Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery

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.

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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