With the L. M. Montgomery Reading Experience this month, I decided it was the perfect time to revisit the Pat books. Pat is not as well-known as her literary sisters, Emily and Anne, but she has two charming books, and I was intrigued because Montgomery considered her one of her more autobiographical heroines.
Pat of Silver Bush follows Pat through childhood, from age seven to eighteen, touching on Pat’s small adventures along the way. I don’t mean “small” as a criticism–part of the charm of Montgomery’s books is that she takes the day-to-day concerns of a girl (and a family) living on a farm on Prince Edward Island, and spins out a beautiful story.
I like Pat, but I think I can see why she hasn’t captured the imagination the way fun-loving Anne or ambitious Emily have. All Montgomery heroines deeply love nature and a good story, and have at least a glancing appreciation for poetry. Pat’s interest is more glancing, and though she’s clever, she doesn’t have Emily’s brilliance. Pat’s chief quality is to love things intensely–often too intensely–and nothing more so than her home of Silver Bush. Pat worships Silver Bush, and can’t bear the thought of any changes.
It took me a bit to get into the book, and while that may have been a matter of transitioning out of sci fi, I think it also has to do with the particular incidents of Pat’s very early childhood. Pat can’t bear change–and so she has agonies of emotion over apparently minor things, to the point that it’s hard to sympathize. This problem is smoothed out as Pat gets older and begins to move in a larger sphere, with larger (and more genuine) concerns.
Pat is one of the few Montgomery heroines to have a large immediate family. Anne and Emily are both orphans. Pat has two parents and four siblings. The funny thing is, I don’t feel properly acquainted with most of Pat’s family. Her nearest brother, Sid, comes into it a bit, and her younger sister Rae has a significant role in the second book. The rest, though Pat loves them fiercely, seem to have very little actual presence in the book.
I was particularly struck by the portrayal of Pat’s mother. She’s lovely and loving and “the heart and soul of Silver Bush”…but she always seems to be off in the other room. Montgomery’s own mother died when she was a toddler, and she idealized the memory of her mother. Pat’s mother feels like a living version of this–beautiful, idealized, but not really there.
The one who’s there is Judy, the family cook and house mistress, who understands Pat better than anyone. Born in Ireland, Judy is an endless source of wonderful, improbable stories, either spooky tales of ghosts and fairies, or funny stories of family history–and of family history for everyone else in town.
The other two characters that shine are Pat’s two best friends: dreamy, ethereal Bets, and practical yet poetic Jingle. Despite his unfortunate name (and eventually switching to Hilary doesn’t help), Jingle is a delightful childhood sweetheart for Pat–because every Montgomery heroine seems to have one. Jingle is the mistreated near-orphan of the story, who sees the world clearly and dreams of making a mark in it–but can also join Pat in going in raptures over a bit of woodland. He has ambitions of becoming an architect, and is forever planning the house he’ll some day build for Pat.
One of my favorite chapters is when Jingle’s long-absent mother comes to visit, and it goes very badly. It’s a dark crisis for a Montgomery book, not a straight-forward tragedy but a crisis of disillusionment, and very moving.
Mistress Pat follows Pat through eleven years, from twenty to thirty-one, through a series of beaux, new friends and many new changes. Hired man Tillytuck is a wonderful addition, very colorful and frequently sparring with Judy. Rae comes into her own as Pat’s dearest friend, and Pat makes new friends out of Suzanne and David Kirk. They don’t have quite the charm of Bets and Jingle, but they have their moments.
This is a particularly interesting read after reading Montgomery’s journals, because I’m convinced she put so much of her own life into Pat’s. I’m sure Pat’s brother makes an unwise marriage because Montgomery’s son married a woman she didn’t approve of a year before the book was written. Pat’s feelings towards David Kirk remind me very much of Montgomery’s feelings towards her husband–though things turn out differently.
I think this is the most heartbreaking Montgomery book (unless you count her journals). The last third is all but devastating…so at the risk of a slight spoiler, I am glad Montgomery rescued Pat with a happy ending in the last three pages. I wish there had been a third book–I want to feel Pat’s happy ending, but even though she’s going on to a better life, we don’t get to see it. Oh well. It could have been much worse. It could have ended like Montgomery’s journals!
All in all, Pat doesn’t hold my heart like Anne or Emily, but I still love any Montgomery novel. Some parts are an absolute delight, especially Judy’s stories, and Montgomery never fails to paint the beauties of Prince Edward Island. These wouldn’t be the first Montgomery books I’d recommend picking up, but if you’re already acquainted with her other heroines, it’s nice getting to know Pat too.