Jenna St Hilaire's Reviews > Kilmeny of the Orchard

Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery
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's review
Jun 12, 2012

really liked it

All of Montgomery's fiction seems to turn on the concept of a personal fairyland, a world of radiant dream and joyous vision, of "beauty beyond the lot of mortals". This was perhaps most obvious in The Blue Castle, but is no less central to Kilmeny's story.

Eric Marshall finds his personal fairyland when he stumbles across an abandoned orchard, with lilacs and June lilies and apple blossoms running wild—a realm possessed by an exquisite, silent child-woman with a superb gift for the violin. Kilmeny and her orchard have ten times the magic necessary to captivate any decent man with a touch of poetry about him, and Eric is as enchanted as if she were the queen of the fairies, appearing to charm him out of his own world and into hers.

Far from being some beguiler from the fae, however, Kilmeny is the epitome of the virginal ideal: innocent by nature, but also carefully preserved from the stains and sorrows of the world; trusting as a child, but womanly and wise in her own way. And, of course, flawlessly beautiful. Short of depictions of Mary, it's rare to find an image of purer loveliness. The book is worth reading for this alone, though those who tend to resent perfection in a fictional character—and those who resent, in particular, the 'virginal ideal'—may find it less interesting.

Whether intended by Montgomery or not, of course, Kilmeny works only as a Blue Castle or radiant dream. Women who combine her physical and moral infallibility with exceptional talent and a malleable, appealing temperament show up about as often in reality as men who unite all Mr. Darcy's perfections to an English manor with a gorgeous park ten miles round. For readers who value dreams, however, this cannot detract from the pleasure of reading about Kilmeny, and she would probably have a fair number of namesakes born over the last hundred years if the name could not be basically pronounced as "kill many".

The name itself comes from a James Hogg ballad entitled, simply, "Kilmeny". The parallels between the sweet Kilmeny Gordon of Lindsay and the too-pure-for-this-life Kilmeny of the "green-wood wene" are unmistakable, though the tales differ greatly; it's almost as if Montgomery took her idea of the nascent, pre-vision character of the ballad and wrote another story for her, liminal in its own way, but with less of the unearthly poignancy.

The book contains the old northern prejudice against hotblooded peoples from warmer lands, and the Italian orphan Neil Gordon suffers accordingly. His actions serve their part in the plot well enough, however.

As Mrs. Williamson says, Eric Marshall "is a fine young man, only a little thoughtless"—wealthy and confident and clever, prone with some reason to think rather well of himself, but good and reliable despite all that. The heroine of this story is far more interesting than the hero, and both worldly justice and poetic justice make it imperative that he be worthy of her. Eric proves his quality not merely by having money and looks and passion, but by his decency to his friends, his respect for all women, his stability, and his willingness both to accept painful criticism and to defend his own decisions when he is in the right.

Though neither prose nor tale flows quite as naturally as some of Montgomery's other works, it's a sweet and simple read—a delightful, mostly-hidden little beauty, rather like the old orchard it describes.
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Finished Reading
June 12, 2012 – Shelved

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