This week the L.M. Montgomery Readathon—an interactive group that Andrea McKenzie and I curate on Facebook—began its discussion of our fourth Montgomery book, Chronicles of Avonlea, a volume of linked short stories. We have just surpassed 700 participants, people from all over the world who are rediscovering L.M. Montgomery’s works and seeking community during this time of global uncertainty. If you haven’t yet joined the conversation, please do!
Published in summer 1912, Chronicles of Avonlea is L.M. Montgomery’s fifth book, preceded by Anne of Green Gables (1908), Anne of Avonlea (1909), Kilmeny of the Orchard (1910), and The Story Girl (1911). All four of these books were bestsellers in Canada and the U.S., although Anne of Green Gables continued to be the strongest seller. Somewhat understandingly from his point of view, Montgomery’s publisher, L.C. Page, was keen to publish more Montgomery books, particularly ones that were linked to Anne and might approximate or even surpass the sales success of Montgomery’s first book.
Because Montgomery couldn’t write books fast enough to please her publisher and because she was reluctant to write a third Anne book because she wanted to resist the inevitable romantic conclusion, Page—who had already suggested that she postpone The Story Girl and expand a nine-chapter serial entitled “Una of the Garden” as the basis for Kilmeny of the Orchard—asked her to compile a volume of linked short stories set in the same geographical environment as Anne of Green Gables and to feature Anne whenever possible, thinking that such a volume would be seen as the next best thing to a new novel about Anne. By this point Montgomery had published hundreds of short stories in North American periodicals, so she looked through her scrapbooks to see which stories could be revised for this project and ended up sending close to thirty revised stories for Page for consideration.
The twelve stories that made the final cut were first published in a range of North American periodicals between 1904 and 1912 (only “Old Lady Lloyd” has not yet been found in its original incarnation). Here they are, in chronological order:
“Little Joscelyn.” The Christian Endeavor World (Boston), 1 September 1904, 988–89.
“The Hurrying of Ludovic.” The Canadian Magazine (Toronto), May 1905, 67–71.
“Aunt Olivia’s Beau.” The Designer (New York), June 1905, 196–200.
“Ol’ Man Reeves’ Girl.” The Farm and Fireside (Springfield, OH), 15 June 1905, 14–15. (Revised as “Old Man Shaw’s Girl.”)
“A Case of Atavism.” The Reader Magazine (Indianapolis), November 1905, 658–66. (Revised as “The Winning of Lucinda.”)
“Pa Rudge’s Purchase.” The Christian Endeavor World (Boston), 22 February 1906, 421–22. (Revised as “Pa Sloane’s Purchase.”)
“The Quarantine at Alexander Abraham’s.” Everybody’s Magazine (New York), April 1907, 495–503.
“The End of a Quarrel.” American Agriculturist (New York), 20 July 1907, 56, 58–59.
“The Courting of Prissy Strong.” The Housewife (New York), July 1909, 12–13.
“Miracle at Mayfield.” The Christian Endeavor World (Boston), 28 October 1909, 69–70. (Revised as “The Miracle at Carmody.”)
“Each in His Own Tongue.” The Delineator (New York), October 1910, 247, 324–28.
Still, although there’s no record of the process of selecting and arranging the stories in this volume (most of the remaining stories would appear in Further Chronicles of Avonlea in 1920, but that’s a story for another day), there are some clues in the first published edition that indicate that Page and/or Montgomery considered a few arrangements before they finalized the contents of the book.
First, although the title on the cover appears simply as Chronicles of Avonlea, the title page adds an explanatory subtitle that tries to solidify the connection between this book and the character for whom Montgomery was best known:
In which Anne Shirley of Green Gables and Avonlea plays some part, and which have to do with other personalities and events, including The Hurrying of Ludovic, Old Lady Lloyd, The Training of Felix, Little Joscelyn, The Winning of Lucinda, Old Man Shaw’s Girl, Aunt Olivia’s Beau, The Quarantine at Alexander Abraham’s, Pa Sloane’s Purchase, The Courting of Prissy Strong, The Miracle at Carmody, and finally The End of a Quarrel.
The order of the stories here is the same as what appears in the book, and the only difference is that “Each in His Own Tongue” is renamed “The Training of Felix”—perhaps this was Page’s suggestion, given that the story had originally been published as “Each in His Own Tongue.” But an ad for the book at the end of this edition reads quite differently, with many of the titles referring to stories that ultimately appeared in Further Chronicles:
In which Anne Shirley of Green Gables and Avonlea plays some part, and which have to do with other personalities and events, including The Purchase of Sloane, The Baby Which Came to Jane, The Mystery of Her Father’s Daughter and of Tannis of the Flats, The Promise of Lucy Ellen, The Beau and Aunt Olivia, The Deferment of Hester, and finally of The Hurrying of Ludovic.
Although we don’t know how involved Montgomery was in making this selection and arrangement, the final, published version was certainly a hit with reviewers and a strong seller with the general public. Although some reviewers still yearned for another novel with Anne as the protagonist, most of the reviews had high praise for Montgomery’s skill as a short story writer. Here are some representative samples from reviews of the time, all of which are included or excerpted in Volume 3 of The L.M. Montgomery Reader.
“In this volume the author establishes her right to be considered one of the best short story writers in our country.”
“All the insight and charm of the Anne books, with the added grace of a more finished craftsmanship, render this an exceptional collection; and a few of the chapters will take very high rank in the short-story domain.”
—Christian Science Monitor
“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.”
—Mail and Empire (Toronto)
“Avonlea might be any one of those home towns to which wandering sons and daughters hurry back for their summer holiday; a village where every little white house has its grass plot, flower beds and vegetable garden; where the air is sweet with rose odors in June and apples in September; an out-of-the way spot where quaint characters develop idiosyncrasies.”
—The Publishers’ Weekly
“The charm of the author’s style was never more in evidence. The stories ‘tell themselves’ with a readiness and naturalness which is the perfection of literary skill. . . . These ‘Chronicles of Avonlea’ demonstrate anew the truth that simple, quiet lives may be full of romance and of tragedy, even if the latter be bloodless.”
“The author shows a wonderful knowledge of humanity, great insight and warm-heartedness in the manner in which some of the scenes are treated, and the sympathetic way the gentle peculiarities of the characters are brought out.”
“Instinctively one feels that the men and women, the boys and girls, the very cats and dogs of her stories are human and real; and they remain not creatures of the imagination but actual friends whose pleasures we have shared, whose griefs we have borne, and whose good fortunes we rejoice over. The authoress, too, is not without a saving sense of humor that lends the quaint charm to her stories that mark their individuality.”
—Saint John Globe
“The author has won a fine reputation as a depictor of child life, but it is a mistake to consider that she is limited to that life. Indeed her finest work is to be found wherein she gives us the relation of the child and the adult.”
—Brooklyn Daily Eagle
“These chronicles are of the best work that Miss Montgomery has done. The characters are real, living people, full of human weaknesses and homely virtues.”
—The Canadian Magazine
Chronicles of Avonlea was part of the basis for the ever-popular television series Road to Avonlea (1990–1996), and it also showcases Montgomery’s strengths as a short-story writer. As such, it’s a collection that’s certainly worth revisiting. Please join the conversation on the L.M. Montgomery Readathon!