Synopsis: Valancy Stirling, 29-year old spinster, is constantly shattered by her domineering family. They see her as plain, insignificant “Doss.” She has this marvelous snarky personality hidden away. She has dreams of a blue castle with her fabulous suitor (which changes from time to time, depending on what she’s grown into) and reads novels that echo Transcendentalism by John Foster, and she escapes the oppression of her family in silent ways. On her 29th birthday, she has pains in her chest and she sneaks off to see the doctor her family has boycotted. He informs her in a letter that she has angia, any shock to her heart can kill her, and has a year to live.
As you can imagine, getting a death sentence made Valancy regret living a meek life, always in the shadows, never even “having her own dirt pile”. So she developed a backbone. There are too many family connections and things that the family harped on to count, but isn’t it shocking when someone stands up for themselves after being kicked around for years? Valancy pretty much got herself written out of various wills by speaking her mind. Seriously, asking to be called by her given name was a scandal.
Valancy moves out to help her dying friend Cecily. Of course this caused more scandal in the family since Cecily had been branded with a scarlet letter and her dad is the drunk “Roaring Abel”. This situation works out for “everyone”: Valancy is farther away from her family, Cecily gets companionship that she’s longed for, and Abel gets a good meal. Valancy also meets and falls in love with the mysterious Barney Snaith, who comes by on occasion with sweets for Cecily. Valancy thrives in this setting.
When Cecily dies peacefully, the Stirlings expect for her to come back home. Instead, Valancy proposes to Barney and explains her health condition. She knows he’ll only be doing it because he feels sorry for her, and that’s okay; she just wants her last year to be happy. He just has a few conditions, like don’t read his mail, he has business he wants to keep private, and never tell a big or petty lie. She agrees as long as he doesn’t tell her to be careful with her heart. They marry, to the shock and dismay of the Stirlings. Barney and Valancy enjoy being together in their wild home. Valancy never believes Barney loves her, but she thinks he’s grown fond of her. He even calls her a dear. And although she’s never been considered a beauty like cousin Olive, a famous artist asks to paint her (and he only paints beautiful subjects). Barney calls her “Moonlight” and explains that her beauty is a wild beauty and not a common beauty.
While on a hike, Valancy’s shoe gets stuck in a rail track as a train is coming. That should have killed her, if her heart would stop at any big shock. She and Barney basically have a fitful silence that day, and Valancy worries that she tricked him and he resents her. She sees the doctor and he says he sent her the wrong letter; he saw a Sterling and a Stirling that day and got the two mixed up. (The other lady was an elderly woman who died in her sleep.) Valancy decides the fair thing to do is to leave Barney. She stumbles upon the fact that he’s the author John Foster when she’s looking for paper to write her goodbye letter. She goes back to her family, clears the air, and heads to her room. Barney comes for her, basically saying “I nearly lost you, I wanted to make sure I could keep you!” and he gives her his whole background. They live happily ever after. The End.
- I know this sort of optimism and innocence is kind of ridiculous nowadays, but I love this book. It’s so darn cute.
- This was published in 1926 but…. it takes places before bobbed haircuts were fashionable and after Chinese restaurants in Canada. Kind of odd, but hey.
- I find it kind of odd also that her cousin Olive, who even Barney admits is a “stunner,” isn’t given a load of crap because she is also unmarried at 28. There’s a lot of resentment built up there because Valancy was always compared to Olive, always had to give Olive her way, etc. As Barney also says, “all of Olive’s goods are in the front window.”
- In a weird way, I worry when I read and review books like this that I’m actually the Olive character or someone “holding a sister down.” It’s unintentional, of course. But I wonder about that at times. I’m pretty lucky, and there are times when I know I have lorded it over others.
- Example I’m thinking of: I student taught at the same school with another M.Ed. student. She was negative, unpopular, and didn’t test well. I am generally positive, well-liked, and smart. I aced the 7-8 English Praxis. You bet I bragged about it! I doubt that did much injury to her ego though, as she swore I must’ve taken a different test than her. (“Yours sounds easy– I failed mine!” ) In the end, she has a job and I sub/work at a museum, so whatever.
- Better example: I’m the “golden child” in my family. I probably screwed over my younger sister a lot due to my grades and annoying cuteness. Darling, my sincerest apologies.
- I think if you worry about acting like an “Olive” you are at the very core not an Olive, but still, a good precautionary thing to think about to ensure you don’t become a brat.
Grade: B+/A I can’t help it. I like to give A’s, but it’s just a darling little book. Some of the resolutions are a little too easy and coincidental, sure. But it’s always nice to read an older book with a spunky heroine, and that Valancy has spunk.