Life Writing

“‘Spleet-New’ from the Publishers”: Anne of Green Gables at 110

Cover art for Anne of Green Gables, published by L.C. Page and Company in 1908.

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.

Three New Books This Month and Three More Coming Soon

Three exciting new L.M. Montgomery-related books have been published throughout the month of May, with three more appearing shortly. Together, these six books showcase the wide reach of Montgomery’s literary and cultural legacy more than seventy-five years after her death.
Cover art for L.M. Montgomery and the Matter of Nature(s)L.M. Montgomery's Complete Journals: The Ontario Years, 1922-1925

Cover art for House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery, by Liz RosenbergCover art for The Diary of Charles Macneill, Farmer, 1892–1896Cover art for The Blythes Are Quoted: Penguin Modern Classics Edition
Coming up in June is Liz Rosenberg’s middle-grade biography, House of Dreams: The L.M. Montgomery (Candlewick Press), as well as The Diary of Charles Macneill, Farmer, 1892–1896 (Rock’s Mills Press), the full text of a diary by a distant relative of L.M. Montgomery that she transcribed in full and commented on extensively in her own journal in 1925, with a preface by Jen Rubio. Finally, in early July, Penguin Canada will publish a new Penguin Modern Classics Edition of Montgomery’s rediscovered final book, The Blythes Are Quoted, with a revised introduction by Benjamin Lefebvre and a revised afterword by Elizabeth Rollins Epperly.

“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.

Complete Journals 1889–1900 Part of Globe 100

The Complete Journals of L.M. Montgomery: The PEI Years, 1889–1900, published earlier this year by Oxford University Press, has been included in this year’s The Globe 100, which includes “titles reviewers couldn’t put down, couldn’t stop talking about, and insist you stock up on, too.”

Cover Art for Complete Journals 1901–1911

The cover art for The Complete Journals of L.M. Montgomery: The PEI Years, 1901–1911 is now available! This unabridged volume, edited by Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston, will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2013.

Complete Journals 1901–1911 Available in March 2013

The next volume of Montgomery’s unabridged journals, The Complete Journals of L.M. Montgomery: The PEI Years, 1901–1911, edited by Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston, will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2013! It is available for pre-order on Amazon.ca and on Chapters.Indigo.ca, and more information can be found on the website for Oxford University Press Canada.

Complete Journals 1889–1900 Cover Art

The cover art is now available for The Complete Journals of L.M. Montgomery: The PEI Years, 1889–1900, edited by Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston and scheduled for publication by Oxford University Press later this year.

Complete Journals 1889–1900 Forthcoming in September 2012

The Complete Journals of L.M. Montgomery: The PEI Years, 1889–1900, edited by Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston, will be published by Oxford University Press in September 2012!

From the Oxford University Press website:

The first edition of The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery was published in the 1980s, with fifty percent of the material removed to save space, as well as to reflect a quaint, marketable vision of small-town Canada. The editors were instructed to excise anything that was not upbeat or did not “move the story along.” The resulting account of Montgomery’s youthful life in Prince Edward Island depicts a fun-loving, simple country girl. The unabridged journal, however, reveals something quite different.

We now know that Montgomery was anything but simple. She was often anxious, bitter, dark, and political, although always able to see herself and her surroundings with a deep ironic—and often comical—twist. The unabridged version shows her using writing as a means of managing her own mood swings, as well as her increasing dependency on journal keeping, and her ambition as a writer. She was also exceedingly interested in men. We see here a more developed portrait of what she herself described as a “very uncomfortable blend” between “the passionate Montgomery blood and the Puritan Macneill conscience.” Full details describe the impassioned events during which she describes becoming a “new creature,” “born of sorrow … and hopeless longing.”

In addition, this unedited account is a striking visual record, containing hundreds of her own photographs placed as she placed them in her journals, as well as newspaper clippings, postcards, and professional portraits, all with her own original captions. New notes and a new introduction give key context to the history, the people, and the culture in the text. A new preface by Michael Bliss draws some unexpected connections.

The full PEI journals tells a fascinating tale of a young woman coming of age in a bygone rural Canada, a tale far thornier and far more compelling than the first selected edition could disclose.

The book is available for pre-order on Amazon.ca.