In light of the fact that today is the first of April, I thought I’d share with you “Cynthia’s” account of being April fooled, appearing in “Around the Table,” L.M. Montgomery’s newspaper column, which she published in the Halifax Daily Echo from September 1901 to May 1902.
Did you get April fooled last week? At our house we all arose on April’s birth morning with a grim determination not to believe a word that our best friends said to us or tamper with anything that looked suspicious the whole day through. And yet, the sorrowful fact remains that – I blush to admit it – I fell into the very first trap with grace and agility.
When I went downstairs Ted was in the hall looking over a morning paper with a very shocked face.
“Cynthia,” he said, with a shudder – oh, it was very well done. In justice to myself I must say that – “this is frightful. There has been a terrible accident up at the north end – nine lives lost.”
“Oh,” I gasped, feeling a dozen thrills of horror. “Oh, Ted, what happened?”
“A street car ran over a cat,” said Ted solemnly.
And there I was! If it had even been a new joke there would have been some excuse for me. But it is old – so old! Why, it has been going the rounds of the funny columns for years.
Well, I tried to take it meekly and all through breakfast I brooded over my revenge. When Ted started to go down town I called to him and asked him if he would mind doing an errand for me. He said no, of course not. So I wrote out a memorandum and told him to get me three yards of sparrowbill purple ribbon.
“Be very careful to get sparrowbill,” I said. “No other shade of purple will do. I want it to match my new suit. I daresay they won’t have it at all the stores. It’s a new shade.”
“I’ll hunt around until I get it,” said Ted so obligingly that I felt a slight pang of remorse – until I remembered that hideous joke.
When Ted came home at night he looked as if he were suffering from that tired feeling.
“I couldn’t get that fiendish shade of ribbon you wanted, Cynthia,” he said wearily. “I’ve been to every dry goods store in Halifax and the clerks all looked at me as if they thought I was crazy. Said they’d never heard of sparrowbill purple.”
“No more did I,” I said maliciously. “You shouldn’t go gunning for new shades on the first of April, Teddy-boy.”
Ted, not being dull of comprehension, understood. He grinned.
When L.M. Montgomery worked for the Halifax Daily Echo in 1901–1902, she was given a wide range of occasional writing assignments, most of which she never discussed, let alone saved in her scrapbooks, meaning that they cannot be identified now. One writing assignment she did mention in her journals and in her celebrity memoir, “The Alpine Path,” consisted of writing up the holiday specials of Halifax stores that were regular advertisers in the paper, but what she never revealed was the sheer scope of the assignment: she wrote advertising copy for ninety stores, for a total of 13,000 words (more than half the length of “The Alpine Path”). Although Montgomery found these pieces tedious to write, they make for fascinating reading because of how much they reveal about advertising practices more than a century ago.
I include in A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917 some highlights from this assignment, called “Christmas Shopping in Halifax Stores.” Here, as an online exclusive, are Montgomery’s opening paragraph and one of my favourite write-ups from this assignment.
Again Christmas tide approaches and the wide-awake shopkeepers have made preparations for a good season’s trade. All branches of trade feel the effect of Christmas buying, and the consumer feels it perhaps most than all, but he grows reckless with his money in preparing for the season of peace and goodwill. At times he is bothered in the selection of goods and articles which he may deem suitable and worthy of the occasion, and in order to assist readers who might possibly find themselves in such a dilemma the Echo will take the liberty of calling attention to stores and shops where Christmas purchases may be made to advantage.
S. Cunard & Co.
Stoves are little use without fuel, so when one orders a stove coal is brought to mind. S. Cunard & Co.’s is one of the oldest coal dealing firms in Halifax, and their reputation is built on a solid foundation. They deal in all kinds of coals, hard and soft, and having North and South end depots are in a position to supply all parts of the city at short notice. Much coal is given at Christmas to the poor, and it is a thoughtful and in most cases exceedingly welcome gift. With such arrangements as S. Cunard & Co. are equipped with there is little trouble occasioned by one who wishes coal sent to a poor acquaintance. He simply rings up one of the firm’s telephones and gives his order, and the firm does the rest, even to putting the coal in the cellar, if he desires it. Cunard & Co. say that the hard coal with which they supplied their customers the past season turned out to be the best they ever handled. The firm has still a lot of this coal on hand now, and can supply it promptly.
And on 23 December 1901, Montgomery – or, rather, “Cynthia” – wrote in her column “Around the Table” about a late snowfall that was apparently a rarity in Halifax at the time:
I believe we are going to have a white Christmas after all. I’m so glad. I hate a “green” Christmas. You know, when a Christmas is a dirty-grayey-browney affair, looking as if it had been left over about a hundred years ago, and had been in soak ever since it is called a green Christmas. Don’t ask me why! As Lord Dundreary says, “There are thome thingth no fellow can underthtand.”
We don’t get a white Christmas oftener than once in a blue moon, so it is something to be duly thankful for. It is the only real, guaranteed Christmas. Any other kind is a fraud and imitation. Always ask your dealer for a white Christmas and insist on having it.
Lots of snow, making the world look like a magnified Christmas card, crisp, exhilarating air and jingles of sleigh bells everywhere – that’s as it should be. No “green” Christmas for me, an it please ye.
It’s an apt sentiment, since this year, here in Kitchener, Ontario, it also looked like it was going to be a “green” Christmas. But then it snowed overnight – just enough of a dusting to cover the dead lawn but not nearly enough to warrant a lot of shovelling, which is a bonus.
I wish everyone who reads this website a safe and happy holiday season, and I look forward to continuing the conversation about L.M. Montgomery’s life, work, and legacy in 2019.
I am so pleased to report that A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917, the first volume in The L.M. Montgomery Library, is currently an Amazon.ca bestseller! In addition to being ranked 6,670 in terms of overall Amazon.ca bestsellers, it’s currently #1 in two categories – “Books > Literature & Fiction > Canadian > History & Criticism” and “Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Women’s Studies > Women Writers” – as well as #3 in “Books > Literature & Fiction > History & Criticism > Women Writers & Feminist Theory.” Bestseller rankings on Amazon tend to change pretty quickly, so I’m going to enjoy this while I can!
The odd thing is that I looked up the book on Amazon.ca while taking a break from proofreading one of L.M. Montgomery’s earliest short stories, part of a subset of school stories that she published in the Philadelphia Times. That will appear in a future volume in the series.
After spending so many years gathering this material together, it’s really gratifying to know that fellow Montgomery readers now have the opportunity to read this periodical work too.
I cannot remember the time when I was not writing, or when I did not mean to be an author. To write has always been my central purpose around which every effort and hope and ambition of my life has grouped itself. – “The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career”
In the days and weeks ahead, I’ll share with you some exclusive extracts from the book. Today’s extract is from Montgomery’s newspaper column, “Around the Table,” which is collected in its entirety for the first time in my volume. Her column for 2 December 1901 begins with a rumination on the changing seasons:
We have had some forewarnings of winter this last week, haven’t we? The air grew cold and crisp and the poor little sparrows twittered and fluffed out their feathers; and one morning the good folks of Halifax wakened up to see a filmy scarf of white over their city – not much of a snowfall, but just enough to pick the roofs out in dark lines and make the streets for a few brief moments into avenues of marble and invest the glimpses of distant hills with an unreal, fairy-like beauty. The first snowfall of every year has a perennial novelty. There is always a certain suggestion of miracle or magic about it. We go to bed some night, looking out on a dull, gray, lifeless world from which all zest and sparkle seem to have departed. Next morning, presto, change!
Somebody – something – has been at work in the hours of darkness and the sad old world is transformed. And we look upon it with as much delight as if we had never seen it before – this wonderful white loveliness that came while we slept and vanishes again before the morning is far spent.
I’m very pleased to announce the publication of A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917, from University of Toronto Press. This book, which is the first volume in The L.M. Montgomery Library, collects for the first time the majority of the non-fiction and miscellaneous pieces that Montgomery published starting as a teenager and ending at the height of her career as an internationally bestselling author. Among the highlights of the volume is the full text of “Around the Table,” a newspaper column she published in Halifax over a nine-month period, and a new edition of her celebrity memoir “The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career” with fascinating new links to her journals and letters. Montgomery’s text is supplemented by a preface, headnotes, an afterword, and notes that provide historical and biographical context and that place Montgomery in conversation with English-speaking women writers who preceded her (particularly George Eliot and Charlotte Brontë) and the strategies they used to succeed, including opting for initials or for male or androgynous pen names in order to help their work circulate in the marketplace.
Yesterday, I took a hard copy of the proofs of my afterword to A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917 with me when I went to get an oil change, because when a deadline looms, every spare minute counts. Because the goal of the volumes in The L.M. Montgomery Library is not simply to reprint Montgomery’s work but also to provide some original content that’ll place that work within its historical and literary contexts, the afterword of this first volume discusses Montgomery’s career and her choice of an androgynous signature (“L.M. Montgomery”) in the context of British women writers who preceded her, especially Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot. There are numerous parallels between these three authors, particularly between Montgomery and Brontë, to the point that Carole Gerson, in her contribution to Storm and Dissonance: L.M. Montgomery and Conflict (2006), declares that “at one level, Montgomery is always rewriting Jane Eyre.” I’m going a bit further with this, speculating that Montgomery may have named her two major book protagonists Anne and Emily after two of the Brontë sisters but refrained from naming a third one Charlotte in order to make the point of connection less definite. (Not to mention that Charlotte Brontë’s second novel is entitled Shirley.)
Then I remembered that the second season of Anne with an “E” was released that day on Netflix everywhere in the world (except Canada, meaning that I’ll have to wait until late September, when it starts airing on the CBC, to watch it), so I posted on Facebook a request from my non-Canadian friends with access to Netflix to share the episode titles from the second season, to see if they, too, were quotations from Jane Eyre.
A friend who’s on holiday outside Canada posted the list shortly thereafter:
S2E10: The Growing Good of the World
S2E09: What We Have Been Makes Us What We Are
S2E08: Struggling against the Perception of Facts
S2E07: Memory Has as Many Moods as the Temper
S2E06: I Protest against Any Absolute Conclusion
S2E05: The Determining Acts of Her Life
S2E04: The Painful Eagerness of Unfed Hope
S2E03: The True Seeing Is Within
S2E02: Signs Are Small Measurable Things, but Interpretations Are Illimitable
S2E01: Youth Is the Season of Hope
They sound familiar, right? But they’re not from Jane Eyre. They’re from Middlemarch. By George Eliot.
Looks like I’m going to need another endnote. And maybe I should make the time to read Middlemarch before the new season of Anne with an “E” starts on the CBC.
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).
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.
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.”
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.
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.
I am enormously pleased to announce an exciting new series forthcoming from University of Toronto Press: The L.M. Montgomery Library, which will collect Montgomery’s extensive periodical output of short stories, poems, essays, columns, and miscellaneous pieces, first published between 1890 and 1942. Most of this material has never been collected in book form, so these volumes will add tremendously to our understanding and appreciation of Montgomery’s evolution as a professional writer.
The first two volumes will be published in fall 2018:
A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917—This volume contains the full text of Montgomery’s so-called “miscellaneous pieces”: personal and travel essays, a playlet, contributions to student magazines, as well as texts that blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction. It includes for the first time the full text of Montgomery’s “Around the Table” column that she published in the Halifax Daily Echo over a nine-month period in 1901–1902 as well as a new edition of her celebrity memoir, “The Alpine Path.” (This volume was previously announced as Becoming L.M. Montgomery.)
A World of Songs: Selected Poems, 1894–1921—This volume contains a new selection of fifty poems published between 1894 and 1921, focusing on landscape, lamentation, death, war, and love. It was designed to be a companion to Montgomery’s rediscovered final book, The Blythes Are Quoted, since most of the forty-one poems in that book were published between 1919 and 1942.
Each volume contains a preface, an afterword, and annotations that provide context for all readers: the afterword to A Name for Herself discusses Montgomery’s use of gender-neutral double initials (“L.M.”) as well as a range of other pseudonyms (including “Maud Cavendish” and “Belinda Bluegrass”) within the context of strategies used by English-speaking women writers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, whereas the afterword to A World of Songs identifies points of connection between Montgomery’s poetry and her book-length fiction and places the work within post-Confederation poetry in Canada.
Additional volumes showcasing Montgomery’s short stories and poems in chronological order are in progress.
I will post details about cover art, pre-ordering information, launches, and readings once they’ve been finalized, as well as sneak previews, so please subscribe to this blog (at the very bottom of the page) to ensure you get every update.
I’ve been gathering copies of this material for over a decade with the ambition of making this work available in book form to Montgomery’s international community of readers, so it’s humbling and gratifying to see this series finally going ahead. I look forward to continuing the discussion with you all in the years to come.