Chapter 5: Diamond Cut Diamond
By, Caroline E. Jones
After forty-ish years of reading this book, I finally decided to look up the meaning of this chapter’s title; according to The Free Dictionary by Farlex, this phrase refers to “a situation in which a sharp-witted or cunning person meets their match.” Yes. The “diamonds” in this chapter, Emily and Aunt Elizabeth, establish their relationship in these moments, thus setting the tone for most of the book, and creating the primary character vs. character conflict. Montgomery brilliantly deflects our attention to the kindness of both Aunt Laura and Cousin Jimmy, so that, initially, Aunt Elizabeth’s stern reserve seems secondary, especially once Emily’s place at New Moon is properly secured. (Of course, the scene in which Emily is made to seal her own fate by drawing a name is excruciating--pardon the italics, Mr. Carpenter—and Aunt Elizabeth’s “regal” and “inexorable” conduct of the ordeal is key in that.) Once Emily’s fate is decided, we’re so happy she gets to stay with Laura and Jimmy that Elizabeth seems entirely manageable. But, recall, “Diamond Cut Diamond”: Emily may indeed have met her match. We see these diamonds clash over two fundamental issues: the cats and the account book.
Both of these matters are breathtakingly unfair. Elizabeth’s concession that Emily “may take one of [her] cats” simply emphasizes her failure to understand. How can Emily possibly choose between two so different yet well-beloved creatures as Mike and Saucy Sal? Before Sophie’s Choice even existed, I couldn’t bear the thought of having to make it (which is why I’ve neither read Styron’s book nor seen the movie to this day). Montgomery emphasizes Emily’s anguish at having to make this choice, and her maturity in putting aside her own preference to consider the best options for both cats.
The matter of the account-book is possibly more viscerally painful than the matter of the cats. It picks up on Emily’s discovery of writing for its own sake in chapter 3, and foreshadows the confrontations over writing (and privacy) that pervade the rest of the novel. Emily chooses to sacrifice her work, her reflections, her memories of the house in the hollow, and her fancies about her cats, rather than have it violated by someone who is “not fair.” As she regards the “little heap of white film” that once held her dreams, Emily is able to weep for all she has lost: the book, her father, her cat, her home. Everything has changed.
This utterly wrenching chapter in which diamond cuts diamond and there is no clear victor (Emily keeps one cat, but not both; Elizabeth doesn’t get to read the account-book, but Emily loses it entirely) ends on a softer note: Emily bids farewell to her home and all the special places that surround it. Ellen Greene astonishes Emily by weeping at their parting, and Emily stuns Ellen by acknowledging that “of course” she feels worse over leaving Mike than leaving Ellen. But, as they drive away, Aunt Laura comforts Emily with her understanding, and Emily realizes that she still has someone to love.
“Diamond Cut Diamond.” The Free Dictionary by Farlex, Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary, 2017, idioms.thefreedictionary.com/diamond+cut+diamond. Accessed 5 June 2019.
Bio: Caroline E. Jones lives in Austin, Texas, with four cats, whom she could never choose between, and a shocking number of account-book equivalents.