Vanessa Brown

“‘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.

L.M. Montgomery Day 2015 in Leaskdale

Please join us in Leaskdale, Ontario, on Saturday, 24 October 2015, for the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario’s annual L.M. Montgomery Day, which commemorates Montgomery’s arrival in Leaskdale as a minister’s wife in October 1911.

This year’s theme is Maud’s Landscapes: The Effect of Nature on Her Writing, and the schedule of events is as follows:

8:45 a.m.: Coffee and Registration

9:30 a.m.: Melanie Whitfield, President, LMMSO, Welcome; Gwen Layton, LMMSO, “Maud in the Garden: L.M. Montgomery’s Sense of Place in Her Leaskdale Literary Landscape”

10:00 a.m.: Melanie Fishbane, “Fairy Slopes and Phantom Shadows: L.M. Montgomery as Teen Poet”

10:35 a.m.: Vanessa Brown, “Hester Gray’s Garden”

11:10 a.m.: Break

11:25 a.m.: Benjamin Lefebvre, “In Lands Afar: L.M. Montgomery and the Re-creation of Prince Edward Island in Ontario”

12:00 p.m.: Lunch

1:00 p.m.: Kate Macdonald Butler, “Reflections on Filming Anne of Green Gables in 2015”

1:30 p.m.: Launch of L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys: The Ontario Years, 1911–1942, including remarks by editors Rita Bode and Lesley D. Clement

3:00 p.m.: Book signing and refreshments

4:00 p.m.: Walk to Rainbow Valley and Tour of the Leaskdale Manse

To obtain more information and to register, please visit the website for the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario.

L.M. Montgomery and Cultural Memory: Day 1

Guest post by Vanessa Brown

Welcome Montgomery fans to my first blog for the L.M. Montgomery Research Group! Guess what? I’m here to tell you about my exciting day at the Montgomery Conference here in beautiful Prince Edward Island, and it really has been exciting.

This morning we found out about new plans from the L.M. Montgomery Institute to start a publication series, a app for your iPhone, and the digitization of Montgomery’s letters to Penzie MacNeill. How cool is that?

I’m selling books at the conference for Attic Books in London, Ontario, but like any good bookseller, I slept a little bit late. Still, there was plenty of interest at my booth despite my tardiness, and also at the booth for Gallery 18 who was only here for today. It was great to meet Aubrey Bell and talk a little shop before diving into the day’s intellectual fare with a cup of coffee and some pastries—the trademark nutrition of any academic gathering.

I sat in on Trinna Frever’s presentation on Recollection and Remembrance, as well as Katja Lee’s enthralling talk on Montgomery’s self-branding with particular focus on The Alpine Path. Maud’s focus on crafting her image for the public and for herself was apparent for both speakers and led to some riveting discussion. I also enjoyed the question period following presentations on predestination, “future memories” and the conflict of modernity in the Emily books, by quick witted Balaka Basu, the venerated Andrea Valenta and brilliant Laura Breitenbeck, respectively.

After some yummy refreshments, I dug my teeth into Melanie Fishbane’s multimedia presentation on sexy Gilbert Blythe—Oh, how I love you Jonathan Crombie!—and even played Diana in a dialogue highlighting his place in our cultural memory. Later topics included Walter Blythe and the World Wars (Gwen Gethner), liminal spaces in Anne’s House of Dreams (Poushali Bhadury) and Queen Victoria’s role in the Emily books (Holly Pike).

Sitting around all day works up an appetite, so we found ourselves at the Anne of Green Gables Chocolates in downtown Charlottetown, where I picked up some delicious Avonlea cheese. Yes, I’m an Anne fan, but I’m also a cheese fan and I would eat this yummy stuff if it was called by any other name. It’s twice the price in London, Ontario, so I consider this a score.

The evening was topped off by a glorious cocktail reception, hosted by the Heirs of L.M. Montgomery for the conference speakers. Kate Macdonald Butler and Sally Keefe Cohen throw a superb party, with delicious appetizers and a flowing bar—all at the Great George Hotel where Regis and Kelly stayed on their recent visit to the Island. Did you read that folks? Regis and Kelly! One of the bartenders told me that he was assigned to be their personal slave and assured me that Kelly is super tiny in real life, and so is Regis.

Actually, I was more impressed to find out that Anne Murray had stayed there, but it’s all subjective.

I left the party still hopping and expect my roommate to come in late and certainly not sober. That’s it for today! Tomorrow is my big talk, and I’m super nervous. I hope whoever is blogging tomorrow is kind.

Waterston and Rubio at Wolf Performance Hall, London, Ontario

Vanessa Brown’s article “L.M. Montgomery: Writer of the World” discusses a recent talk by Elizabeth Waterston and Mary Rubio at the Wolf Performance Hall in London, Ontario:

On September 30, supporters and members of Friends of the Library met at the Wolf Performance Hall to hear a talk by Elizabeth Waterston and Mary Rubio, the world’s foremost experts on Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Congratulations to Vanessa Brown!

Congratulations to Vanessa Brown of London, Ontario, who won the second prize in Canada’s First National Book Collecting Contest for best book collectors under the age of thirty, sponsored by the Bibliographical Society of Canada (BSC), the Antiquarian Booksellers of Association of Canada (ABAC), and the Alcuin Society. Vanessa won for her collection, “The L.M. Montgomery Collection in the Forest City.” She was recently interviewed by Mark Medley on the National Post book blog, “The Afterword.”

I remember the first time I bought a book about Lucy Maud Montgomery that wasn’t by her but about her. I was at a shop here in town called Portobello Road, which is no longer there. It was a great shop. There was a publisher’s proof of a biography by Harry Bruce. It was exciting to read about her, to find out there was so much more to learn. Then, of course, I bought the journals. And the obsession grew.