Thanks to all of you who joined us for our second instalment in our Conversations about L.M. Montgomery initiative, a round table discussion of Rilla of Ingleside, on Zoom earlier this month. That conversation has now been archived on YouTube. I’m pleased to announce our third and final instalment for 2020, which is a trivia contest that opens today, coinciding with the anniversary of L.M. Montgomery’s birth. Participants are invited to complete the quiz on their own time and to join us over Zoom on Saturday, December 12, at 2:00 p.m. (EST) (registration is required) to find out the answers and to watch a bonus round for attendees with the highest scores. Break a leg!
I just received a notification email telling me that University of Toronto Press is offering free shipping, in Canada and the United States, on all its orders between now and the end of this Sunday, November 29. Since UTP has published a number of books by or about L.M. Montgomery over the years, and given that these books are substantially discounted on their website, this is the perfect time for readers to complete their collections!
Among the books available are the first two volumes of The L.M. Montgomery Library and the three volumes of The L.M. Montgomery Reader, which are still available in hardcover as well as the paperback editions released earlier this year. I was also pleased to see that paperback copies of Mary Quayle Innis’s The Clear Spirit: Twenty Canadian Women and Their Times (1966), which includes Elizabeth Waterston’s chapter on Montgomery that is widely acknowledged as the starting point of L.M. Montgomery studies, are still available.
A full list of titles is as follows:
- Elizabeth Rollins Epperly, The Fragrance of Sweet-Grass: L.M. Montgomery’s Heroines and the Pursuit of Romance (1992/2014)
- Elizabeth Rollins Epperly, Through Lover’s Lane: L.M. Montgomery’s Photography and Visual Imagination (2007)
- Irene Gammel (ed.), The Intimate Life of L.M. Montgomery (2005)
- Irene Gammel (ed.), Making Avonlea: L.M. Montgomery and Popular Culture (2002)
- Irene Gammel and Elizabeth Epperly (eds.), L.M. Montgomery and Canadian Culture (1999)
- Irene Gammel and Benjamin Lefebvre (eds.), Anne’s World: A New Century of Anne of Green Gables (2010)
- Mary Quayle Innis (ed.), The Clear Spirit: Twenty Canadian Women and Their Times (1966)
- Benjamin Lefebvre (ed.), The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 1: A Life in Print (2013)
- Benjamin Lefebvre (ed.), The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 2: A Critical Heritage (2014)
- Benjamin Lefebvre (ed.), The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 3: A Legacy in Review (2015)
- Benjamin Lefebvre (ed.), A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917 (2018)
- Benjamin Lefebvre (ed.), A World of Songs: Selected Poems, 1894–1921 (2019)
- Hildi Froese Tiessen and Paul Gerard Tiessen (eds.), After Green Gables: L.M. Montgomery’s Letters to Ephraim Weber, 1916–1941 (2006)
- Lorraine York, Literary Celebrity in Canada (2007/2017)
I decided to take advantage of this sale myself, and I ordered two books that will certainly come in handy as I continue my work of preparing all of L.M. Montgomery’s short stories and poems for book publication: T.K. Pratt’s Dictionary of Prince Edward Island English (1996) and T.K. Pratt and Scott Burke’s Prince Edward Island Sayings (1998). I look forward to reading these!
Don’t forget that our Rilla of Ingleside round table, the second instalment in our Conversations about L.M. Montgomery initiative, is happening this afternoon (2 p.m. EST) on Zoom! Three speakers will be discussing key aspects of this book, followed by open discussion among participants. Please register in advance and join us if you can! A recording will be posted on YouTube later on.
Kate Sutherland (York University)
Caroline E. Jones (Austin)
Sarah Goff (Albany)
Maureen O. Gallagher (Australian National University), L.M. Montgomery’s Reframing of the Great War through Women’s Homefront Experiences
Sarah Glassford (University of Windsor), L.M. Montgomery’s Representations of Women’s War Work
Andrea McKenzie (York University), L.M. Montgomery’s Subversions of Cultural War Myths
On behalf of the steering committee for Conversations about L.M. Montgomery, I’m happy to let you all know that, as a follow-up to our round table on The Blue Castle last month (which attracted about 70 participants and which you can now watch on YouTube), our next instalment, held on Zoom and scheduled for Saturday, November 21 at 2:00 p.m. EST, will be a round table on Rilla of Ingleside. Set in rural Prince Edward Island during the First World War and published in 1921, this book is now widely recognized as having significant literary and historical value, and it was the first book that we discussed on the L.M. Montgomery Readathon. Speakers will include Sarah Glassford (University of Windsor), Maureen O. Gallagher (Australian National University), and Andrea McKenzie (York University), and it promises to be a lively discussion.
Registration is now open—look forward to seeing you there!
Just a reminder that the first event in the new Conversations about L.M. Montgomery initiative, a round table discussion of frequent Montgomery fan favourite The Blue Castle, will take place over Zoom on Saturday, 17 October 2020, at 2:00 p.m. (EST). I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce the three speakers, who will be talking about the novel in terms of the environment, romance, and the figure of the “bad girl.”
Caroline E. Jones has been reading L.M. Montgomery’s work since she was a preteen, and her love for the author sent her after a PhD in English studies, with a focus on children’s literature. She has presented at six of the L.M. Montgomery Institute’s biennial conferences, and her Montgomery research focuses on issues of motherhood and girlhood. Caroline has published four book chapters on Montgomery’s work, most recently “Idylls of Play: L.M. Montgomery’s Child-Worlds,” in Children’s Play in Literature: Investigating the Strengths and the Subversions of the Playing Child (2019).
Rachel McMillan is the author of the Herringford and Watts mysteries, the Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries, and the Three Quarter Time series of contemporary Viennese romances. Her newest releases include Dream, Plan and Go: A Travel Guide to Inspire Independent Adventure, A Very Merry Holiday Movie Guide, and The London Restoration. Rachel is a long-time enthusiast of The Blue Castle, has lectured on L.M. Montgomery’s ties to Muskoka, and curated an international readalong of The Blue Castle that dug deep into the historical and social tenets of the book.
Tara K. Parmiter received her B.A. in English from Cornell University and her Ph.D. from New York University, where she teaches in the expository writing program and is the assistant director of the writing centre. Her article on village improvement societies in Anne of Avonlea appeared in CREArTA, and her article on nature study in the Anne books appeared in L.M. Montgomery and the Matter of Nature(s) (2018). She has also published on summer vacationing in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, journey narratives in the Muppet movies, and the green gothic landscapes of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga.
Registration is now open for this event. If you’re unable to join us for the event, a recording will be available after the fact on YouTube. First-time readers of the book are warned that the discussion will contain plot spoilers. Be sure to subscribe to this blog via email to get all the latest updates about this exciting new initiative.
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One of my previous books, The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 3: A Legacy in Review, contains the full text of almost 400 reviews of the twenty-four books Montgomery published within her lifetime, excerpts from dozens more, and a narrative overview of reviews of an additional twenty-four books attributed to Montgomery and published between 1960 and 2013. Although I blogged quite a bit about reviews around the time I was putting this book together, once it was published in 2015 I was ready to move on to something else. Not surprisingly given that I’ve continued to comb through newspapers and magazines looking for Montgomery’s short stories, poems, and miscellaneous pieces since then, I do come across new book reviews periodically. Normally when that happens I just update my master list and file them away on my hard drive, but this week I decided to post some reviews I’ve come across recently because one of them echoes my recent blog post about Montgomery and Jane Austen.
Here are four reviews in total of three books that Montgomery published at the height of her career – or, strictly speaking, of two books that Montgomery published at the height of her career and of one book that her unscrupulous first publisher manipulated her into publishing around this time.
First, a review of Rainbow Valley that appeared in the 1 January 1920 issue of Farmers’ Magazine, published out of Toronto:
The light deftness of literary touch which is the gift of L.M. Montgomery is something that even a Jane Austen might almost envy, for she has the power of setting before us the events and people of everyday life in a typical Canadian community, and of showing us with a fine, sympathetic insight the humor, the beauty and the pathos of what might have passed by us as commonplace or unworthy of attention.
“Rainbow Valley” is peopled with children whose pranks upset the serenity of the “even tenor of the way,” but in whose boisterousness there is nothing of downright wickedness.
And as every community has its share of persons who are busily engaged in “minding other people’s business,” here we have those who are greatly interested in the widowed condition of the occupant of the manse and the seeming wildness of his unmothered children.
At the back of it all the author sees the guiding hand of Romance who weaves before our eyes a truly delightful pattern of life.
Second, a review of Rainbow Valley that appeared in the 27 November 1919 issue of The Christian Endeavor World, a religious periodical published out of Boston:
The scene of L.M. Montgomery’s latest novel, “Rainbow Valley,” is Prince Edward Island, which the author knows and loves so well. Anne Shirley, the Anne of “Anne of Green Gables” and other books, appears again in this volume, fresh and bright and delightful as ever. The centre of the story, however, is the manse to which has come a rather absent-minded minister, a widower with a family. The story deals with the adventures of the young folks, but the chief charm of the book is the humor that glows throughout. The author has succeeded in clothing the common interests of country life with the glory of romance, and has invested with interest the every-day talk and commonplace events of the community. “Rainbow Valley” makes delightful reading; the children are so human, so full of fun and harmless mischief, that they win our sympathy at once.
Third, a review of Further Chronicles of Avonlea that appeared in the 27 May 1920 issue of The Christian Endeavor World:
L.M. Montgomery has done for Prince Edward Island what “Ian Maclaren” did for Drumtochty. It is no small achievement to create so interesting and charming a figure as Anne of Green Gables and to people the region about Avonlea with real characters. Miss Montgomery has the gift of swift and accurate characterization, and not a little of the pleasure in reading her books comes from those flashes of insight that she puts into a few winged words. The present volume, “Further Chronicles of Avonlea,” is a book of short stories. Lovers of the island will be delighted with the fidelity of the pictures. Some of the tales touch deep feelings; others are in a lighter vein, like “Aunt Cynthia’s Persian Cat,” – a cat which causes a good deal of trouble by reverting to its primitive instincts, – or “The Materializing of Cecil,” a thoroughly enjoyable love story with its striking conclusion. These Chronicles are clean and sweet, and one feels better after reading them.
And fourth, a review of Rilla of Ingleside that appeared in the 18 May 1922 issue of The Christian Endeavor World:
In her latest novel, “Rilla of Ingleside,” Miss L.M. Montgomery has given us a faithful as well as an interesting picture of how the war came to a Canadian village, how it affected the people, and what changes it made. Rilla is the daughter of the doctor – a daughter, by the way, of Anne of Green Gables – and at first is rather self-centred. The war and the conditions it brings impose new tasks upon her and bring out latent powers. What is here told of the eager looking for war news must have been true of many places, and the tragedies, the boys that never came back, are but samples of war’s awful toll. There is a fine love-story in this tale, which is written with Miss Montgomery’s well-known charm and genial touch. There is in the book a good deal of laughter, sunshine darting through clouds.
What do you notice in these short, unsigned evaluations of these three Montgomery books? What elements are these books praised for? How do those elements dovetail with the reasons people continue to read (and reread) her books today? What do these comments suggest about what audiences these books target in terms of age or gender?
When Andrea McKenzie told me last March about her idea to start a Rilla of Ingleside Readathon, she mentioned that she wanted to find new ways to connect with fellow L.M. Montgomery readers using the tools of the digital age (in this case, Facebook). After all, it’s been well documented that Montgomery’s novels have the power to bring people together, and Andrea thought it would be worthwhile for a group of people to read (or reread) Rilla of Ingleside together, partly as a distraction from the pandemic, partly because there’s such rich cultural and literary context to explore in that novel, and partly because it depicts a community of people working together to get through a different kind of global crisis (in this case, four years of war). The level of response from readers all over the world surpassed our expectations completely, and the group—now called L.M. Montgomery Readathon—recently started discussing a third Montgomery book, The Blue Castle.
In light of the level of enthusiasm that the Readathon has received, Andrea and I soon started talking about additional ways we would connect virtually with fellow Montgomery readers around the world. To that end, I am pleased to announce Conversations about L.M. Montgomery, a series of virtual conversations and activities that will be hosted over Zoom and archived on a YouTube page. For this initiative, we reached out to Melanie J. Fishbane, Sarah Goff, Daniela Janes, Caroline E. Jones, Yuka Kajihara, and Kate Sutherland, and together the eight of us form the steering committee.
In figuring out a format for a series of virtual events, we were motivated by the wide range of workshops, conferences, events, meetings, and conversations that have happened on Zoom, but we were also mindful of the well-documented phenomenon known as “Zoom fatigue.” And so, instead of an all-day or a multi-day virtual conference, we’ve opted for a series of short events (round tables, formal papers, workshops, informal conversations, and readings), scattered throughout the year, for which any Montgomery reader who downloads the Zoom app can join us.
Our first event will be a round table discussion of The Blue Castle and will take place on Saturday, 17 October 2020, at 2:00 p.m. (EST). It will feature three engaging and knowledgeable speakers: Tara K. Parmiter (New York University) will speak on The Blue Castle and the environment, Rachel McMillan (Toronto) will speak on The Blue Castle and romance, and Caroline E. Jones (Austin) will speak on The Blue Castle and the figure of the bad girl.
Interested participants should register in advance. First-time readers of the book are warned that the discussion will contain plot spoilers. Questions? Suggestions? Comment on this post below or get in touch through the contact form. Please subscribe to this blog via email to get all the latest updates.
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Today is the first of October, which means that today is the day several memes start going around quoting chapter 16 of Anne of Green Gables, in which Anne says to Marilla, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
Although that’s probably one of the most frequently quoted sentences from Montgomery’s work, it is not the only time she wrote about the wonders of October. (One extract that comes to mind is from The Blue Castle, but I don’t want to quote it here out of respect for members of the L.M. Montgomery Readathon who are reading the book for the first time.) Instead, this morning I decided to share with you an excerpt from “Around the Table,” the newspaper column that Montgomery wrote for the Halifax Daily Echo over a nine-month period between September 1901 and May 1902. This column is narrated and signed by “Cynthia,” a single woman of indeterminate age who shares a Halifax boarding house with Polly, Ted, and Theodosia. In the instalment published on 26 October 1901, Cynthia writes about the complexities of waking up early to catch a beautiful October sunrise.
Is there anything in the world more lovely than a fine October morning? When I ask questions like this Polly and Ted laugh heartlessly and say that if I try to describe an October sunrise I must do it by dead reckoning, because I never get up early enough to see. But that’s a libel – born of their mean malice, you know. I do get up early sometimes – and I always enjoy it so much that I make a resolution on the spot that I will rise with the lark every morning thereafter for the space of my natural life. And the next morning I sleep so late that I have to gobble down my breakfast standing, and pin my hat and put my gloves on as I tear down the street! There ought to be a law against making resolutions.
The full text of “Around the Table” appears exclusively in A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917, available from the publisher (at a substantial discount) or from your favourite bookseller.
Image: Detail from the Canadian Favourites edition of Anne of Ingleside, published by McClelland and Stewart in 1972. Artist unknown.
I started writing this as a post in the L.M. Montgomery Readathon, where we’re currently reading and discussing chapter 3 of The Blue Castle, but since it’s rather on the long side for a post, I thought I’d turn it into a blog entry instead. Comments welcome, either here or on Facebook, but please – no spoilers!
Right in the first chapter of The Blue Castle, the narrator establishes the unique, almost undefinable appeal that the work of John Foster has for Valancy: “She could hardly say what it was – some tantalising lure of a mystery never revealed – some hint of a great secret just a little further on – some faint, elusive echo of lovely, forgotten things – John Foster’s magic was indefinable.” Although the librarian notes that John Foster’s books are popular with the library’s patrons, she doesn’t see the appeal of them herself, whereas Mrs. Frederick and Cousin Stickles consider all pleasure reading to be “idleness,” meaning that John Foster’s “magic” is not only indefinable but also not shared by everyone. In chapter three, Valancy “open[s] Thistle Harvest guiltily at random” when she’s supposed to be looking for her thimble, and the experience of rereading just one paragraph makes her feel “the strange exhilaration of spirit that always came momentarily to her when she dipped into one of John Foster’s books.” In other words, John Foster’s books are a form of bibliotherapy for Valancy: they centre her, calm her down, distract her from her problems, and make her feel as one with the world.
It may surprise you – and it may not – to learn that the source of this extract from John Foster’s Thistle Harvest is none other than L.M. Montgomery. As Elizabeth Rollins Epperly reveals in her 2007 book Through Lover’s Lane: L.M. Montgomery’s Photography and Visual Imagination, in creating these extracts from John Foster’s books Montgomery borrowed from a quartet of nature essays she’d published in The Canadian Magazine (Toronto) in 1911: “Spring in the Woods,” “The Woods in Summer,” “The Woods in Autumn,” and “The Woods in Winter.” Although the essays are not set anywhere explicitly, for Epperly they are “memory pictures of her favourite home in nature, Lover’s Lane.” And although Montgomery mentioned to one of her correspondents that she’d written these essays in mid-1909, they ended up being published in the midst of perhaps her most significant life transition: after her grandmother died in March 1911, she left her beloved home in Cavendish, spent three months with relatives in nearby Park Corner, married her longtime fiancé at the beginning of July, honeymooned with him in England and Scotland, moved with him to Leaskdale, Ontario, to start her new responsibilities as the wife of a Presbyterian minister in an entirely new community, and soon became pregnant with her first child, who would be born the following summer.
Here are the first two paragraphs from “Spring in the Woods,” which correspond almost exactly to the extract from Thistle Harvest included in chapter 3 of The Blue Castle:
The woods are so human that to know them we must live with them. An occasional saunter through them, keeping, it may be, to the well trodden paths, will never admit us to their intimacy. If we wish to be near friends we must seek them out and win them by frequent reverent visits at all hours, by morning, by noon, and by night, and at all seasons, in spring and in summer, in autumn and in winter. Otherwise, we can never really know them, and any pretence we can make to the contrary will never impose on them. They have their own effective way of keeping aliens at a distance and shutting their heart to mere casual sight-seers.
Believe me, it is of no use to seek the woods from any motive except sheer love of them; they will find us out at once and hide all their sweet, world-old secrets from us. But if they know we come to them because we love them they will be very kind to us and give us such treasure of beauty and delight as is not bought or sold in market nor even can be paid for in coin of earthly minting; for the woods when they give at all give unstintedly and hold nothing back from their true worshippers. We must go to them lovingly, humbly, patiently, watchfully, and we shall learn what poignant loveliness lurks in the wild places and silent intervals, lying under starshine and sunset, what cadences of unearthly music are harped on aged pine boughs or crooned in copses of fir, what delicate savours exhale from mosses and ferns in sunny corners or on damp brooklands, what dreams and myths and legends of an older time haunt them, what unsuspected tintings glimmer in their dark demesnes and glow in their al- luring by-ways; for it is the by-ways that lead to the heart of the woods, and we must not fail to follow them if we would know the forests and be known of them.
The last sentence from the corresponding extract from Thistle Harvest occurs several paragraphs later in this first “Woods” article:
This is where the immortal heart of the wood will beat against ours and its subtle life will steal into our veins and make us its own forever, so that no matter where we go or how wide we wander in the noisy ways of cities or over lone paths of sea, we shall yet be drawn back to the forest to find our most enduring kinship.
I blogged a few days ago about Montgomery’s “self-repetitions,” and of course this is yet another example of her doing so in a way that would have been difficult for readers at the time to pick up on, given that the “Woods” articles had been published in a periodical fifteen years before The Blue Castle and were not collected in book form until I included them in Volume 1 of The L.M. Montgomery Reader. But what I want to draw your attention to are two complications with this instance of self-repetition.
The first is that Valancy’s stated experience of reading John Foster’s work – seemingly straightforward nature writing that’s really so much more than that for readers who are willing to take these books seriously – is remarkably similar to the way innumerable readers of Montgomery’s books have described the impact that her work has had on their lives. This response to Montgomery’s work is hardly a new phenomenon – by 1926, she’d already received enough fan mail to have a clear sense of the impact her books were having on readers. So what is Montgomery doing here by describing Valancy as having a similarly “indefinable” reaction to John Foster’s work, but cloaking herself as the author of that work and attributing it within the book to a male author (or at least to a male pseudonym), especially given that the book in which John Foster’s work appears was written by an author with a gender-neutral name (“L.M. Montgomery”)?
The second complication is that, intrigued by Epperly’s discovery about the links between John Foster and these “Woods” articles and unable to shake the nagging feeling that the rest of the text of these four nature essays seemed strangely familiar, I took a closer look at these essays when I prepared them for republication and discovered that Montgomery reused extracts from them in nearly all of her Ontario novels, from The Golden Road (1913) to Anne of Ingleside (1939), making only minor changes. Here is part of page 90 of Volume 1 of The L.M. Montgomery Reader, with part of “The Woods in Winter” with some of the passages underlined.
The phrase beginning with “beautiful pagan maidens” appears in Rilla of Ingleside; the sentences beginning with “But the conebearers” and “See how beautiful” appear in two different chapters in Emily Climbs; the phrase “at peace in their white loveliness” appears in Mistress Pat, along with the sentences beginning with “Every step I took”; the phrase beginning with “so taintless and wonderful” is in The Golden Road; the sentences beginning with “Every twig and spray” are in The Blue Castle. Not only that, but immediately after the second extract in Emily Climbs, the narrator adds, “Emily decided she would write that sentence down in her Jimmy-book when she went back.” Presumably, Emily, too, would want to use it again.
In my introductory headnote to Montgomery’s four nature essays, which I included in my book under the collective title “[Seasons in the Woods],” I noted that “these borrowings reveal an attempt on [Montgomery’s] part to recapture [when living in Ontario] a delightful ‘spot’ that loved on in her memory.” Since writing those words, I’ve started to look at this a bit differently. Although she expressed ambivalence to her correspondent about the literary quality of these essays, she must have come to see them as authoritative depictions of Prince Edward Island scenery in order to turn to them again and again for several of the nature descriptions that appeared in most of her novels written in Ontario. In other words, these essays acted as a bridge between the Montgomery of Lover’s Lane and the Montgomery of Ontario who never recovered fully from leaving her beloved Cavendish behind.
In other words, Montgomery’s acts of self-repetition don’t need to be understood merely as a busy writer taking shortcuts or being strategic, although certainly that can be part of it too. Perhaps these essays became a form of bibliotherapy for Montgomery as well, as she sought to centre herself in the Cavendish woods that she had renamed Lover’s Lane and that she could access only in written form while writing in Ontario. To my mind, anyway, the complexity here is worth further consideration.
Epperly, Elizabeth Rollins. Through Lover’s Lane: L.M. Montgomery’s Photography and Visual Imagination. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.
Lefebvre, Benjamin. Headnote to “[Seasons in the Woods].” In Lefebvre, The L.M. Montgomery Reader, 1: 73–74.
—, ed. The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 1: A Life in Print. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013.
Montgomery, L.M. The Green Gables Letters from L.M. Montgomery to Ephraim Weber, 1905–1909. Edited by Wilfrid Eggleston. Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1960.
—. “[Seasons in the Woods].” In Lefebvre, The L.M. Montgomery Reader, 1: 73–97.
—. “Spring in the Woods.” The Canadian Magazine (Toronto), May 1911, 59–62.
—. “The Woods in Autumn.” The Canadian Magazine (Toronto), October 1911, 574–77.
—. “The Woods in Summer.” The Canadian Magazine (Toronto), September 1911, 399–402.
—. “The Woods in Winter.” The Canadian Magazine (Toronto), December 1911, 162–64.
By the strangest of coincidences, a few evenings ago I took a break from writing some contextual material for an item in my next volume of Montgomery’s periodical work, specifically a headnote that mentions that four extracts from Anne’s House of Dreams had appeared in Donald Graham French’s anthology Standard Canadian Reciter: A Book of the Best Readings and Recitations from Canadian Literature, published in 1921 (something I had already mentioned in my overview of Montgomery’s career in my introduction to Volume 1 of The L.M. Montgomery Reader). Donald G. French (1873–1945) was co-author, with J.D. Logan (1869–1929), of Highways of Canadian Literature (1924), the first of six book-length surveys of Canadian literature published in the 1920s. In that volume, which includes a biographical sketch of Montgomery and a summary of her books published up to that point, Logan and French place Anne of Green Gables in a list of Canadian novels “of the Community type,” alongside Marian Keith’s Duncan Polite and Nellie L. McClung’s Sowing Seeds in Danny.
While searching for something else Montgomery-related on the open-access website Early Canadiana Online, I came across for the first time a much earlier article by French – entitled “Canada’s Jane Austen” and appearing in the December 1914 issue of The School, a Toronto publication – from which the bulk of Logan and French’s remarks about Montgomery in Highways would be lifted. The full text of this earlier article is as follows:
No history of English literature is considered complete unless it gives due place to the work done by Jane Austen in her portrayal of rural English domestic life; and no history of Canadian literature, when such comes to be written, should fail to recognize that L.M. Montgomery has done for Canada what Jane Austen did for England.
L.M. Montgomery (now Mrs. (Rev.) Evan [sic] Macdonald) was born at Clifton, Prince Edward Island, and spent her childhood in Cavendish – a seashore farming settlement which figures as “Avonlea” in her stories. Like many another young Canadian she has to the credit of her experiences a few years as teacher in the schools of her province. That her life so far has been spent chiefly within the limits of the little island province and the bounds of an Ontario country parish does not narrow her outlook although it necessarily confines her to themes bounded by rural experiences, for her forte is the portrayal of what she has seen and knows. She has the imaginative and creative gifts, but she uses these in enabling us to see the beauty, the humour, and the pathos that lies about our daily paths.
“Anne of Green Gables,” which was Miss Montgomery’s first novel, has an interesting literary history. She tells us that upon being asked for a short serial story for a Sunday school weekly, she cast about for a plot idea. A faded note book entry suggested: “Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy; a girl is sent to them.” The writing of a serial was started, but time did not allow the author to complete it for the purpose intended. As she brooded over the theme it began to expand and the result was a book which may already be confidently labelled a “Canadian Classic.”
In Anne we have an entirely new character in fiction, a high-spirited, sensitive girl, with a wonderfully vivid imagination; wise beyond her years, outspoken and daring; not always good but always lovable. The basis of the story is already explained; its working out is somewhat different from the original suggestion. Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, an elderly bachelor and his sister, living alone on the farm of Green Gables, send a message to an orphan asylum asking that a boy be sent them. Through some mistake a girl comes – the girl Anne. At first Marilla wants to send her back, but sympathy with the child’s longing for a real home, and an interest in her very quaintness, ends in establishing her as a member of the Green Gables family – and then the story has only begun. It is Anne who dominates the whole book. There are other characters, quaint too, and well-drawn, but the introduction of Anne into the community – Anne, so unconventional, so imaginative, and so altogether different from the staid, prosaic, general attitude of the neighbourhood proves to be the introduction of a peculiar ferment, and the incidents which discover to us the process of fermentation are most delightfully odd and mirth-provoking.
In “Anne of Avonlea” we follow the career of our orphan heroine. When we said goodbye to her she was fitting herself to become a teacher and it is with two eventful years of school teaching that this book deals. The writer understands children thoroughly and makes her child characters of all types perfectly natural and life-like. The same creative faculty which gave us in Anne an entirely new shadow-child shows itself in the portrayal of the mischievous but lovable Davy Keith, his demure twin sister Dora, the imaginative Paul Irving, and the many individualities of the pupils of Avonlea School.
Plot interest is not a strong feature of this or of any of L.M. Montgomery’s books. There are, nevertheless, several threads of action which bind together the series of incidents. Her novels are novels of incident rather than of plot; they do not, however, lack in continuity and unity. Frequent passages of nature description reveal at once the author’s intimacy with nature and her poetic attitude of mind.
Here is a typical descriptive passage: “A September day on Prince Edward Island hills; a crisp wind blowing up over the sand dunes from the sea; a long, red road, winding through fields and woods, now looping itself about a corner of thick set spruce, now threading a plantation of young maples with great feathery sheets of ferns beneath them, now dipping down into a hollow where a brook flashed out of the woods and into them again, now basking in the open sunshine between ribbons of goldenrod and of myriads of crickets.”
“Chronicles of Avonlea” is a volume of short stories, which contains some of the most finished work of this author. The perfect art that conceals all art is shown in many of these short stories. There is a strong vein of simple humour in this as in all Miss Montgomery’s work; there is also a very keen personal sympathy of the author towards her characters.
Two other books by this author, “The Story Girl” and “The Golden Road,” are written with even less attention to a central plot than either of the two “Anne” books. They are somewhat loosely connected series of incidents in which the same characters take part. But they have none the less a high value when viewed from our standpoint; we are to remember that our Canadian Jane Austen need not invent for us thrilling plots. Other writers can do that, but other writers cannot or at least do not hold before us the mirror of Canadian country life.
“Kilmeny of the Orchard” is in a sense but an expanded short story. It is a prose idyll and does not, perhaps, bulk very large when compared with the other books. It is really one of the extended “chronicles” of Avonlea.
In characterizing L.M. Montgomery the Jane Austen of Canada, let it be understood that we are not regardless of the difference in the scope of the work of the two writers. Jane Austen’s canvas is immensely broader, yet L.M. Montgomery’s portrayal of her fellowmen and fellowwomen shows a much keener personal sympathy; her work has more heart to it.
This is not the first time Montgomery had been referred to as the Canadian counterpart to Jane Austen; the earliest instance of this that I’ve found (so far) is a Toronto World review of Chronicles of Avonlea (included in Volume 3 of The L.M. Montgomery Reader) that suggests that “we might perhaps call L.M. Montgomery the Jane Austen of Canadian literature.” And it is also not the first time French would recycle some of his own work. Take a look at an article (signed “D.F.”) entitled “Rilla, Daughter of Anne” that French published in the Toronto Globe in 1921, shortly after the publication of Rilla of Ingleside:
The creation of the character “Anne” was a literary achievement which won enthusiastic commendation from writers of the highest rank – Bliss Carman and Mark Twain. Since then L.M. Montgomery has definitely fixed her place as the Jane Austen of Canadian literature and she has gone on employing her wonderful imaginative and creative gifts in portraying the beauty, the humor and the pathos that lies about our daily paths.
Possessed of a keen personal sympathy, a close intimacy with nature, a poetic attitude of mind, she captivates an ever widening circle of readers with the lightness, spontaneity, quaintness and humor of her stories.
“Rilla of Ingleside,” her latest book, follows up the career of the daughter of “Anne” of “Anne of Green Gables.” Rilla is impetuous, fun-loving, like Anne Shirley, and yet different. Anne herself and the doctor have important parts; Susan, Miss Cornelia and many other old friends reappear.
Canada’s tiny sea-girt Province, Prince Edward Island, was her birthplace. Her childhood was spent at Cavendish – a seashore farming settlement, which forms the background of many of her stories. She attended the country school and Prince of Wales College, Charlottetown, afterwards teaching for three years.
“As far back as my memory runs I was writing stories for my own amusement,” she says. In 1909 [sic], with the publication of her first book, she found the true field for her talents, although she is equally successful as a writer of verse and short stories.
In 1911 she married Rev. Ewan Macdonald, a Presbyterian minister, and came to Ontario to live, her husband’s charge being not far from the city of Toronto.
Although the bulk of this article is original, notice the echo between the 1914 piece (“She has the imaginative and creative gifts, but she uses these in enabling us to see the beauty, the humour, and the pathos that lies about our daily paths”) and the 1921 piece (“she has gone on employing her wonderful imaginative and creative gifts in portraying the beauty, the humor and the pathos that lies about our daily paths”) in addition to the connection in both pieces between Montgomery and Austen.
With only minor changes, the text of the 1914 article would be reused for Logan and French’s Highways ten years later – but without the connection between Montgomery and Austen. Instead, they add a paragraph to discuss the novels that Montgomery had published in the intervening time:
The story of Anne Shirley continues through several volumes – Anne of the Island pictures her college days; Anne’s House of Dreams sees her established as mistress of her own home; while Rilla of Ingleside carries over the history into the second generation, Rilla being the daughter of Anne. There is no new development of method or treatment in these. In Emily of New Moon (1923) Miss Montgomery created a new child character, with a new environment, new conditions, and a new group of minor personages, yet in effect it is of the same type and in the same literary field as her previous novels. The chief difference to be observed is that she employs a more analytic psychological method in depicting her heroine – a method that tends to produce an adult’s story of youth. In a way it marks an advance in literary technique but is not as yet entirely divorced from that minute objective observation which makes equal appeal to the young in years and the young in heart.
Given the amount of repetition between these 1914, 1921, and 1924 pieces on Montgomery by French, how to account for the mysterious disappearance of Austen? Could it be that French’s co-author, J.D. Logan, didn’t share French’s enthusiasm for the literary merit of Montgomery’s work? That seems unlikely, given that, according to Montgomery’s journal entry dated 30 April 1923, Logan had approached her at a recent social function and exclaimed, “Hail, Queen of Canadian Novelists.” Might this be due to a decreased enthusiasm for women’s writing generally? Maybe, yet in Highways Logan and French claim that 1908 marked “the real beginning of the Second Renaissance in Canadian fiction” due to the publication of Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, McClung’s Sowing Seeds in Danny, and Keith’s Duncan Polite (even though Keith’s book had actually appeared in 1905). Might Logan and French have preferred to keep the focus on Canadian authors? Possibly, and yet their discussion of Keith’s novels a few paragraphs later links them to the Thrums books of Scottish author J.M. Barrie, best known as the author of Peter Pan.
So while I can’t guess what’s behind French’s decision (or possibly Logan and French’s decision) to drop the connection between Montgomery and Austen, it’s fortuitous that I came across this instance of repetition when I did. The next phase of my research on Montgomery’s periodical work focuses on periodical short stories in which Montgomery tested out characters, situations, and settings that she would rework – sometimes decades later – in her book-length fiction. Individually, these stories have been referred to as “practice exercises” by Elizabeth Waterston, as “prequels” by Irene Gammel, as “brief periodical warm-ups” by Wendy Roy, as an “early working-out in narrative” by Cecily Devereux, and as “recycled” and “replanted” by Claire E. Campbell. My earlier volumes in The L.M. Montgomery Library highlighted several instances of self-repetition in her non-fiction and her poetry – in A Name for Herself, for instance, I noted that parts of her essay “A Half-Hour in an Old Cemetery” and of her newspaper column “Around the Table” had been woven into Anne of the Island, whereas in my afterword to A World of Songs I noted that the fourteen extracts from the poems Emily shares with Mr. Carpenter in the last chapter of Emily of New Moon had been taken from Montgomery’s own poems. But when it comes to short fiction, the self-repetition becomes more strategic, more nuanced, and more complex. And so, discovering Donald French’s 1914 essay when I did was especially fortuitous, because it reminded me that Montgomery was hardly the only author who repurposed and revised their own work for new audiences, and there are multiple possible reasons for doing so.
Campbell, Claire E. “‘A Window Looking Seaward’: Finding Environmental History in the Writing of L.M. Montgomery.” In The Greater Gulf: Essays on the Environmental History of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, edited by Claire E. Campbell, Edward MacDonald, and Brian Payne, 283–318. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019.
“Chronicles of Avonlea.” In The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 3: A Legacy in Review, edited by Benjamin Lefebvre, 115–38. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015.
Devereux, Cecily. Headnote to “Our Uncle Wheeler,” by L.M. Montgomery. In Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, edited by Cecily Devereux, 335. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Editions, 2004.
D.F. [Donald G. French]. “Rilla, Daughter of Anne.” Globe (Toronto), 8 October 1921, 19.
French, Donald G. “Canada’s Jane Austen.” The School (Toronto), December 1914, 268–70. Online at https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.8_06954_28/.
Gammel, Irene. Looking for Anne: How Lucy Maud Montgomery Dreamed Up a Literary Classic. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 2008.
Lefebvre, Benjamin. Afterword to Montgomery, A World of Songs, 105–20.
—. Introduction to The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 1: A Life in Print, edited by Benjamin Lefebvre, 3–28. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013.
Logan, J.D., and Donald G. French. Highways of Canadian Literature. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1924. Online at https://archive.org/details/highwaysofcanadi0000unse/.
—. The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Volume 3: 1921–1929. Edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Roy, Wendy. The Next Instalment: Serials, Sequels, and Adaptations of Nellie L. McClung, L.M. Montgomery, and Mazo de la Roche. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2019.
Waterston, Elizabeth. Magic Island: The Fictions of L.M. Montgomery. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2008.