Chapter XXVI: On the Bay Shore
By Rachel McMillan
In “Chapter XXVI: On the Bay Shore,” Emily of New Moon undergoes an adult invasion with the arrival of Dean “Jarback” Priest. To this point, other adults in the series—Cousin Jimmy who has childlike aspects to him, the sweet Aunt Laura, the Montgomery Marilla prototype in the stern, but kind Aunt Elizabeth, and the eccentrics populating Wyther Grange (what Brontë lover doesn’t immediately think Wuthering Heights?) and Emily’s imagination—are par for the course in Montgomery. But Dean Priest is not. He is not the adult male like Mr. Carpenter, who serves Emily’s writing, he is not Cousin Jimmy who brings her Jimmy books. He is, rather, an adult who befriends a child with a lot of demands. Dean casts a long shadow over the subsequent books in the series and the harmless rescue at the center of this chapter shoves Emily into adulthood far earlier than Montgomery’s similar heroines Anne, Jane and Pat.
In fact, before we plunge into a chapter where Emily is introduced to a thirty six year old would-be suitor, we have her pondering her own mortality. This paradox is something that Montgomery will return to in several Emily and Dean moments throughout the trilogy. Dean’s introduction is set against a moment where the dark thoughts Emily muses upon come into visceral reality when she attempts to reach for a flower and almost topples to her death before her rusty knight arrives with his trusted dog Tweed. (If anyone is thinking of Rochester and Pilot in Jane Eyre at the moment, you will not be the first).
In Montgomery’s world, we most often see nature as something welcoming, inviting and a friend, when Emily encounters Dean Priest, the Island and its nature that coddles her with beauty and mystery and a sense of identity is dangerous.
Dean has as much place in the dream world and gorgeous landscape as Emily, who is coming into her own, developing her own ironic wit, and sharpening her words and pen.It is after her rescue, interestingly, that she begins to exhibit signs of unease: “Emily sat down, all at once more shaky than she had been through all the danger.” He doesn’t belong. In Montgomery’s journals she refers to a novel idea she was playing with called Priest Pond. My fancy is that Dean might be something transported from that idea. He shoves his way in and stays. To add, he makes Emily feel uneven: “My legs feel funny and trembly,” she admits after he rescues her on the cliff.
It is also interesting to note that Montgomery ends the chapter with a line from Jane Eyre-- a story many find romantic but is in several instances a study in manipulation and bondage. Rochester’s possessive language and actions toward Jane: to keep her aware of only certain tenets of his personality and history do not for a swoony love story make. The Brontë notion that people can belong to each other is ripe for the picking through that book and in Emily of New Moon. Montgomery, of course, was heavily influenced by Brontë: in the canvas of her natural descriptions, her sensibilities of romance and in the striking use of language to characterize landscape. In Dean Priest, Montgomery creates her own Bryonic hero and he intrudes in the last third of a book, which has been for the most part a künstlerroman: a story whose heart is the coming of age of an artist.
Montgomery uses Emily’s near death experience and her mulling on the nature of mortality to spin a chapter that sets a shifting tone. There is a part of Emily’s childhood that dies at on the Bayshore: especially when Dean claims that he will wait for her. And especially because while she is so much younger—and still a child—he forces her into early adulthood by claiming her. Indeed, it is the aster she crushes at his words of possession—symbolizing his attempt at subjugation ––that he presses into the verse in Jane Eyre in an action that might be romantic if it weren’t so symbolic of his intrusion.
Dean Priest arrives memorably and stays throughout the whole of the trilogy. And whatever he is—good or ill—he is nothing if not fascinating and wholly unlike the other characters in the vast populous of L.M. Montgomery’s work.
Rachel McMillan is the author of The Herringford and Watts series, the Van Buren and DeLuca series and the Three Quarter Time series of contemporary romances set in opulent Vienna. Her upcoming releases include The London Restoration (Harper Collins, August 2020) And Dream Plan Go: A Guide To Finding Independent Adventure (Harvest House, May 2020).