Anniversary

5 July 1911

One hundred and seven years ago today – on 5 July 1911 – L.M. Montgomery married the Reverend Ewan Macdonald, in Park Corner, Prince Edward Island, at the home of her maternal relatives, the Campbells (the location is now known as the Anne of Green Gables Museum and is a delightful place to visit).

Since I started this website eleven years ago, I’ve blogged on the anniversary of Montgomery’s birth and on the anniversary of her death, but I don’t believe I’ve ever blogged to commemorate her wedding day. This year, as I finish work on a restored and annotated edition of Montgomery’s celebrity memoir “The Alpine Path,” which will appear in A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917, the first volume in The L.M. Montgomery Library, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on what made this day rather complicated for Montgomery, and to consider the contrast between the public face she put on for her guests that day and the clues she planned to leave behind that would make future friends aware of some of the drama that at the time she had to hide.

One aspect that has always amazed me about Montgomery’s journals is the murkiness of her overall portrait of Ewan Macdonald. Montgomery’s first mention of him in her journals is when she announces their engagement, in an entry dated October 1906 in which she devotes far more space outlining why marrying him would be a bad idea before revealing that she’d indeed accepted his proposal, ending with a lukewarm statement: “I feel content.”

The engagement wasn’t exactly promising: Macdonald proposed to her just as he was about to embark on further studies in Scotland, although Mary Henley Rubio notes in her biography of Montgomery that there’s no evidence that he completed any work there, whereas Montgomery would not be free to marry for as long as her elderly maternal grandmother was still living, hence the five-year engagement. Scholars who have tried to establish the composition and submission timeline of Anne of Green Gables based on Montgomery’s few (and conflicting) clues have pointed out that, if the novel was accepted in April 1907 after being refused by four other publishers – as well as an unspecified amount of time in which the typescript sat in a hat box, something the recent Heritage Minute on Montgomery captured very well – then quite possibly Macdonald’s proposal coincided with a particularly discouraging point in her attempt to launch herself from freelance writer of short stories and poems to novelist.

Not only that, but two major changes happened after the 1906 engagement: the publication of Anne of Green Gables in June 1908 changed the trajectory of Montgomery’s career completely, and Macdonald being called to a parish in Leaskdale, Ontario, in early 1910 – something Montgomery does not mention in her journals – meant that she would have to leave Prince Edward Island in order to marry him. In short, marriage would not resemble what either of them had had in mind in 1906. But there’s no record that indicates that Montgomery contemplated breaking off the engagement at any point.

Tombstone for L.M. Montgomery and Ewan Macdonald, Cavendish. Photograph taken 25 June 2008 by Benjamin Lefebvre.

Macdonald proved in many ways to be a difficult husband, according to Montgomery’s account. Not only did he express no interest in Montgomery’s career, but also, he resented her success as an author as well as any tribute she received for her work as a minister’s wife. What’s most noticeable about Montgomery’s record of him in her journals, however, is how often he disappears from the journal for pages at a time, almost as though it often didn’t occur to Montgomery to write about him unless something was wrong. Still, he made a mistake in underestimating the power of her pen. Although Macdonald spelled his name “Ewen,” Montgomery consistently wrote it as “Ewan” in her journals – consequently, everyone now follows her lead. Not only did they name their second surviving son “Ewan Stuart Macdonald,” but also, both spellings appear on their tombstone in Cavendish. Every time I go to the Cavendish cemetery to pay my respects, I ponder this.

I also frequently wonder about the fact that no photograph of the wedding or of Montgomery wearing her wedding dress survives. (The dress itself is on display at the Lucy Maud Montgomery Birthplace in Clifton, PEI.) Instead, we have nine trousseau photographs depicting Montgomery, standing in roughly the same spot, wearing elaborate dresses and hats. Two different combinations of six of these images appear in cropped form in Montgomery’s Selected Journals and Complete Journals, but to me, the uncropped versions are even more fascinating. She must have been aware of the laundry flapping on the clothesline behind her, but if so, I can’t imagine what point she was trying to make. (Actually, on second thought, maybe I can.)

All images courtesy of L.M. Montgomery Collection, Archival and Special Collections, University of Guelph Library.

When she wrote about her wedding day in a retrospective journal entry in 1912, she records feeling “contented” the night before her wedding and again the morning of the wedding, repeating the term she used in her journal the day of her engagement. After the ceremony was over, however, her emotions took a decidedly different turn:

I had been feeling contented all the morning. I had gone through the ceremony and the congratulations unflustered and unregretful. And now, when it was all over and I found myself sitting there by my husband’s side – my husband! – I felt a sudden horrible inrush of rebellion and despair. I wanted to be free! … At that moment if I could have torn the wedding ring from my finger and so freed myself I would have done it! But it was too late – and the realization that it was too late fell over me like a black cloud of wretchedness.

The mood passed, and she does not record expressing these feelings to anyone else at the time. But she immortalized this moment in the pages of her journal, which she wanted to be published after her death, as though she wanted future readers to understand why, at that wedding feast, “I was as unhappy as I had ever been in my life.”

What Montgomery omits from her journals, however, is that she’d done whatever she could to keep the media away from the event, as revealed in an unsigned piece appearing in The Boston Herald three weeks later and reprinted in Volume 1 of The L.M. Montgomery Reader:

Well, of course, a time came when she had to share her secret with a few intimate friends outside of her own family. Her publisher, Mr. L.C. Page of Boston, was one of the earliest of these, and naturally he wished to share it with the public. But straightway he received a letter, part of which ran as follows: “As for the ’embargo’ – no, it must not be lifted until after the event. I am resolved that no hint of the matter shall get into the ‘paper news’ until it is over, and I shall be much annoyed if anything of the sort occurs.”

It is unclear how the Boston Herald had obtained a copy of this letter or whether Montgomery was aware they had published this piece, but it seems a safe bet that she did not consent for it to be published. After all, when she wrote about her marriage in “The Alpine Path,” she was brief and to the point: “As my husband was pastor of an Ontario congregation, I had now to leave Prince Edward Island and move to Ontario.” Not only did she not identify her husband by name or disclose either the denomination they belonged to or the Ontario location they lived in, but also, Montgomery’s wording emphasizes that her departure from Prince Edward Island had not been her choice. I have a new theory about why she chose to say so little about her husband in this public memoir, thanks to a new piece of evidence given to me by a longtime friend of mine, which I talk about in the afterword to A Name for Herself, coming this fall from University of Toronto Press.

UPDATE, 5 JULY 2018: I’ve just been reminded by someone in the Montgomery community that the dress on display at the Lucy Maud Montgomery Birthplace is a replica of Montgomery’s wedding dress, not the original.

Anne of Gif Gables on CBC Website

In light of the thirtieth anniversary of Sullivan Entertainment’s first Anne of Green Gables miniseries (its world premiere on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was on 1–2 December 1985), the CBC website has published a segment entitled “Anne of Gif Gables.” It contains links to rare interviews on CBC Digital Archives.

30 November 1874

L.M. Montgomery in her early forties, 1917
L.M. Montgomery in her early forties, 1917

Today, on what would have been L.M. Montgomery’s 141st birthday (she was born on 30 November 1874), I would like to share with you an extract from a journal entry dated exactly 101 years ago, on the occasion of Montgomery’s fortieth birthday:

Once I thought forty must be the end of everything. But it isn’t! I don’t feel any older today than yesterday—when I was only 39! Or the day before yesterday when I was—19! Thank God we don’t feel old. Life is much richer, fuller, happier, more comfortable for me now than it was when I was twenty. I have won the success I resolved to win twenty years ago. It is worth the struggle—but I would not wish to be twenty again with the struggle still before me.

Poster for L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, produced by Breakthrough Entertainment
Poster for L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, produced by Breakthrough Entertainment

Montgomery is trending on the Internet as I write this, due in large part to several Google Doodles paying tribute to Anne of Green Gables. And as Melanie J. Fishbane has pointed out in a blog post published earlier this afternoon, this is an exciting time for Montgomery and especially for Anne, thanks to the upcoming new telefilm version of Anne of Green Gables, a shout-out about the novel in a recent episode of The Simpsons, and numerous celebrity mentions. A list of “Five Fast Facts You Need to Know” about Montgomery was also published today, on the website Heavy, and mentions her rediscovered final book, The Blythes Are Quoted.

I’m glad, because all this media attention reflects the continued relevance and the persistent quality of Montgomery’s writing, not only as works of literature but also as the basis for an enduring popular culture icon and a set of new Anne texts for stage and screen. I’m looking forward to delving back into the novel Anne of Green Gables next term, when I  teach the book in an undergraduate children’s literature course at Wilfrid Laurier University, as an example of a crossover text that continues to appeal to both adults and children.

24 April 1942

Source: "Noted Author Dies Suddenly at Home Here," The Globe and Mail (Toronto, ON), 25 April 1942, 5.
Source: “Noted Author Dies Suddenly at Home Here,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto, ON), 25 April 1942, 5.

Seventy-two years ago today, L.M. Montgomery died at her home in Toronto, at the age of sixty-seven. Her death was interpreted by her family and by her physician as a suicide—a belief not revealed to the public until an article appeared in The Globe and Mail in September 2008. But in 1942, the circumstances of her death were omitted from the many obituaries that appeared in newspapers across the country, including one from the Calgary Daily Herald. Instead, these obituaries celebrated her life as well as her work, namely twenty-two book-length works of fiction, from Anne of Green Gables (1908) to Anne of Ingleside (1939), and one volume of poetry, The Watchman and Other Poems (1916). Moreover, the obituary appearing in The Globe and Mail, entitled “Noted Author Dies Suddenly at Home Here,” noted that “for the past two years she had been in ill health, but during the past winter Mrs. Macdonald compiled a collection of magazine stories she had written many years ago, and these were placed in the hands of a publishing firm only yesterday.” That book was The Blythes Are Quoted, and it was published in its entirety only in 2009.

In addition to obituaries and coverage of her burial in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, a number of tribute pieces appeared in daily newspapers in the days and weeks following Montgomery’s death, including two unsigned editorials appearing on the same day in the Windsor Daily Star:

When L.M. Montgomery (Mrs. Ewan Macdonald) died in Toronto at the age of 67, a literary career that was built upon an appreciation of the simpler things of Canadian life was brought to a close. No cold realist, no pseudo-sophisticate, she wrote of life as she knew and lived it in her girlhood in Prince Edward Island, and the homely truth and honesty of those works brought her international renown. […]

It was not only a flair for plot and facility of expression that made Mrs. Macdonald a great writer. Her understanding of human nature was deep and thorough, and her interest in the loves, joys and sorrows of everyday folk transcended professional curiosity. It was from all these gifts that she wove her stories, and it was from them that her novels drew their wide-ranging appeal.

Source: “L.M. Montgomery,” The Windsor Daily Star (Windsor, ON), 27 April 1942, 4.

Another tribute, appearing two pages earlier, is a reminder of the fact that Montgomery’s death occurred in the midst of the Second World War:

People were beginning to discover the delights of Cavendish and other parts of Prince Edward Island. The war and the consequent curtailment of travel have meant many journeys to the island will have to be postponed. But, after the war has been won, people will be going in ever-increasing numbers of Prince Edward Island, a province which Lucy Maud Montgomery helped to make famous.

Source: “‘Anne of Green Gables,’” The Windsor Daily Star (Windsor, ON), 27 April 1942, 2.

As these and several more tribute pieces demonstrate, L.M. Montgomery’s work touched a chord with many readers during her lifetime, and part of its uniqueness is that her readership has only grown in the seven decades since her death, especially since volumes of journals, letters, and periodical pieces began to appear in the 1970s and 1980s, alongside popular television adaptations of her books. Her work continues to gather an international community of readers and researchers whose interest in all things L.M. Montgomery shows no signs of slowing down.

Montgomery’s Globe and Mail obituary, several tributes, and extensive coverage of her funeral all appear in The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 1: A Life in Print, available now.