In a journal entry dated 20 June 1908, L.M. Montgomery wrote:
Today has been, as Anne herself would say, “an epoch in my life.” My book came today, fresh from the publishers. I candidly confess that it was for me a proud, wonderful, thrilling moment! There in my hand lay the material realization of all the dreams and hopes and ambitions and struggles of my whole conscious existence – my first book! Not a great book at all – but mine, mine, mine, – something to which I had given birth – something which, but for me, would never have existed.
This morning, one hundred and ten years later, at a desk several hundred kilometres away from Montgomery’s home in Cavendish, I began correcting the proofs of my next Montgomery book, A Name for Herself: Selected Writings 1891–1917, due out in September. What I like best about this stage of a book’s production is that the manuscript that I’ve watched evolve through several stages of compilation, drafting, editing, annotating, and revising is finally starting to look like a book. Proofreading Montgomery’s work one last time against the original copy-texts also allows me to immerse myself in the text again. And while there are still some adjustments to be made to ensure that everything fits on the page, for the most part, the book is done.
The reason I’m especially drawn today to this quotation from her journal entry dated 20 June 1908 is because of how it appears in Montgomery’s 25,000-word celebrity memoir, “The Alpine Path,” first published in 1917 and included in my volume. Although Montgomery makes reference to a journal entry with that date, the entry she quotes reads slightly differently:
To-day has been, as Anne herself would say, “an epoch in my life.” My book came to-day, “spleet-new” from the publishers. I candidly confess that it was to me a proud and wonderful and thrilling moment. There, in my hand, lay the material realization of all the dreams and hopes and ambitions and struggles of my whole conscious existence – my first book. Not a great book, but mine, mine, mine, something which I had created.
In a sense, the two versions are more or less identical – the most noticeable difference is the term “spleet-new,” which she places within quotation marks (it’s basically an archaic form of “brand new” or “perfectly new”). But now that I’m at this late stage in the editorial process for a new edition of “The Alpine Path,” I see these discrepancies differently than I used to. One of the aspects of “The Alpine Path” that I discuss in the book is the source of all this material. Montgomery quotes self-consciously from her journals on a number of occasions, complete with dates, but, to quote my headnote in the book, “a closer comparison of this text and her private life writing reveals that she mined her journal for far more material than she let on, changing only details that would contradict the public myth of her life that she aimed to construct for public consumption.”
In other words, most of the text of “The Alpine Path” is cobbled together from journal entries dated 1892 to 1912. I identify all of these borrowings in my notes, but what I want to say for now is that, except for details she wanted to keep private, most of the changes between her journals and “The Alpine Path” are fairly minor. This means that, with some exceptions, the differences between the journal entries dated 20 June 1908 are more noticeable than those between her journals and the rest of the “Alpine Path” text.
The other question, of course, is this: which of these is the “true” entry of 20 June 1908?
Starting in the winter of 1919—two years after she wrote “The Alpine Path”—Montgomery announced her plan to transcribe all of her journals from a variety of notebooks into a uniform set of ledgers because she saw her journals as having significant cultural value. It’s these ten ledgers that survive as the “official” journals that form the basis of five volumes of Selected Journals and six volumes to date of Complete Journals. When she finished this transcription a few years later, she left explicit instructions to her heirs about both conserving the ledgers and publishing their contents after her death. Because she destroyed the original notebooks, we have to take her at her word that she transcribed the full text without alteration – even though she frequently uses the beginning or the ending of a ledger volume as an opportunity to reflect on her life. (Vanessa Brown and I talk about this and other archival mysteries in a chapter that’s reprinted in Volume 2 of The L.M. Montgomery Reader.)
So again—which is the “true” entry of 20 June 1908, given that the version that was actually written that day was subsequently destroyed? Did she add the term “spleet-new” when rewriting the entry for “The Alpine Path,” or did she delete it when she “transcribed” her early journals into uniform ledgers? There’s no way to answer this question, and for that reason I don’t know what to make of the fact that the terms “spleet-new” and “The Alpine Path” return in chapter 21 of Emily’s Quest, at which point Emily receives copies of her first book, The Moral of the Rose:
There lay her book. Her book, spleet-new from the publishers. It was a proud, wonderful, thrilling moment. The crest of the Alpine Path at last? Emily lifted her shining eyes to the deep blue November sky and saw peak after peak of sunlit azure still towering beyond. Always new heights of aspiration. One could never reach the top really. But what a moment when one reached a plateau and outlook like this! What a reward for the long years of toil and endeavour and disappointment and discouragement.
I’ve always enjoyed this kind of detective work, even when – especially when – burning questions aren’t followed by concrete, plausible answers. But I should get back to proofreading, since I have a fair bit of work left to do before I can receive “spleet-new” copies of A Name for Herself from my own publisher.