Kilmeny of the Orchard (1910) and The Blue Castle (1926) are considered L. M. Montgomery’s two “adult” novels, so I had not thought to review them here, until I recently re-read Kilmeny, and was unpleasantly surprised at how trite I found it as an adult reader. My recollection is of its beauty, its human compassion, its ability to reveal all that is noble and moral and strong in its characters. I first read it as an idealistic teen—only 15 years old—and that doubtless influenced my interpretation of the power of the text, but there is certainly more going on than just my own progression from teen-aged idealism into a more jaded adult reality. Kilmeny of the Orchard does present characters who are noble, and moral, and deserve emulation. That I no longer identify with them—nor honestly believe that such people do or ever did exist—speaks not only to my own maturation process, but also to the stark discrepancy between the period in which Kilmeny was written, and our contemporary world. We have become cynical, as a society. This is understandable, of course, and I need not delineate the numerous historical events that have led us from the idealism of the Edwardian period to our modern state of social angst. I do want to point out, though, that Kilmeny is an artefact of an earlier, less troubled historical moment. We do not need to look so far as modern—or worse post-modern—literature to validate this assumption: The Blue Castle, written only 16 years later, shows distinct characteristics of a shift from the Edwardian idealism that fed Kilmeny to the post-war Modernism that began the rocky road to our current literary sensibilities. Even L. M. Montgomery, steeped as she was in the magical world of her fictional Prince Edward Island, could not escape the social and cultural ethos of her times. It is significant that The Blue Castle is set in Muskoka, not Prince Edward Island.
All that being said, Kilmeny of the Orchard, while it fails to satisfy the emotional needs of a 48-year-old reader in 2012, will remain one of my all-time favourite love stories. The purity of Eric’s love for Kilmeny, his straight-forward path towards claiming her as his own, his love’s ability to trump all obstacles, all speak to the simplicity of Montgomery’s perception of the needs of her readers at the time. The parallel between her 1910 audience and a naïve teenager in the 1970s is interesting, but causes me to wonder if there are any readers out there today—of any age—who would even be satisfied, never mind enthralled, by the romantic tale of the mute Kilmeny and idealistic Eric, who win each other’s hearts against all odds.