“This Hideous War”

L.M. Montgomery’s novel Rilla of Ingleside is justly celebrated as one of the only contemporaneous Canadian novels to depict the experiences of women and children at the homefront. It is important to remember, though, that while Montgomery had planned to write about Anne’s children during the war as early as 1917, it was only early in 1919, after the war had ended that she began drafting this book, meaning that the book’s depiction of characters waiting and working at home was written only after the waiting had stopped.

Yet the novel was not the first time that Montgomery’s perspective on the war made it into print. In a letter to an unidentified friend published as part of the “Writers and Books” column in the Boston Evening Transcript in November 1915, Montgomery offered a spontaneous and uncensored account of her experience at home, one that neither relied on hindsight nor was definitively intended for publication, for the benefit of a recipient living in the United States, which would not join the war effort until 1917.

“As for ‘the boys’ keeping me from literary work—alas it is not the boys. I could manage so far as they are concerned. It is this hideous war. . . . We are at war—at close grips with a deadly and determined enemy. We live and breathe in its shadows. Never for one moment is the strain lifted. . . . This horrible waiting—waiting—waiting every day for the war news—the dreadful uncertainty—the casualty lists—it all seems to me as if I were crushed under an ever-increasing weight. . . . Amid all this think you I can sit me down to calm creation of imaginary people and their imaginary joys and sorrows? No, I cannot. Literature for a while must wait on life and death.”

The full letter is available exclusively in The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 1: A Life in Print, available now.