Tuesday, June 18, 2024

"Magic for Marigold" by L.M. Montgomery

My L.M. Montgomery Readathon Facebook group will begin reading and discussing one of Montgomery's lesser-known novels on/around July 1st: "Magic for Marigold," originally published in 1929.  As I usually do, I began reading the book on my own before our group read & discussion began. (And I'll count it as a re-read when we're done.)  

Our heroine is Marigold Lesley, the 6-year-old daughter of Leander, who died shortly before she was born, and the timid, "put upon" Lorraine, who continues to live under the thumb of her late husband's family, including Marigold's "Old Grandmother" and "Young Grandmother" at the Lesley family home, Cloud of Spruce, near Harmony Harbour on Prince Edward Island.  

I know I read "Marigold" once before, when I was a kid and devouring every Montgomery novel I could lay my hands on, in the wake of "Anne of Green Gables."  But I don't think I've read it again in the (*cough!*) many years since then, and I had very few memories of what the novel was about -- although a few of them came back to me as I started reading -- perhaps most memorably, the family conclave at the beginning of the book to decide what to name Lorraine's baby. (Several relatives decided that "Harriet Ellen Louise Lesley," after three fourth cousins who were all "foreign missionaries," would be just the thing -- until Old Grandmother, who had a wicked sense of humour, pointed out what those initials would spell!).  

Reading the book again now, as an adult -- dare I say, (near?) senior citizen?? -- I can see why I haven't been in a rush to pick it up again in recent years. On the plus side, there's a lot here that will ring familiar to readers of other LMM novels:  rapturous descriptions of PEI (and nature generally); witty dialogue; absent/dead parents; large, judgmental extended families (the Murrays of New Moon, the Stirlings of Deerwood), domineering matriarchs (Grandmother in Jane of Lantern Hill, Marilla Cuthbert, Aunt Elizabeth Murray);  imaginary friends (a la Katie Maurice in Anne of Green Gables);  beloved cats;  faithful family servants (Salome  & Lazarre here; Susan Baker in the Anne books, Judy Plum in the Pat novels).  I liked Marigold's (childless!) Aunt Marigold -- the female (!) doctor who saved her life as an infant and after whom she was ultimately named -- and Uncle Klon (first name "Horace" (!), but nicknamed "Klon," after his youthful exploits in the Klondike). There's a nice scene at the very end of the book:  

Aunt Marigold coming out, noted Marigold's face and sat down beside her. Aunt Marigold, who had never had any children of her own, knew more mothercraft than many women who had. She had not only the seeing eye but the understanding heart as well. In a short time, she had the whole story. If she smiled over it Marigold did not see it. 

On the other side of the scale, I have to admit that I just don't find Marigold as "int'resting" as many of Montgomery's other title heroines. Maybe because she's a child (she ages from 6 to 12 here). In many ways, this is a brutally honest portrayal of childhood (the terrors, the petty jealousies, the "mean girls" at school, the unsympathetic adults...) -- which is, perhaps, why I'm not as fond of it as this book as others? (brings back some cringeworthy memories...!).   

A few reader reviews described this as a "collection of stories" about Marigold and her family. Some of the material in the book was, in fact, repurposed from LMM's earlier magazine stories -- and we do go from one episode to another to another without much of an overall story arc. Many of the vignettes revolve around Marigold's visits to relatives, where she meets and makes friends with the local children and gets into various scrapes. 

Also (and, **content warning** here), the book is also, in some ways (as many older novels are), an uncomfortable reflection of the times it was written in. For example: Young Grandmother notes there was a "half-wit" in Marigold's mother's family (!), and Salome tells Marigold that their hired "boy" (he's married with children!) Lazarre will not go to heaven because he's French-Canadian (!). (Young Grandmother concedes that French-Canadians can, in fact, go to heaven, so long as they're good -- but her tone reflects her doubt that this is possible...!) The very last line of the book also seems both dated and somewhat sexist, and made me roll my eyes.   

After some thought and mixed feelings, I'm rating this one 3.5 stars on StoryGraph, rounded down to 3 stars on Goodreads.  If you're an LMM uber-fan/completist, you will want to read "Magic for Marigold" -- but there are many other books of hers worth reading first. You can probably safely skip this one (or move it further down in your TBR pile) without feeling like you missed out on much. 

This was Book #19 read to date in 2024 (and Book #2 finished in June), bringing me to 42%  of my 2024 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 1 book behind schedule to meet my goal. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2024 tagged as "2024 books."    

1 comment:

  1. I just finished re-reading "Marigold". I'm not sure I could tell you what this book is supposed to be about as a whole: if there is any theme, it seems to be spirituality and religion, which is always present in Montgomery's books but seems much more so overall in this book. Many of the chapters are great fun though. I love "Gwen": how poorly she and Marigold read each other initially, and their hilarious escapades after they figure each other out. "The Weed Man" is great. It's full of childhood nostalgia for me.