Reflections on Chapter Two of Emily of New Moon – A Watch in the Night
By, Gemma McCarthy
Here is a brief reflection on Chapter 2, which I hope might provoke further reflection for other readers, or aid discussion on the book as a whole. As a long-time Emily fan, I am delighted to contribute.
The title “A Watch in the Night” reflects the stillness and beauty of this chapter, at odds with the passion of the first chapter, in which Emily embraces the outdoors and then returns to heart-breaking news.
In Chapter Two, Emily’s father spends precious moments with his daughter and then literally watches over her as she falls asleep. The title also carries a biblical reference; night watches are mentioned in the Christian Gospels. Indeed, there is a very spiritual theme to this chapter as Douglas Starr assures Emily that he will meet her mother again on the other side, where they will in turn await Emily.
I cannot claim to be any sort of expert on Montgomery’s works as I have primarily read (and re-read) the Emily series and The Blue Castle, but I have already noted that biblical and religious references crop up regularly in her writing. Further to that, a theme emerges in which the author seems to challenge the traditional conservative approach to religion and embraces a more liberal freethinking spirituality. From chapter one we see how the Starrs’ idea of God is at odds with Ellen Greene’s God, emphasised in Chapter Two when Douglas Starr says to Emily:
“You can’t help liking God. He is Love itself, you know. You mustn’t mix Him up with Ellen Greene’s God, of course” (27).
Religion aside, Douglas Starr is quite the freethinker, going against many of the set ideas of the time. We learn that Emily has not attended school. Instead, she has been taught at home by her father, an avid writer, with a background in journalism. No doubt his modern thinking antagonised the Murray clan with their steadfast traditions.
We also have the impression that Juliet Murray, Emily’s mother, was entranced by Douglas and enticed away from her adoring family. As a result, Emily has had little or no connection with her mother’s kin, and the bond between her and her father is strong. However, this close bond may not have benefited Emily in the long-run, and even Douglas acknowledges that Emily must go out into the world:
“And life has something for you – I feel it. Go forward to meet if fearlessly, dear” (26).
This chapter also provides us with a brief family history for Emily. As readers, we are now acquainted with her father, Douglas, and next we begin to learn about her mother, Juliet, and the Murrays. As time goes on, Emily’s heritage will play a large part in the formation of her character. She is both artistic and imaginative like her father, gentle like Juliet and Laura, and, yet determined (even headstrong) like some of the Murrays.
Little snippets of information come our way also about life with the Murrays, and Emily cannot help but be intrigued by names such as ‘New Moon’ and ‘Priest Pond.’ Both the reader and Emily can only guess at this stage at what a ‘Priest Pond’ location might look like!
“A Watch in the Night” is more than just a literary chapter – it represents the end of a chapter in Emily’s life (her childhood, it could be argued, or at least her innocence and her time with her father); and it will pave the way for a new chapter (life at New Moon with the Murrays).
There is something so very dreamlike about this piece. Douglas Starr comforting Emily in the still of the night, speaking of her mother, who is a dreamlike presence at this point also, and the spiritual world. I love that Emily falls asleep and that the chapter ends with her father’s thoughts rather than Emily.
It is terribly sad, but a moment of love and tenderness also. It is a time that I think Emily will look back on as dreamlike in years to come, as memory fades and the House in the Hollow becomes but a remnant of her past.
A little about me:
I live in Cork, Ireland where I work in administration at a university – the same one where I studied languages and Film Studies when a student myself.
My relationship with Emily and L. M. Montgomery started at the age of twelve when I picked up a copy of Emily of New Moonat a second-hand book sale in my primary school. For some years afterward, I tried to locate the sequels but they were not to be found in local bookshops or the library. Then, at age fifteen, on a trip to Leeds, England with my Dad, I mentioned the sequel search to a relative of mine. Amazingly, she knew of an old lady who was selling books from her impressive collection. When my relative requested copies of Emily’s Climbsand Emily’s Quest, we were told that those books were very special to her and not to be parted with – but my eagerness (and in turn that of my relative, Janet) saw her relent and award me with the two books (one a first edition). I hope I have done her proud now with my piece on “A Watch in the Night!”