloved father. Emily’s mother’s side of the family draw lots to decide who will have the responsibility of taking care of the young child. Emily goes to stay with her strict Aunt Elizabeth, loving Aunt Laura and friendly Cousin Jimmy at the idyllic location of New Moon Farm on Prince Edward Island. Despite her immense sense of loss, Emily draws comfort from her beautiful surroundings, the friendships she makes at every turn and ultimately her new family.
- Title: Emily of New Moon
- Author: L.M. Montgomery
- Published: 1923 by McClelland and Stewart, later published by Virago Press, 2013.
- Location of the story: Prince Edward Island, Canada.
- Main Characters: Emily Starr, Aunt Elizabeth, Aunt Laura, Cousin Jimmy, Teddy, Ilse, Perry.
Thirty years after I had read the Anne of Green Gables series I picked up Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery. When I shared that I would be reading this book on social media, many people told me how much I would love the book. I must admit my thoughts were laced with a great deal of doubt. Would an author who had beguiled me in childhood be able to exert the same power over me in my maturity? I can only answer in the affirmative. Undoubtably so.
The story opens with the revelation that Emily Starr’s father is dying and has but a few days to live. We witness the heart wrenching sequence, where motherless Emily is cruelly introduced to this fact via a woman who is a domestic help to the small family. Emily, a highly imaginative child, finds the luminous, magical world she has created for herself, crumbling before her eyes. Her consumptive father, her one and only mainstay in life, is being taken away from her and she has no-one else, in the whole wide world to call her own, except for her cats.
To add to the heartbreak, Emily’s maternal relatives, the Murrays, people who have shunned her father during his lifetime are charged with looking after the orphan. They do this willingly, as part of their duty towards their long-gone sister, Emily’s mother. The relatives assemble at the Starr house after Douglas Starr’s death, to draw lots and decide who the responsibility of bringing up the child will fall to. Strict Aunt Elizabeth, sweet Aunt Laura and funny Cousin Jimmy bring Emily home to New Moon Farm, on the other side of Prince Edward Island.
Emily’s great grief at losing her father is relieved by a number of factors. One of these are the lengthy letters that she secretly writes to her father. These letters help her to connect with him, allay her loneliness and also allow her to heal via the act of creative writing.
Emily’s grief is also alleviated by the joy she finds in the natural beauty surrounding New Moon Farm. She finds joy in the trees, the flowers and the beauty of New Moon’s surroundings. When Emily sees an object of great beauty or is moved by a vision or a scene, she experiences a moment of great ecstasy, that moves her to write.
…And always when the flash came to her, Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.
Emily is also enraptured with Cousin Jimmy’s beautiful garden. Cousin Jimmy provides Emily with companionship and a shared love for poetry. Due to an unfortunate accident that occurred during Cousin Jimmy’s childhood, that caused irreparable damage to his head, the folk around New Moon Farm are of the opinion that Cousin Jimmy is ‘not all there’.
Emily, who grows to like Cousin Jimmy’s gentle ways, states memorably:
As for Cousin Jimmy, he was nice. Whatever part of him was missing, it wasn’t his heart.
Emily forges a great many friendships. There is the tomboy Ilse who lives next door. Emily and Ilse are constantly sparring but despite this fact, their bond of friendship is very strong. Emily, motivates motherless, undisciplined Ilse to attend school.
Emily also befriends artistic Teddy and helps him to emerge from his possessive mother’s shadow. But most of all, Emily influences, farmhand Perry. Perry tries to learn etiquette and manners and strives to do well at his lessons at school.
Outside of Emily’s close knit circle of friends is kind Aunt Laura. In Aunt Laura’s affection, Emily tries to find the mother that she never knew.
Emily of New Moon, the first book in the Emily Starr trilogy, introduces us to Emily, shows us how she adjusts to the new environment of New Moon Farm, how she makes innumerable, meaningful relationships with the people around her and how she constantly seeks solace for the loss of her father though writing.
Emily’s character, like that of Anne Shirley’s, is laced with faults. We witness her getting into various scrapes but we also see that she is conscientious enough to try to redeem herself in the situation, which makes her character eminently likable.
One cannot help but draw comparisons between Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon. Both books are set in Montgomery’s native Prince Edward Island. Both Anne and Emily are orphans who feel unwanted in their future homes, at least initially. Both Anne and Emily find people in the household who are kind and sympathetic to their emotional needs. Anne finds Matthew, Emily finds Aunt Laura and Cousin Jimmy. Both girls forge close friendships; Anne with Diana Barry, Emily with Ilse. Both girls have potential future suitors. Anne and Emily both have a hard time with their teachers in school. Both girls are highly imaginative, with a love for reading and writing. I must say that I feel Emily gets into fewer scrapes than Anne!
Even though there are undeniable parallels, the story for Emily of New Moon was interesting enough to claim my attention. The writing was especially poignant at times. The death of Emily’s father and her letters to her father are instilled with such pathos that one cannot but weep along with Emily, for her loss and how alone she is in the world. One can take heart though from Emily’s indomitable spirit and her ability to forge friendships and find beauty in her surroundings.
Montgomery has yet again presented to us a passionate, willful young woman with a tragic past, eventful present and promising future.