EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY is a pretty short book, written in 1950, but set back in 1912. The author, Maud Hart Lovelace, wrote several books inspired by her own life and the lives of friends she grew up with. So although the book was technically historical fiction by the time Lovelace wrote it, she was writing about a time she lived through herself.
When we read, here are some things to consider:
Title. Why did the author call it what she called it? What significance is it where Emily is from? How would Emily feel about being called "Emily of Deep Valley" at the beginning of the book? How would she feel about it by the end?
Setting. When and where is the book set? Why does that matter? Do the time and place have any impact on the options available to Emily? Look at the micro-settings, too. How does Emily feel about her home? Her cousin's home? The slough? Where, in Deep Valley, does she belong or not belong?
Characters. Who are the main characters in the book? How do they see Emily, and how does she see them?
Character Development. How does Emily grow and change, over the course of the story? What triggers these developments? How does her view of herself and of Deep Valley change?
Conflict. The conflict is what drives the story. What's at stake. If there's no conflict, there's no real plot. The conflict in Frozen, for example, is, can Anna save Elsa and their country from the destructiveness of Elsa's own powers, and can she restore their lost relationship? What is the conflict in EMILY? What might happen to Emily, if she cannot overcome/resolve the conflict?
Themes. Look at some of the recurring ideas in the book. Old-fashioned versus modern. Growth versus stagnation. Insider versus outsider. Defining yourself versus letting others define you. Do you notice any others, as you read?
Symbolism/Foreshadowing. These are standard literary devices, where an author uses one thing to represent or hint at something else. Look, for example, at "Decoration Day." Why have it twice in the book, near the beginning and at the end? What is the same, and what is different? How is Emily's attitude the same or different? Also look at when Emily is at Roxey's drugstore and sees "an attractive-looking girl" in the mirror, who turns out to be herself! How does this moment represent what is going on with Emily?
Allusion. An allusion is a reference to another book or work of art. Lovelace alludes to the Slough of Despond from John Bunyan's PILGRIM'S PROGRESS. How does that add to our understanding of the story?
And finally, a paragraph question, for some writing exercise! Pick one:
1. Emily picks a Shakespeare quote as a self-motivator: "Muster your wits; stand in your own defense." Why is this appropriate for her? If she has to defend herself, who are her accusers? What would they accuse her of?
2. What is the significance of Emily's slough, geographically and symbolically? How does it compare and contrast with Bunyan's Slough of Despond?
And a last little reminder: hope to see some of you at University Book Store Bellevue this Saturday (6/28) at 5:00 p.m. for some Regency readings and ramblings!