Reviews

Anne of Green Gables: New Reviews!

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

Recently, while searching through online databases for L.M. Montgomery’s periodical pieces, I was able to add several more reviews of Anne of Green Gables to my collection. One of them, from The Journal of Education (Boston), actually predates a rather infamous review that appeared in The New York Times Saturday Review and that I claimed in the introduction to The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 3: A Legacy in Review to be “the first known review of Anne of Green Gables.” Of course, it mistakenly calls the book Anne of Gray Gables and gets some plot details wrong, but it is nevertheless of interest as now being the first known review of Montgomery’s first novel—at least until something earlier turns up!

Young and old will be interested in Anne and in her charming, livable manners. In spite of her uncongenial surroundings, the harshness of her unsympathetic sister, the heroism stands forth in marked contrast and forms a central figure about which the thread of the story is spun. The author evidently understands girls, and her appreciation of their nature has fitted her to write of the conditions and qualities which surround them. The story is beautifully illustrated.

In addition, two reviews that I came across only yesterday emphasize the book as appealing particularly to girls, as opposed to most of the early reviews, which saw the book as being targeted to adults or else to young and old alike.

The Times–Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia recommends it on the basis of the qualities it offers readers:

A charming story told in a charming way, full to the brim of imagination and the poetical outlook which transforms all living with beauty and grace. A story in which a little waif is rescued from dependence and being made the recipient of kindness and love, repays it “with good measure, pressed down and running over.”

A book which all girls ought to read and enjoy for the sake of its wholesome spirit and its bright, sparkling humor.

The phrase “with good measure, pressed down and running over” alludes to Luke 6.38 in the Christian Bible: “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap” (New International Version).

The Philadelphia Inquirer does likewise, but it tends to have a rather narrow-minded view of female readers:

In these days it is difficult to get stories that are just what every mother wants for a girl of from fourteen to seventeen years old. There never has been a successor to Louise M. Alcott, but it is to be hoped that she will appear soon. It is with full knowledge of conditions as they exist both from the point of view of the publishers and the parents, that we recommend “Anne of Green Gables,” by L.M. Montgomery to all young girls who want some inspiration in life, and who do not find exactly what they want on the bookshelves because of their own ignorance.

Mothers are not very astute in the matter of literature or they would not complain that they are afraid to let their daughters read any of the current literature. There is plenty of the best.

Anne was a young orphan who was adopted by a Canadian family and lived the simple life for a while under conditions which were a little disturbing, but which in the end made a woman of her. It is a wholesome and stimulating book that will help all and hurt none. Published by L.C. Page & Co.

So far I have added to this website lists of reviews of Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Kilmeny of the Orchard, and The Story Girl, with reviews of the remaining novels to follow. You can also browse by periodical and see the wide range of sources the commented on Montgomery’s work.

Anne of Avonlea Reviewed in The Congregationalist and Christian World

Cover art for Anne of Avonlea, published by L.C. Page and Company in 1909.
Cover art for Anne of Avonlea, published by L.C. Page and Company in 1909.

Although my work on the last volume of The L.M. Montgomery Reader is done, I still on occasion come across reviews of Montgomery’s books that I might have wanted to include in the volume. Just today I found the following review of Anne of Avonlea in the 16 October 1909 issue of The Congregationalist and Christian World, a Boston church magazine.

Would it be possible to follow a successful story for girls, extending over the period of school life, with a love novel of the heroine’s after experience? Miss Montgomery evidently does not think so, for she has declined the task in her Anne of Avonlea (Page, $1.50), which carries on the life of her delightful “Anne of Green Gables” only to the first glimmering dawn of her recognition of the day of quiet love. The new book cannot bring us the happy surprise of its predecessor, nor does it move in so well-marked a sphere of experience. From the dramatic unities it slips easily, however, into the pleasant task of chronicling the progress of a happy girl’s life. Anne is well worth knowing as schoolmarm of seventeen and village improver.

The touch is neither so unconscious nor so sure as in the charming earlier story, but the book is well worth reading by all Anne’s lovers, if it were only for her delightful bits of moral philosophy—her’s [sic] and the mischievous twin’s. It is the latter who says, after an escapade of compelling his prim and proper sister to walk the pigpen fence, “I feel sorry now myself, but the trouble is, I never feel sorry for doing things till after I’ve did them.” But it is Anne who counters on the man who believes in “telling the truth to everybody,” by saying: “But you don’t tell the whole truth, you only tell the disagreeable part of the truth. Now you’ve told me a dozen times that my hair was red, but you’ve never once told me that I had a nice nose.” The story is rich in such material of wise and humorous casuistry. It belongs both on the shelf for girls’ reading and among the books with which sagacious grown-ups refresh their souls.

What do you think of this assessment of Montgomery’s second book as good but not so good as Anne of Green Gables, as evidence of Montgomery finding it impossible to write the love story of the heroine of a story for girls? (This reviewer didn’t know that Anne of the Island would follow six years later.) Would this second novel have been more successful had the plot been anchored around resolving the love story of Anne and Gilbert?

Review 19: Chronicles of Avonlea

Cover art for Chronicles of Avonlea, published by L.C. Page and Company in 1912.

As I mentioned in my earlier blog post about reviews of Chronicles of Avonlea, these reviews were, on the whole, overwhelmingly positive in their praise for this collection of linked short stories. As the Mail and Empire noted in Toronto, “To say that one sketch was better than another would be to insinuate that the latter was not just as good as it possibly could be. Which would be insinuating something utterly untrue.”

Although there were only a few negative comments about the book, they are worth considering: the Louisville Post of Kentucky noted that, “From the standpoint of the unexacting, these are quite pretty stories, with enough and not too much of humor and of pathos. For the other sort – the fastidious, the exacting, the folk who know – there is very little here.” And as the Boston Evening Transcript added, “It is to be hoped … that there will be another ‘Anne’ story. There are other interesting people in Avonlea, but there is only one Anne.”

What do you think of these remarks? Do they still hold true for readers of the twenty-first century?

Review 18: The Story Girl

The Story Girl (L.C. Page and Company, 1911)
Cover art for The Story Girl, published by L.C. Page and Company in 1911.

How’s this for contrasts? Two reviews of L.M. Montgomery’s fourth novel, The Story Girl, that appeared shortly after its publication in 1911:

Among the popular new books is The Story Girl, by L.M. Montgomery. Like the author’s first success, Anne of Green Gables, it is a story of children for grown-ups. It makes pleasant reading. —The Catholic World (New York, NY)

The average girl of from twelve to twenty years would read The Story Girl, Miss L.M. Montgomery’s latest story, with juvenile delight. Therefore to that extent at least the book is a noteworthy achievement. And if it has the magic that charms, even though the charmed be of tender years, it should be heralded as such and treated as an entertainment for the young. —The Canadian Magazine (Toronto, ON)

Review 17: Kilmeny of the Orchard

Kilmeny of the Orchard (L.C. Page and Company, 1910)L.M. Montgomery’s third novel, Kilmeny of the Orchard, is now one of her least-known books, and while reviewers did not see it as nearly as strong as Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea when it was published in spring 1910, they still offered it respectable praise. An article in the December 1910 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, a magazine published in Boston and New York, qualified that praise in what was one of the earliest sustained responses to Montgomery’s work. In “Lying Like Truth,” Margaret Sherwood attributed the phrase to a statement made about Daniel Defoe to refer to “the art of making the unreal, perhaps even the impossible, more evident than that which happens before your very eyes, because amazing improbabilities are told with such close attention to immediate detail that you can but believe; and, by the side of his fictitious tales, newspaper accounts of actual happenings seem, in their sketchy presentation, unreal and improbable.” Claiming that she had been “searching, among the novels of the last six months, for the truth that comes from close observation,” she offered the following analysis of Kilmeny of the Orchard as a successor to Anne of Green Gables:

It is partly a lessening of this quality of close study which makes Miss Montgomery’s Kilmeny less appealing than Anne of Green Gables. There was a distinctness about the former, an artistic truth in the portrait of the quaint child with individual fancies. This story is pretty and fanciful, in the green and gray setting of a Prince Edward Island orchard, but vagueness replaces the close rendering of real things, and, in spite of the poetic touch, the tale does not hold the reader. Only the genuine poet, one to whom the invisible is more real than the visible, dare write the story “all made up of the poet’s brain.”

Review 16: Anne of Avonlea

Cover art for Anne of Avonlea, published by L.C. Page and Company in 1909.

Although reviewers were pretty much in agreement that L.M. Montgomery’s second book, Anne of Avonlea, was not quite to the standard set by the first, overall they were filled with praise for this second novel about Anne. For J.B. Kerfoot of Life magazine, however, the lessening of this quality had less to do with the fact that this novel was a sequel to the first but with the stage of life that it portrayed:

Any one who has to do with dogs knows that between their irresistible puppyhood, when humans of all ages love them, and their comradely maturity, when human grown-ups chum with them, there is an interval during which children avoid them, grown-ups lose patience with them and they would be quite neglected, did not idealistic youth lead them about with a string around their necks. So, at times, with books. Last year, we met “Anne of Green Gables,” an irresistible child-woman, and loved her. Some day – who knows? – we may meet her full grown and chum with her. But Anne of Avonlea, by L.M. Montgomery, is Anne betwixt and between – a book for girls.

Review 15: Anne of Green Gables

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

Although L.M. Montgomery received overwhelmingly positive reviews throughout her lifetime, reviewers were not always unanimous in their praise. In fact, in the first known review of Anne of Green Gables (appearing in The New York Times Saturday Review), the unsigned reviewer is more than a little taken aback by Anne, referred to here as “one of the most extraordinary girls that ever came out of an ink pot”:

The author undoubtedly meant her to be queer, but she is altogether too queer. She was only 11 years old when she reached the house in Prince Edward Island that was to be her home, but, in spite of her tender years, and in spite of the fact that, excepting for four months spent in the asylum, she had passed all her life with illiterate folks, and had had almost no schooling, she talked to the farmer and his sister as though she had borrowed Bernard Shaw’s vocabulary, Alfred Austin’s sentimentality, and the reasoning powers of a Justice of the Supreme Court. She knew so much that she spoiled the author’s plan at the very outset and greatly marred a story that had in it quaint and charming possibilities.

This approach to Montgomery’s first book hardly set the stage for the reviews that followed, however: as she explained in a letter to her pen pal Ephraim Weber (included in The Green Gables Letters from L.M. Montgomery to Ephraim Weber, 1905–1909, published in 1960) concerning the sixty reviews she had received within three months of the book’s publication, “two were harsh, one contemptuous, two mixed praise and blame and the remaining fifty-five were kind and flattering beyond my highest expectations. So I feel satisfied as far as that goes.” She then copied out some extracts, and while her list includes one for “N.Y. Times,” it reads somewhat differently in this version: “A mawkish, tiresome impossible heroine, combining the sentimentality of an Alfred Austin with the vocabulary of Bernard Shaw. Anne is a bore.”

Whether they were “kind and flattering” or “harsh” or anything in between, Montgomery kept copies of these reviews in a number of scrapbooks as a unique record of her career. Both positive and negative reviews reveal so much to twenty-first-century readers in terms of literary trends or what Montgomery referred to as “the public taste.” And that’s why this week we’ll be looking at a wider range of responses to her work in the mainstream press of her day.

Montgomery Review 14: Rainbow Valley

Cover art for Rainbow Valley, published by McClelland and Stewart (Canada) and Frederick A. Stokes Company (USA) in August 1919.

In honour of the anniversary today of L.M. Montgomery’s birth 140 years ago, here are extracts from an early review of her novel Rainbow Valley that was published in the John O’Groats Journal in Scotland and whose response to her work still resonates with readers today.

There are few writers who get such a hold on their readers. The spontaneous humour and sunshiny philosophy of her books banish care for the moment, and, lightly written as her books seem to be, there is marked ability in always maintaining the interest of the story at its highest pitch. After all, it is difficult to write a story about young people which will appeal to the mature tastes of grown-ups. How this is done is Miss Montgomery’s secret. Anne of Green Gables was, on its first appearance, regarded with suspicion as being merely a girl’s book, but before two months had passed it was the treasured possession of countless grandfathers and grandmothers. . . . [Rainbow Valley] is a book that can be read with pleasure by young and old alike. Its mingling of pathos and humour, and its healthy contempt for undue sentimentality, mark it out from its fellows as something quite out of the common.

This review and hundred more like it appears in The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 3: A Legacy in Review, available from University of Toronto Press by the end of December.

Montgomery Review 13: Jane of Lantern Hill

Cover art for Jane of Lantern Hill, published by McClelland and Stewart (Canada) and Frederick A. Stokes (USA) in 1936.

Reviewers throughout the world raved about Montgomery’s late novel Jane of Lantern Hill, published in 1937:

“[Montgomery] has the knack of making the reader instantly at home with the characters and the places – all so affectionately described, in such vivid, simple atmosphere, with such apt descriptions and animated natural dialogue. Jane’s escape from the repressive grandeur of 60 Gay St. and her adventures on the Island are the focus of the story; but the old grandmother is quite as fascinating as Jane.” —The Toronto Daily Star (Toronto, ON)

“This book may rate as a juvenile, but older people will perhaps appreciate its sentiment more than their juniors.” —The Springfield Sunday Union and Republican (Springfield, MA)

“[The novel] reveals a remarkable understanding of human emotions, joys and sorrows.” —Dudley Herald (Dudley, UK)

“As in Miss Montgomery’s other novels, there is a freshness, a naturalness and a charm about this that, with its humour, makes it delightful to read.” —The Auckland Star (Auckland, New Zealand)

Montgomery Review 12: Anne’s House of Dreams

Cover art for Anne’s House of Dreams, published by McClelland, Goodchild and Stewart (Canada) and Frederick A. Stokes Company (USA) in 1917.

“The story is a genuine romance of matrimony, a household idyl, and there is in it humor, pathos and a rich humanity. It is a healthy, homely, unpretentious novel told in a simple, spontaneous style. In many respects it is the best thing Miss Montgomery has written.” —Rochester Post Express