It’s been a long time since I last visited Emily Byrd Starr, the main character of L. M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon (1923). Emily isn’t as famous as Anne, the star of Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, but she’s every bit as lovable. She’s an imaginative child and an aspiring writer who recognizes and embraces the world around her:
[Emily] loved the spruce barrens, away at the further end of the long, sloping pasture.That was a place where magic was made. She came more fully into her fairy birthright there than in any other place.
Sadly, Emily isn’t lucky enough to stay in this magical place. By chapter three, she loses her beloved father, setting into motion a cascade of tragic events, including the gut-wrenching loss of the yellow account-book into which Emily poured her creative thoughts.
When I signed up to participate in the #ReadingEmily readalong (hosted by Naomi of Consumed by Ink), I remembered the basic outline of Emily’s story, but I didn’t remember the details, and I certainly don’t remember crying over it. But I cried this time.
Am I more sensitive now?
My friend Jaclyn of Covered in Flour (linked below) had a similar experience:
Reading Emily as a child, I was terribly sad for her but didn’t give her father much thought in his own right. Reading Emily as an adult, I can imagine what he must have felt, knowing that he would have to leave his beloved daughter to fend for herself in the world, that his moments with her were dwindling and that he would not see her grow up and achieve her dreams and fall in love. (I’m getting weepy again.)
When I was a child, I didn’t have the life experiences to put myself into either Emily’s or her father’s shoes. In our modern society, life expectancy is far longer than it was in Emily’s day. Death felt remote to me as a kid, more so than it does for me now. These days, I worry about the loss of my parents, a loss many of my friends have already faced. I also worry about my children, who were born so early that their mortality was an ever-present fear in the early months of their lives, and that fear has never entirely disappeared. As a result, now that I’m an adult, I identify with ten-year-old Emily more than I did when I was her age.
However, when I look at my 9-year-old twins, with whom I’m #ReadingEmily, I wonder if I’ve misremembered my experience. They found Emily’s trials even more distressing than I did, crying especially hard when Emily’s yellow account-book became a “little heap of white film on the glowing coals.” Of course, these are the same sensitive souls who begged me to make sure that Anusha’s Manoj in Anusha of Prospect Corner, our #OwnVoices homage to Anne of Green Gables, met a different fate from Anne’s Matthew (see How I Betrayed My Kids – While Writing With Them).
Maybe I was the same way when I was their age. Maybe I don’t remember the tears I shed over Emily’s tragic circumstances.
Even when I look back on undeniably tumultuous times in my own life, such as my twins’ 78-day NICU stay, my memories do not fully reflect the reality. Nine years after their hospitalization, I still jump every time they get a cough, remembering the bleating ventilators and pulse oximeters, but most of the time, I only remember the positive parts. As I said a few years ago, when a fellow preemie mom quoted me (under my nickname) in Moving Beyond the Trauma of Preterm Birth:
Honestly, after three years, I have more positive memories of the NICU than negative ones. I was a wreck during our twins’ NICU stay, but I don’t really focus on that when I think back to that time. I miss hearing about every little milestone – every ounce gained, every step lower on the respiratory support, every poopy diaper – and I miss the nurses and doctors who cared for our twins for so long.
L.M. Montgomery understood this memory bias, giving Emily the gift of remembering her final weeks with her father as beautiful when the “pain had gone out of their recollection.” Perhaps it’s no surprise that I remember the magic of Emily’s vibrant world instead of the sadness. That’s just the way memory works.
To find other bloggers who are #ReadingEmily, check out:
- Naomi at Consumed By Ink (host): “The girl has pluck. It’s easy to see why so many readers move on from their infatuation with Anne and fall in love with Emily.”
- Sarah Emsley: “This month, I read L.M. Montgomery’s 1923 novel Emily of New Moon for the first time in many years, and while I remembered some aspects of Emily’s journey to become a writer—the diary she burns after her aunt reads part of it, the letters she writes to her father after his death, her ambition to become both a poet and a novelist—I had forgotten just how strict her Aunt Elizabeth is, how cruel her teacher is, and how much Emily has to fight to be taken seriously as a person.”
- Jaclyn at Covered in Flour (also quoted in my post): “And then there are books that are so intrinsically a part of you, books that you have lived in, that you will return to their pages for the rest of your life and even when you’re not in the midst of a re-read, you are carrying their subtle influence with you. Often, that’s a childhood book – one that was a formative influence on you when you were growing up. Emily of New Moon is that book for me.”