L.M. Montgomery’s Kilmeny of the Orchard is a stand-alone short novel published two years after Anne of Green Gables. Try as I might, I couldn’t help comparing the two as I read Kilmeny. Is this from the same pen from which Anne flowed into the hearts of thousands of girls around the world?
“Eric Marshall, tall, broad-shouldered, sinewy, walking with a free, easy stride, which was somehow suggestive of reserve strength and power, was one of those men regarding whom less-favored mortals are tempted seriously to wonder why all the gifts of fortune should be showered on one individual.”
Silver spoon-endowed Eric has just graduated from college. He informs his best friend (who just happens to be a renowned doctor who specializes in the field where he will be most needed in a few chapters) that he has no intention looking for a wife right now. He has other things to do. Besides, when he does choose a wife, she will have to be “practically perfect in every way.”
In order to get this young man to P.E.Island, his poor friend Larry must be sacrificed to consumption, thereby necessitating a plea for Eric to take his place teaching school, just for the summer. This is plenty of time for Eric to meet the girl of his dreams, who is “practically” perfect. He knows this immediately because of her beauty. She has one flaw, which doesn’t matter a whit to Eric, but matters terribly to her. There are a couple of hurdles blocking their perfect happiness, but they are smoothed over remarkably simply. Obstinate guardians duly charmed by the suitor? Check. Brilliant doctor friend called in to cure the girl’s ailment? Check. Dark, foreign rival out of the way? Check. All live happily ever after? Well, we never do hear what happens to poor Larry.
I have no quarrel with anyone who enjoys this story as a simple, sweet escape from reality. When I was rereading, I didn’t want to be so cynical. I remember liking it when I was on a quest, 30 years ago or so, to read everything Montgomery wrote. But, I wasn’t a teacher yet, and it may even have been before my daughter was born. As my ability to read selfishly has been severely damaged over the past few decades, I will share a couple of my concerns.
First of all, this should not be considered a follow-up book for young girls who love Anne. Kilmeny is 18 and Eric is in his early 20s. The entire focus of the story is romance. As Eric spends time with Kilmeny, he understands that he is awakening love in an innocent, sheltered girl and works deliberately to accomplish this.
One day while out walking, Eric happens upon Kilmeny playing her violin in the orchard. At first she is terrified of him, but they both come back the next day hoping to meet again. This goes on for several weeks before it is suggested to Eric that he shouldn’t be trysting with Kilmeny without the knowledge of her guardians; though he does go to them as soon as he admits to himself that he hasn’t been behaving honorably. Of course, people do thoughtless, selfish things all the time. What troubles me about this occasion is that there really are no consequences. The aunt and uncle are quite cool until they understand that Eric means to marry Kilmeny, then they are completely accepting of the situation.
Eric’s friend the doctor and his father are both incredulous that Eric could have found a decent woman in this P.E.I backwater, and his father tells him that if he thinks Eric is going to marry foolishly, Eric will have to make it in life without his inheritance. Both Dad and Friend are immediately won over as soon as they see Kilmeny. I came away from this reading feeling as though the message was that all you need in life in order to have everything you want fall into your lap is to be rich and beautiful.
Most of us like a little escape reading sometimes. I know I do. However, I cannot recommend this story as brain candy for preteen girls. Please save this one for later.