The Blue Castle - Plot summary
Valancy Stirling is twenty-nine, unmarried, and has lived her entire life with her gossip-minded family who actively discourage happiness and treat Valancy like a child. When Valancy is diagnosed with a terminal heart ailment, she realizes she has never been happy in her life, and rebels against her family and the colorless life they have imposed on her. She begins by judging them objectively, and worse, telling them exactly what she thinks, causing the Stirling clan to conclude that Valancy has suddenly lost her mind.
Valancy decides to move out of her mother's house and take a position as a housekeeper for a friend of hers who is now gravely ill, Cissy Gay. Cissy and Valancy had known each other as children, but Cissy became ostracized from society for having a child out of wedlock, and because of her father, Roaring Abel, and his reckless, sometimes drunken behavior.
Cissy and Valancy share a room and rebuild their friendship. Valancy enjoys being paid a salary and spends her money in ways her family would not approve of, such as purchasing a brightly colored, low-necked dress. She also begins spending time with Barney Snaith, who visits often and is friends with Cissy, but who the townspeople are convinced is either a criminal or the father of Cissy's deceased child.
Just before the end of her life, Cissy confides in Valancy about the man she fell in love with. He offered to marry her when she told him she was pregnant, but she refused because she saw that he did not love her any more. Her baby compensated for her heartbreak, but when her baby died, she was devastated. Cissy eventually passes away and Valancy's family expects her to move back home, having magnanimously decided to forgive her recent behavior. They are momentarily appeased when Valancy agrees that she is definitely not staying with Roaring Abel; however, she does not plan to move back home. Instead, she proposes to Barney, telling him that she is dying and just wants to enjoy the remaining time she has left. She confesses that she has fallen in love with him, but that she does not expect him to feel the same. He agrees to marry her.
Barney takes Valancy to his home on a wooded island (which Valancy discovers is very like the Blue Castle she used to escape to in her imagination), and together they get along very well, though he forbids her to enter a certain room in the house. Together they explore the island, and she quotes to him from books by her favorite author, John Foster, who writes about the great beauty of nature; Foster's books were her escape when Valancy lived with her family. They celebrate Christmas and he gives her a necklace of pearl beads.
Just as the year she was given to live is almost over, Valancy gets her shoe stuck in a train track and is nearly killed by an oncoming train. Barney saves her in the nick of time, risking his own life to do so. After the shock passes, Valancy realizes that she should have died, because the doctor had told her any sudden shock would kill her. Barney is likewise stunned by the experience, because he realizes that he has come to love Valancy, who, he believes, must soon die from her heart condition. Instead of telling Valancy how he feels, he retreats to his beloved woods to think. Valancy assumes that he has left because, having married her out of pity, he now realizes he is trapped in a marriage he doesn't want. Valancy goes back to the doctor, who realizes that he sent Valancy a letter with a diagnosis meant for a Miss Sterling, who did have a fatal heart condition; Valancy's condition was never serious.
As she arrives home from the doctor, with Barney still away, she finds a gaudily dressed man waiting near their home. He introduces himself as Barney's father, Dr. Redfern, the millionaire who invented Redfern's Purple Pills and other patent medicines. Years ago, Barney left town abruptly without word to his father, who had no way of tracking him down until Barney withdrew $15,000 from his bank account to buy Valancy's necklace, alerting his father to his whereabouts. Barney's father wants him to come back to his family.
Thinking that Barney believes she tricked him into marriage, Valancy decides to leave him and return to her mother's house, so he can be free. While searching for a pencil to write Barney an explanatory note, she goes into his secret room and finds that he is also John Foster, the author of her favorite books. She writes the note and leaves behind the necklace.
Valancy reveals to her family that Barney is a millionaire and the son of the famous Dr. Redfern, as well as John Foster to boot. Barney's millionaire status instantly erases any misgivings her family had about him, and they are determined that Barney and Valancy must stay together. Barney rushes to the house to see Valancy and asks her to come back. At first she refuses, believing that he is only asking her out of pity. When he becomes angry at her, thinking that she is refusing him because she is ashamed of his father's patent medicine business, she realizes he does really love her and agrees to come back to him. At the ending, Barney tells Valancy how much he loves her and how badly he wants to spend the rest of his life with her. The book closes with Valancy and Barney saying goodbye to the Blue Castle as they head out for further adventures.