L.M. Montgomery’s Short Story, ‘A Redeeming Sacrifice’

Thinking of others first can be an act of true, selfless love.
L.M. Montgomery’s Short Story, ‘A Redeeming Sacrifice’
“Karin at the Shore,” 1908, by Carl Larsson. A young man makes a redeeming sacrifice for the lady he loves, in L. M. Montgomery's short story. (Public Domain)
Kate Vidimos

Despite the misconceptions we occasionally endure from others, it’s good to cling to the virtue of love. Most importantly, we should embrace the truest love—that which is sacrificial.

In her short story, “A Redeeming Sacrifice,” L.M. Montgomery follows a rascal, Paul King, who loves the innocent Joan Shelley. Though he loves Joan, Paul must decide whether he will drag her down with his good-for-nothing character.

A Dance

There is a dance at Byron Lyall’s and the house on the ocean shore is full. Many beautiful girls attend, but none is so coveted as Joan Shelley. However, Joan refuses to dance with anyone but the worthless drunkard, Paul King.

Everyone knows that Paul is someone with “a bad past and a bad future. He is shiftless and drunken; ugly tales are told of him.” Yet, Paul dances with Joan, “a slight, blossom-like girl in white, looking much like the pale, sweet-scented house rose she wears in her dark hair.” Everyone knows that Paul does not deserve Joan.

Despite all of his many flaws, Joan has fallen in love with Paul and, subsequently, shuns the other dancers. The way that she looks at him displays her utter and sincere love for him.

Even when Joan’s brother, who disapproves of Paul, comes to take her away, she looks to Paul. She will not leave the room unless he first approves of it. Paul consents, for “he [does] not want any fuss just then,” and takes the rose from Joan’s hair.

Overheard Conversation

Leaving the dance, Paul heads out to the shore to take a rest. He lies down on the sand by a rowboat, reveling in his conquest of Joan’s love. She is his and no one else’s.

However, as he lies in his triumphant solitude, “Byron Lyall, a grizzled, elderly man, half farmer, half fisherman, and Maxwell Holmes, the Prospect schoolteacher,” approach near the boat. They draw so near to Paul that he easily overhears their conversation. This conversation is all about Joan and him.

With indifferent interest, Paul listens. Lyall spits and says: “That girl’s life will be ruined if she marries him, plum‘ ruined, and marry him she will. He’s bewitched her—darned if I can understand it. ... She’ll marry him and be sorry for it to her last day. He’s bad clear through and always will be.” Everyone, including these two men, knows that Paul will ruin Joan.

After the men leave, Paul is left with his own thoughts. He knows that he’s worthless. He knows that he wants to marry Joan, yet he realizes the truth in what they say.

He loves Joan and doesn’t want to ruin her life. Paul finally asks himself the most important question: “Did he love her better than himself?”

Through this story, Montgomery seems to echo Charles Dickens’s words from “A Tale of Two Cities”: “For you ... I would do anything. I would embrace any sacrifice for you. ... When you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you.”

In spite of our faults, we are often not what we seem to others. Despite our outward appearances and actions, we can redeem ourselves through a single act of true, selfless love.
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Kate Vidimos is a 2020 graduate from the liberal arts college at the University of Dallas, where she received her bachelor’s degree in English. She plans on pursuing all forms of storytelling (specifically film) and is currently working on finishing and illustrating a children’s book.