via email from Betty Beth:
Hello, Founding Bettys!
While I am still in the midst of writing my Betty Neels homage of a NaNoWriMo (I reached 50K and it's not done yet; how did that happen?!), I'm loving the Life After Betty books that are popping up. Between them and all the unread Neels that I haven't devoured yet, my to-read list is getting longer! Hopefully I can make some headway on it during the holiday season!
I wanted to offer a suggestion for Life After Betty, if that's allowed. The wonderful review of I Conquer the Castle reminded me of one of my favorite books of all time... The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables fame.
Unlike every other book L.M. Montgomery wrote, this book is not set on Prince Edward Island! But the beautiful scenery more than makes up for it - it's set in a fictional village in Ontario, Canada, sometime in the first half of the 1920s. Woods and lakes and flowers are, of course, lavishly described by the nature-loving Montgomery, and it's full of fun, small-village characters and gossip.
Our heroine is Valancy Stirling: twenty-nine, plain, unmarried, and completely run down by her family's insistence that she is dull and prone to illness. A true Betty heroine! She does her best to escape her petty mother and aunt by reading nature novels and building a fantastic "blue castle" in her mind where she is always welcome and can do whatever she wants.
When she is diagnosed with a heart problem, there is no dashing Dutch doctor to swoop in and save her, so Valancy decides she's at least going to do what she wants and be happy - two things her family have never allowed! Between talking back, saying precisely what she thinks (even to the rich uncle who the entire family treats deferentially in hopes of inheriting his wealth), and disregarding all orders to the contrary, Valancy discovers that she likes being happy, and decides she'll spend what time she has left on this earth doing whatever she wants.
This, of course, leads her entire staid and rather stuffy small-town family to think she's gone mad, and Valancy doesn't help matters by leaving home to nurse the dying Cissy Gay, outcast for having a baby out of wedlock. Cissy's father, the town drunk Roaring Abel, is hilariously up-front and only encourages Valancy to do what she wants. So she spends her time caring for Cissy as best she can in their lovely little cottage, and meets the mysterious Barney Snaith. The villagers don't like him much - rumors have him as a dangerous criminal or the father of Cissy's deceased child - but he treats Cissy and Valancy well and doesn't ostracize Roaring Abel for his drinking. So when Cissy dies and Valancy's family order her back home to put her wild ways behind her, Valancy does nothing of the sort.
Instead, she proposes to Barney. She only has about a year left to live, she explains, and while she's in love with him, she doesn't expect him to fall in love with her right back. (Sound familiar?) Barney accepts, and they're off and married before anyone else can have a word in edgewise. Barney lives on a little island in the middle of the lake, and Valancy moves out to it with him... only to be told that on no account is she to go into the mysterious "Bluebeard's chamber" where he disappears to work...
It's a brilliantly written novel, and you can't help but feel sympathetic to Valancy throughout everything. It's also a lovely slice-of-life work for the 1920's, full of little things that bring the period alive and make me smile (the price of gas, in particular...). There are mistaken identities (more than one!), gossipy villagers, eccentric uncles, secretly concerned aunts, vividly painted rooms and furniture that you can practically see, devoted family cats, heaps of nature scenes (it is L.M. Montgomery...) and a beautifully improbable resolution that is immensely satisfying.
Clothes: a despised flannel petticoat, an equally despised brown silk dress with a high collar and long sleeves, and after her "liberation", "She got a pretty green crepe dress with a girdle of crimson beads, at a bargain sale, a pair of silk stockings, to match, and a little crinkled green hat with a crimson rose on it. She even bought a foolish little beribboned and belaced nightgown." Plus a "little smoke-blue chiffon", a green bathing suit, a pearl bead necklace, and a life-altering pair of high-heeled leather shoes.
...And the food might not be up to Neels's standards, but oh, the names for the cars! "Tin Lizzies" and the "Lady Jane"!
It's one of my absolute favorite books to curl up with when I need to read a story about an unhappy woman's life turning around into perfection. And the best part of all is that it's online free to read! The Australian Project Gutenburg has the whole novel online, at http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200951h.html. So if you can't find it at your local library and are snowed in on a cold evening with just beans and toast, click your way over and enjoy the escapism into 1920s Canada!