The Ladies of Missalonghi/The Blue Castle Book Discussion

Hi to all who expressed interest in participating! I hope this has given everyone time to read the two books if they hadn’t already.

A few questions I’ve thought of to get it rolling…

First, from what little I was able to find on the web, it seems that McCullough denies that she (intentionally) borrowed from The Blue Castle. Does anyone think this is feasible, considering the similarity of the plot, and maybe more importantly, the details (young woman living with mother & elderly cousin, similar character descriptions, etc.)? Could it have been unintentional, that she didn’t remember the earlier book, but it was a subconscious memory that came out during the writing?

Another possibility is suggested here, where a reviewier in the NY Times suggests that Ladies is a “genteel parody” of the genre of books that the character Missy reads, which I think may reasonably include The Blue Castle. Although I think the book reads somewhat like a parody, I read another writing on the web that suggests that McCullough might have made it more obvious that it was a parody, by referencing The Blue Castle somewhere more directly (can’t find that cite right now, sorry.) I would think that the scene in which Una, poking fun of the genre, summarizes a plot of a book for Missy, would be a perfect time to recount the plot of The Blue Castle more exactly, as a way of referencing that specific book. Any thoughts on this? As I read Ladies, I got a very strong vibe that it was intended to be a feminist “answer” to the romance genre that The Blue Castle belongs to, and I can almost see an author rewriting it by taking the tack, “What would happen if Valancy weren’t such a shrinking violet, and had the opportunity to take control of her life on purpose, vs. just having the serendipitous circumstance of the letters getting mixed up? What if she could elevate her financial circumstances independently, put the controlling men in their place, AND figure out a way to marry and have a life apart from her elderly relatives?” I found it interesting that the point where Missy starts plotting all of this is the point where the stories diverge. Based on this, I could believe that Ladies is a parody, but if so, why would McCullough deny it? And is it possible to create such a parody accidentally? :dubious: Seems fishy to me!

I guess my last question is…which book did you prefer? And do you think that preference is influenced by which book you read first? I have long been a fan of Montgomery in general, and I am fond of The Blue Castle, sappy though it may be. :slight_smile: I liked The Ladies of Missalonghi, but I don’t think that McCullough has quite the same lilting grace or knack for dialogue in her writing that Montgomery had.

I have mixed feelings on the plagairism suggestion. Mostly, I guess, I think that a lot of the similarities between the books are deeper than superficial, but not distinctive enough to confirm plagiarism. Example: both heroines live with their mother and another female relative, both households are poor, both heroines are doomed by their looks to be old maids from childhood, etc.

On the other hand, some of the differences seemed like deliberate intensifying. Like Missy’s relatives keeping her household poor out of greed, yes, but almost a bit of malice. I didn’t see the same degree of wilfull indifference in Valency’s relatives. And Olive only thought it might be exciting to run away, while cousin Alicia eloped with the chauffer. And most obviously, Barney Snaith’s turns out to be the son of a wealthy man, while John Smith came to town to take revenge on the whole family. Even a pretty green dress with a red girdle changing into a red dress.

So I’m not convinced either way.

Which book do I like more? I don’t know. I’d previously read Ladies of Missalonghi in a Reader’s Digest Condensed book form, and I liked that better than the original. Most of the details I noticed which were new to me were deliberate bits of crudeness which I could have done without. Stuff like John Smith making reference to liking his new wife better each time she opened her mouth (and her legs). Or Sir? Billy’s appreciation of his son’s bride-to-be’s charms. I also found Blue Castle somewhat more depressing–even though I was reading it because of the similarities, so I knew there must be a happy ending, I had much stronger sense of how hopeless Valency’s life was than I ever recall of Missy’s.

I like Valency’s approach to changing her life, and the fact that she doesn’t lie to Barney Snaith. But I wanted to shake her for being so convinced that he was only willing to put up with her because it was for a short time. And the whole thing with the string of pearl beads, likewise. And to my modern sensibilities, there’s something kind of weird about the way that we find out that Valency and her husband share a bed, but it’s not made obvious whether or not they have sex. Not that explicit sex would have improved the book, but the whole situation is so subtly mentioned to be almost funny in our modern era.

I liked Una better before I realized she was a ghost. I have mixed feelings about books with ghosts in them that don’t make it obvious to me going in that there will be a ghost.

It’s interesting, Eureka…almost everything you wrote points to me to deliberate parody. For example, the intensifying of the plot points and the more explicit details of the sex. Still doesn’t make sense with McCullough denying it, though.

Oh shoot – I have a bunch to say, but no time to say it. I’m right in the middle of a project I’ve been working on all day and haven’t had time to post. And it’s 10:00 PM now and I’ve still got an hour or so of work before I can go to bed… So I’m just going to bump the discussion with a promise to come back in the morning with more substantial comments.

It has to be a parody. The Ladies of Missalonghi is just too ridiculous to be taken seriously. It was a fun read, but Blue Castle was far and away its superior in terms of the writing and the story. As a parody I think Ladies is quite clever - as a serious story it’s just silly. It just seems too deliberately crude and over-the-top in so many ways (I kept going :eek: throughout the book), and the details are too similar to Blue Castle for it to be taken as a general parody of the genre (like Northanger Abbey, for example). Especially the part about the heart disease. It seems almost impossible that two authors would come up with such an idea independently of each other. I can’t imagine why McCullough would deny the connection. Maybe she was banking on the fact that Blue Castle is one of the more obscure Montgomery books?

FTR, I read Blue Castle first. Typical sweet and romantic Montgomery book (btw, have you guys read Further Chronicles of Avonlea? That’s the darkest I’ve ever seen Montgomery). Like I said, Missalonghi was more fun (and parts of it were refreshing, like when Missy gives Alicia her dress back smeared with dung), but only because I had Blue Castle as a reference point.

OK, I have a few minutes this morning, while everyone else is still in bed. For the last four days I’ve been woking on renovating my front staircase & foyer. I tore the carpetting off, then sanded, primed and painted the steps. A photo, so you can all be impressed. Then, yesterday, we tore out the old tile and mortar (and the carpetting in the back part of the foyer – we’re going to put new ceramic tile down. So I’ll be pretty busy this week, but I’ll try and keep an eye on the thread.

Anyway. I read The Blue Castle last month, and reread The Ladies of Missalonghi this week. My overall feeling is that McCullough was telling the truth about it being accidental plagiarism. It seems perfectly believable to me that McCullough may have read Blue Castle as a child, then internalized it for years. Then, when she decided to write a book about a town full of greedy, selfish men who are routed by the women they had abused and marginalized, the basic plot of Blue Castle came out of her subconscious to form the framework of the book.

Really, the two books share only a very basic framework. There are some rather specific similarities other than the overall plot, but when you read the two books side by side, these similarites can still be explained away by a subconscious memory. For instance, both Valancy and Missy dislike oatmeal – well, lots of people dislike oatmeal, possibly even McCullough. For another, both women have pictures of queens hanging in their rooms – Queen Alexandra for Missy; Queen Louise (who is Queen Louise, anyway? Canada never had a Queen, did it?). The description of Valancy’s sad room was pretty vivid – I could see it staying in McCullough’s subconscious and surfacing when she was writing about Missy’s room – although, in the end, the only similarity between the two rooms (other than an overall discomfort) was the photos of the queens.

Which book did I like best? I really enjoyed Blue Castle, but in the end, I didn’t have the soft spot for it that I have for Ladies (which I’ve read and reread many times since it first came out). Blue Castle actually reminded me of a lot of turn-of-the-century novels I enjoy. It had that vibe – the put-upon Heroine Who Triumphs In The End. Really, other than the overall framework of the plot, Blue Castle reminded me more of Girl of the Limberlost than it did Ladies. I thought Valancy, as a character, seemed much more like Elnora Comstock than she did Missy Wright.

I have loved Ladies for years. And I enjoyed it just as much when I read it last week as I ever did. This newly discovered controversy hasn’t diminished my enjoyment of it at all. That said, there are two things I’ve always disliked about the book and reading Blue Castle has crystalized that dislike. I hate Una-the-Ghost. I always thought I’d like her fine if she’d just been real; but upon reading Blue Castle I realize that what I dislike is the way Una-the-Ghost drives all of Missy’s changes. Valancy’s changes were more satisfying because she was driving them herself. The other thing that’s always bugged me was the fact that Missy lies to John Smith about her illness. I love Missy, but I hate women who lie to ‘get’ men. Reading Blue Castle, I can see how much better it would have been had Missy also thought she was dying. I’m sure this was Una-the-Ghost’s crooked influence on her.

Looking forward to reading some more comments on these books.

Hazel, I am agreeing with you more and more that it must be a parody, the more I think about it. But it seems so odd that she would deny it. Could it be that she was trying to parody the genre, and the plot of the other book was subconsious, like Jess suggests?

Maybe. But the aspects that were parodied just seem so specific. Especially the heart disease part. I suppose heroines wasting away of an illness is a pretty popular plot point for romantic novels, but the way Missy actually had a heart pain that caused her to go to a specialist, leading her to deliberately take an old lady’s diagnosis for her own - that’s the part that gets me.

You know, I’d almost say that Blue Castle works better as a genre parody than Missalonghi. The romance genre in question is full of pale, beautiful ladies who are both strong of will yet weak of body, and dashing, rich, good-for-nothing scoundrels who end up seeing the error of their ways when their ladies die (or when they die - SOMEONE has to die, at any rate). But Valancy is an old maid, not conventionally beautiful, and both strong of will AND body (although it takes the shock of believing herself to be on the verge of death for her to discover her strength of mind, ironically). Her lover, what’s-his-face, IS rich, but not in the traditional aristocratic way, and writes nature books instead of doing manly things like, I don’t know, going off to war or hunting or whatever. They learn the truth of their love not through death but through life and revelation. Meanwhile Olive, the traditional kind of heroine, is left in the dust and doomed to a boring life.

Does that make Missalonghi a meta-parody? :smiley:

I’ve loved TBC for years and years. This is the first time that I’d ever read Ladies and I hated it. The character of Una really bugged me and then bugged me a hundred times more when I found out she was a ghost. I really hated that Missy lied to get her man. I also hated the coarse talk. The worst was the one about being rough but “not rape her exactly”. Whoa! And actually mentioning the internal exam at the doctor? Weird. I mean I didn’t expect the actual sex, due to being used to LMM, but some of it was really too out there.

I’m willing to believe it was accidental plagarism, because it really was only that framework that matched. I can see her internalizing it and then coming out later. Very strange though. I’ll probably never read Ladies again, and will probably continue to reread Blue Castle every couple of years.

The sex was incongruous in that book (Missalonghi). I’m not against sex in books, but it just seemed so vulgar in context. It’s like I was at a fancy tea party and suddenly one of the ladies started dancing on the table.

I agree. It’s not so much that it was particularly explicit sex, but it was described in a very crude and off-putting manner.

And it all contributes to John Smith being a guy I want to like because he’s Missy’s dream man, and I like the revenge he’s taking on the Byron Bottling Company and Missy’s more jerky relatives, but I’m still left wondering what in the world she saw in him.

The crudity doesn’t bother me. Possibly this is because I’m rather crude myself. :wink:

Or maybe it’s because I read Ladies first, years before I’d ever heard of Blue Castle. So I didn’t have any expectations about the chasteness of any of the characters. I could see how it would seem incongruous to someone who read Blue Castle first and was making a direct comparision. Like reading semi-explicit, somewhat crude, sex in a rewrite of Daddy-Long-Legs.

Hey, I’m back from my trip! I was sorry to miss the begninning of this discussion, but I had a really great time.

I can’t really see Ladies as a parody. If it is, then it’s a very bad one because it isn’t funny. Northanger Abbey is a good parody. Cold Comfort Farm is a good parody. This isn’t. Besides, if it was a parody, don’t you think that Missy’s family members wouldn’t have been so nice? One of the major plot differences is how very nice her mother and aunt are. They sincerely want more for Missy and they love her.

I like The Blue Castle better–I felt it was better written, and that the plot was better. Yes, it’s old-fashioned, but Valancy is honest. There’s no bizarro ghost. I don’t like the crudity in Ladies (for the same reason, and it wasn’t even erotic or anything). I do think Castle is trying to turn the romance novel on its head, in the Montgomery style. She did like to have unlikely, plain romantic heroines (admittedly, their looks improve with time), but Barney really is the inverse of a romantic hero–though in another way, so is Gilbert, the boy next door.

As for the plagiarism question–well, I have a hard time seeing it as unconscious, and an even harder time thinking it was accidental. Perhaps you are all more charitable than I am. I think she hoped to get away with using a plot from an obscure novel.
In the spirit of romance parodies, I submit the first of the 6-chapter “novel,” The Unfeasibly Tall Greek Billionaire’s Blackmailed Martyr-Complex Secretary Mistress Bride–have fun!

Glad you had a good time! I was out of town the last couple days, too, so I could only post minimally. (My sister and I went to Fort Wayne, IN, to shop at the Vera Bradley outlet sale they do once or twice a year. Got some GREAT bargains! $48 pajama pants for $9! $50 silk scarves for $10! $90 purses for $28! But I digress…

I see your point here. I don’t see it as a funny parody, exactly, but sort of a bad-tempered takeoff that gives a more feminist spin on the romance genre. It’s much more critical of the men in the family, and a major part of the plot is the plan to get the money from them…which they deserve, of course, but as I recall of The Blue Castle, there isn’t an explanation of why some members of the family have money, some don’t, and makes certain families the villians in the scenario.

I agree that I like Valancy’s sense of honor in The Blue Castle, and it’s true that Montgomery did like to bring romance even to folks who didn’t seem romantic…I kind of remember in some of her short stories, she would write about very plain, rural-type, middle-aged couples who would find love, and the narrator would make some sort of comment that they were funny figures for a love story, but that the love story was just as genuine as any other, etc. etc. It’s definitely a theme in her work (Anne is another great example, as you point out, when she realizes her tall, dark, handsome, and dashing suitor is not a match for her, and she should be with her Gilbert).

I don’t disagree here…I think a lot of the details are just too close, and find it kind of hard to believe that she could subconciously remember things like the color of the dresses worn. And the plot, with the heart condition that didn’t turn out to be anything and there were letters written about that could be mixed up…it takes a lot of charity to assume that that was not ripped off, I think.

Your link isn’t working! Could you check it? I want to read! :slight_smile:

Hm, the link seems to work fine for me; the code is right. Could you try it again?

Montgomery never does concern herself much with money. Presumably the wealthier members of Valancy’s clan own businesses or stocks or something. But Valancy’s problem isn’t really poverty in terms of money, like Missy’s is; it’s poverty of love. Her mother and aunt (primarily, but also the rest of the clan) have squashed her flat, and when she gets out, she goes for freedom, not cash. Money only presents her with a new problem at the end when her husband turns out to be a zillionaire who hated his wealthy childhood. Now they’re going to have to figure out how to function in a new world together, and it’s not going to be easy. Living alone on the island was better, a temporary paradise–maybe an Eden, with unwanted money taking them out of it.

In Montgomery’s world, money has virtually nothing to do with happiness or virtue or love, and people who think about it too much aren’t living well. Did she ever write a story in which a character rightfully deserves money and gets it at the end–and that’s a major plot point? I bet she didn’t. And while the revenge theme in Ladies is viscerally enjoyable, it would have appalled Montgomery, who would have had a just Providence (not a person) enact any thwartings that were going to happen.

So I guess that difference is pretty major; Missy’s story is very concerned with money and revenge as well as romance, while Valancy wants freedom and romance. McCullough used the plot to make very different points. But I still think she lifted it on purpose. I guess I agree that she did a “bad-tempered feminist take-off” on the romance novel, but she also tried to have it both ways what with the angel and the true love and all. And I’m not sure how feminist it is to trick a man into marriage with a lie–I’d say it isn’t feminist at all.

I got it now, thanks! I will definitely read it in a bit.

You are right…one of the things I’ve always liked about Montgomery are the values she clearly held and conveyed in her works…love, honesty, hard work, dignity, etc. Her wealthy characters were never made happy by their wealth, but happiness was always found elsewhere.

Well, I would agree with you there. I was thinking of the revenge plot as being the feminist angle…that she figured out how to thwart her male relatives and overturn the patriarchical hold they had over the family.

Well, yes, but is it a feminist story if only half of the plot is feminist and the other half is manipulative? Personally I don’t think so, but that’s just me.

I do wonder why Missalonghi ends with Una telling Missy to maintain her lie. For me it only works if the story is parodying Blue Castle and the author is trying to make some kind of cynical comment on married life (like honesty is not the best policy in a marriage, despite how Blue Castle ended).

I like the word you use…cynical. Maybe that’s more of the type of “parody” she was going for…not a humorous one, but a cynical commentary on the romantic genre, where everything has a happy ending.

dangermom, I agree that this is not my personal definition of feminism, but I think that there is a certain set of feminists who do have a very cynical view of the world, the status of women in it, and their relationships with men. The impression I got from the plot of Ladies was that a commentary was being made about women who let themselves get taken advantage of, and that you need to do whatever you need to do to be sure that you are NOT taken advantage of. Perhaps it’s the difference between feminism 20 years ago, when Ladies was written, and by someone of an older generation (McCullough about 70, I think, which is my mother’s age, and I think you are closer to my age, 41?) I think back in the 70s & 80s there was a different attitude, because women were still trying to break the bonds of patriarchy to a certain extent, and perhaps this book reflects that?

Very true. It’s Diana’s Aunt Josephine, I think, who’s used as an example of this in the first Anne book- rich, sophisticated, and selfish and not very happy until she meets Anne. And Jane, who marries a millionaire, is made happy by the man and not his wealth, even though her mother talks incessantly about Jane’s Good Fortune in Marrying Rich. It’s used to point up the mother’s obviously vulgar character. Montgomery doesn’t overvalue money.

I don’t remember if there’s a parallel to the drunken carpenter in Ladies. IS there? Sorry, it’s been years since I read either book, although I’m following the discussion with interest.