If you’re reading this post, you’re probably familiar with our abiding love for all things L. M. Montgomery (excepting Emily of New Moon, but that’s a story for another day.) Our most intense fangirl squee is reserved for The Blue Castle, Montgomery’s 1926 romance novel and one of her only works for adults.
Haven’t read it? The full text is available online, courtesy of Project Gutenberg. You’re welcome.
Valancy wakened early, in the lifeless, hopeless hour just preceding dawn. She had not slept very well. One does not sleep well, sometimes, when one is twenty-nine on the morrow, and unmarried, in a community and connection where the unmarried are simply those who have failed to get a man.
The heroine of The Blue Castle is 29-year-old Valancy Stirling, an overlooked “old maid” with the misfortune to be born into a successful, popular, and utterly soulless clan in fictional Deerwood, Ontario. Upon learning that she has a fatal heart disease, she turns her sedate Victorian life upside down in order “that I may have one little dust-pile before I die.”
Valancy saw straight black hair; fine, straight, black brows; a nose she had always felt was much too small even for her small, three-cornered, white face; a small, pale mouth that always fell open a trifle over little, pointed white teeth; a figure thin and flat-breasted, rather below the average height. She had somehow escaped the family high cheek-bones, and her dark-brown eyes, too soft and shadowy to be black, had a slant that was almost Oriental.
We thought that Jess–with her tip-tilted eyes, fair complexion, and gap-toothed smile–would make a perfect Valancy. This Jess doll was purchased from a fellow board member almost three years ago to be customized for our Valancy.
Valancy thought she was almost pretty in that mirror. But that may have been because she had shingled her hair. . . . Barney cut the hair, square off at the back of Valancy’s neck, bringing it down in a short black fringe over her forehead. It gave a meaning and a purpose to her little, three-cornered face that it never had possessed before.
The bob–cut straight around the head at jaw level with a fringe at the front–was the signature (and highly controversial) hairstyle of the Jazz Age.
In staid Deerwood, Ontario, many hairdressers would have flat-out refused Valancy’s request to trim her long, fine locks, which her family decreed she wear in an unflattering pompadour. Our Valancy is sporting a Blythe black bob wig by GoodyBlythe.
When Abel Gay paid Valancy her first month’s wages–which he did promptly, in bills reeking with the odour of tobacco and whiskey–Valancy went into Deerwood and spent every cent of it. She got a pretty green crêpe dress with a girdle of crimson beads, at a bargain sale, a pair of silk stockings, to match, and a little crinkled green hat with a crimson rose in it.
Believe it or not, the green silk crepe de chine for Valancy’s dress was already in my stash, remnants from the green silk wedding dress I made for my brother’s wife in 2010. Even better, we had dyed-to-match china silk for lining as well as scraps of green silk organza.
In designing Valancy’s dress, I spent hours looking at magazines, fashion plates, and vintage sewing patterns from the mid-1920s. Elements were drawn from several different designs rather than copying a single garment.
Her bodice of crepe de chine has a unique one-piece construction with cap sleeves, jewel neckline (not completely indecent), and drop waist. The straight skirt is embellished with three tiers of narrow-hemmed silk organza flounces.
Valancy put on her green dress when she got home. Then she took it off again. She felt so miserably undressed in its low neck and short sleeves. And that low, crimson girdle around the hips seemed positively indecent.
I found the beaded trim at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco a few years back. It was absurdly expensive which is why I only had a third of a yard–which, luckily, was just enough for a crimson girdle.
“You look so nice and–and–different, dear,” said Cissy. “Like a green moonbeam with a gleam of red in it, if there could be such a thing.”
The dress is fully lined with green china silk–no exposed seams–and the back placket closes with vintage mother of pearl shank buttons and crocheted thread loops.
Valancy was still leaning forward. Her little hat with its crimson rose was tilted down over one eyes–Valancy’s smile–what had happened to Valancy!
The bell-shaped cloche hat was a 1920s fashion icon. Fashioned from felt and positioned low on the forehead, the close-fitting cloche could only be worn over bobbed or shingled hair.
Excitement brought those faint pink stains to her face. She flung on her coat and pulled the little, twisty hat over her hair.
Valancy’s cloche hat is handmade from pure Merino wool felt, shaped over a hat form and treated with a resin felt stiffener to hold its bell shape. The brim is finished with bias binding, while the crown is embellished with a ruched band of silk crepe de chine and a crimson silk flower with a fantastic elegant beaded center.
This evening she had been compelled to put on the little fancy pair of patent-leather with rather high, slender heels, which she had bought in a fit of folly one day in the winter because of their beauty and because she wanted to make one foolish, extravagant purchase in her life.
Valancy’s shoes have kitten heels, ankle straps, and sculpted black bows adorning the insteps. Her sheer skin-tone stockings are from an eBay seller. All they need is a seam up the back!
She hated that grey flannel petticoat more than any other garment she owned. Olive never had to wear flannel petticoats. Olive wore ruffled silk and sheer lawn and filmy laced flounces. But Olive’s father had “married money” and Olive never had bronchitis. So there you were.
Naturally, The Blue Castle doesn’t lend much space to the discussion of 1920s undergarments. But we can safely assume that after a lifetime of grey flannel petticoats, Valancy would seize the opportunity for stylish lingerie.
The envelope or “step-in” chemise was a lightweight undergarment worn next to the skin. Its straight cut emphasized the rectangular “Flapper” silhouette.
Cousin Georgiana . . . shook hands–furtively eyeing Valancy’s dress and wondering if she had any petticoat on at all.
Valancy’s Envelope Chemise is constructed of luxurious silk charmeuse trimmed with a bit of French lace. The front yoke is exquisitely pin-tucked.
A simple button closure at the crotch defines the leg openings.
To her delight, Barney gave her a necklace of pearl beads. Valancy had wanted a string of milky pearl beads–like congealed moonshine–all her life. And these were so pretty.
Valancy’s pearl beads are a fifteen thousand dollar gift from a Toronto jewelry house. We think Cecile’s pearl necklace adds an elegant touch.
Valancy’s Blue Castle Ensemble is for our private collection and not for sale. (Though I could probably be convinced to make more wool felt hats–that was really satisfying!) The world needs more fans of The Blue Castle, and I hope this custom ensemble inspires you to discover Valancy for yourself!