Menu Close

Blog

A Note on John Foster’s Thistle Harvest

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.

Image of part of a book page with the following text, some of it underlined in different colours:
their twigs ... are beautiful pagan maidens who have never lost the Eden secret of being naked and unashamed.81
But the conebearers, stanch souls that they are, keep their secrets still. The firs and the pines and the spruces never reveal their mystery, never betray their long-guarded lore.82 See how beautiful is that thickly- growing copse of young firs, lightly powdered with the new-fallen snow, as if a veil of aerial lace had been tricksily flung over austere young druid priestesses forsworn to all such frivolities of vain adornment.83 Yet they wear it gracefully enough ... firs can do anything gracefully, even to wringing their hands in the grip of a storm. The deciduous trees are always anguished and writhen and piteous in storms; but there is something in the conebearers akin to the storm spirit ... something that leaps out to greet it and join with it in a wild, exultant revelry. After the first snowfall, however, the woods are at peace in their white loveliness.84 Today I paused at the entrance of a narrow path between upright ranks of beeches, and looked long adown it before I could commit what seemed the desecration of walking through it ... so taintless and wonderful it seemed, like a street of pearl in the New Jerusalem.85 Every twig and spray was outlined in snow. The undergrowth along its sides was a little fairy forest cut out of marble. The shadows cast by the honey-tinted win- ter sunshine were fine and spirit-like.86 Every step I took revealed new enchantments, as if some ambitious elfin artificer were striving to show just how much could be done with nothing but snow in the hands of somebody who knew how to make use of it. A snowfall such as this is the

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.

Bibliography

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.

L.M. Montgomery, Jane Austen, and Self-Repetition

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.

Bibliography

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/.

Montgomery, L.M. A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917. Edited by Benjamin Lefebvre. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018. The L.M. Montgomery Library.

—. The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Volume 3: 1921–1929. Edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1992.

—. A World of Songs: Selected Poems, 1894–1921. Edited by Benjamin Lefebvre. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019. The L.M. Montgomery Library.

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.

Starting Today: The Blue Castle!

Last March, shortly after the start of the COVID-19 restrictions, Andrea McKenzie asked me to collaborate with her on a new initiative designed to help bring L.M. Montgomery’s readers together during this uncertain time. She suggested a Rilla of Ingleside Readathon as a way for us to connect with Montgomery’s worldwide readership through Facebook and as an opportunity for us to revisit some of the contextual work we had put together a decade ago in our restored and annotated edition of the novel, published by Penguin Canada. In a series of Facebook posts, we read the book within the context of Montgomery’s life and times, discussing historical context, gender, nationalism, fashion, technology, allusions to previous works of literature, book covers, translations, and the controversial 1970s abridgement of the text (which, it turns out, happened even earlier than I’d thought!) that continues to be reprinted today.

Andrea and I so enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the novel with so many people around the world that once we were done, we decided to keep the party going, so to speak, and ended up doing the same thing with Jane of Lantern Hill, which we read over the summer. By this point the focus of the group had shifted away from Rilla of Ingleside specifically to more of Montgomery’s work, and so we decided to change the name of the group to the L.M. Montgomery Readathon.

Starting today, we turn to a third Montgomery novel, The Blue Castle, which is a favourite of many Montgomery readers. The only Montgomery book to be set entirely outside Prince Edward Island, The Blue Castle was seen as a major departure for Montgomery when it was first published in 1926. As the Calgary Herald stated in its review of the book, “Admirers of [Anne of Green Gables] have followed [Montgomery] loyally and patiently in the hope that one day she would give them a story which would equal or surpass Anne in theme and reader interest. That day has arrived, and The Blue Castle is the story.” As the New York Times Book Review noted, “although perhaps a little more mature in its spirit than the earlier books,” this book “is unmistakably from first page to last an L.M. Montgomery novel, compact of sentiment, rosily trimmed with romance, peopled with beings drawn solely out of the imagination, but telling a well-made story with humor and pathos.”

The L.M. Montgomery Readathon is open to all readers of L.M. Montgomery’s fiction, including those who are reading The Blue Castle for the first time. Please join us!

L.M. Montgomery Readathon

Cover Reveal: The L.M. Montgomery Reader in Paperback!

Cover art for The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 1: A Life in Print Cover art for The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 2: A Critical Heritage Cover of The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 3: A Legacy in Review

I’m very pleased to announce the forthcoming publication, in paperback, of all three volumes of my award-winning critical anthology, The L.M. Montgomery Reader (Volume 1: A Life in Print; Volume 2: A Critical Heritage; Volume 3: A Legacy in Review) from University of Toronto Press. This project took up the bulk of my professional life over a five-year period, so I’m thrilled that all three volumes will be available in paperback soon.

Once again, the best way to order these books is from the University of Toronto Press website. Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 are also available in hardcover and ebook formats.

The cover art features the covers of the first Canadian editions of Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and Chronicles of Avonlea published by the Ryerson Press (Toronto) in 1942 and 1943; these copies are part of my personal collection.

A Rilla of Ingleside Readathon

Recognizing the many ways that L.M. Montgomery’s books have brought people together over time, and mindful that the current global pandemic means we need to be creative about staying in touch with people, Andrea McKenzie and I have started a Rilla of Ingleside readathon on Facebook. Starting Monday, March 30, we will read together three chapters a week from Montgomery’s Great War novel, supplementing our conversation about the text with book covers, reviews, ads, literary allusions, and historical context. Please join us!

Congratulations to Anne with an “E”, Nominated for Seventeen Canadian Screen Awards!

Congratulations to the cast and crew of Anne with an “E” (2017–2019), whose third and final season has been nominated for seventeen Canadian Screen Awards!

  • Best Drama Series
  • Best Lead Actress, Drama Series: Amybeth McNulty
  • Best Guest Performance, Drama Series: Dalmar Abuzeid
  • Best Direction, Drama Series: Anne Wheeler
  • Best Direction, Drama Series: Amanda Tapping
  • Best Writing, Drama Series: Moira Walley-Beckett
  • Best Writing, Drama Series: Jane Maggs
  • Best Photography, Drama: Catherine Lutes
  • Best Picture Editing, Drama: Gillian Truster
  • Best Picture Editing, Drama: Lisa Grootenboer
  • Best Sound, Fiction: Alan deGraaf, Scott Shepherd, John Elliot, Tyler Whitham, Danielle McBride, Joe Bracciale, Joe Mancuso, Zenon Waschuk
  • Best Production Design or Art Direction, Fiction: Jean-François Campeau, Michele Brady, Elliott Carew
  • Best Costume Design: Alexander Reda
  • Best Achievement in Make-up: Diane Mazur
  • Best Achievement in Hair: Zinka Tuminski
  • Best Original Music, Fiction: Amin Bhatia and Ari Posner
  • Best Achievement in Casting: Stephanie Gorin

Twenty Nineteen in Review

Last July, I blogged about three books that had just been published – Anne of Green Gables: The Original Manuscript, edited by Carolyn Strom Collins; a new edition of Imagining Anne: The Island Scrapbooks of L.M. Montgomery, by Elizabeth Rollins Epperly; and L.M. Montgomery’s Complete Journals: The Ontario Years, 1930–1933, edited by Jen Rubio – as well as some journal articles and book chapters that had appeared in the first half of 2019. What I’d like to do now is highlight some of the remaining books, adaptations, and items of scholarship that have appeared during the last year, all of which demonstrate that there’s always something new to learn and appreciate about L.M. Montgomery.

There’s also been a lot of work going on behind the scenes here at L.M. Montgomery Online. As I mentioned in a blog post last September, I’ve been reorganizing and streamlining the information on this website to make it more manageable. When I started this website (as L.M. Montgomery Research Group) back in 2007, I wanted to showcase all contributors to L.M. Montgomery studies, and accordingly, I created stand-alone pages for every author, every periodical, every major book, and every actor in a screen adaptation of Montgomery’s work. As a result, this website became so large that I couldn’t make back-ups of it anymore, so this year I decided to eliminate pages for periodicals and to list actors, writers, and directors of screen adaptations on single pages (in the case of actors, listed alphabetically by surname with one page for each letter of the alphabet). Doing so has brought the website down to a more reasonable size, which has enabled me to start featuring lists of Montgomery’s periodical pieces.

Cover art for A WORLD OF SONGS: SELECTED POEMS, 1894–1921, by L.M. Montgomery, edited by Benjamin Lefebvre

I mention all this to explain why it’s taken me this long to announce formally on this blog the publication of A World of Songs: Selected Poems, 1894–1921, the second volume in The L.M. Montgomery Library, which University of Toronto Press published last January. I wanted to wait until I’d finished the overhaul of my lists of Montgomery’s periodical pieces, and that ended up taking much longer than I’d anticipated (and I still haven’t finished adding all the essays by Montgomery that appear in Volume 1 of The L.M. Montgomery Reader). Users of this website can now browse lists of items whose full texts appear in my books – poems by title, by date, and by first line; miscellaneous pieces by date; an index of periodical titles; and a list of Montgomery’s alternate signatures – with more items to be added as new volumes are published.

A World of Songs consists of a selection of fifty poems – roughly 10% of Montgomery’s total output – published over a quarter of a century, starting when she was a student at Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown. In my afterword, I talk about Montgomery’s poems in terms of “the competing forces of literary reputation, reader recognition, financial profit, and enduring literary quality” and attempt to position this work against poems by some of her contemporaries, including Duncan Campbell Scott, Bliss Carman, and Isabella Valancy Crawford. It’s meant to be a companion of sorts to The Blythes Are Quoted, which features forty-one of Montgomery’s poems, most of which were first published in magazines from 1919 onward. It will be followed by a much larger volume of all of Montgomery’s poems, something that I’ve been working on for several years already.

Although several new trade editions of Montgomery’s books appeared in 2019, the year was also notable for the appearance of three new biographies of Montgomery, two of them for very young readers. In 2018, María Isabel Sánchez Vegara published a picture-b0ok biography for the Little People, Big Dreams series (whose books tell the story of several prominent women, including Frida Kahlo, Ella Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel, and Marie Curie). This past August, Sánchez Vegara published Lucy Maud: My First L.M. Montgomery, a board-book version of her biography with a simplified text in order to “introduce your baby to Canada’s favorite author.” (I especially appreciated an image showing Montgomery’s newspaper column, signed Cynthia, which I collected last year in A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917.) Sarah Howden also published a short biography for HarperCollins’s I Can Read! series, whereas a revised edition of Stan Sauerwein’s 2004 biography for the Amazing Stories series appeared as Lucy Maud Montgomery: Canada’s Literary Treasure, published by Formac Publishing Company.

Also for young children are two more volumes in Kelly Hill’s series of Anne-related concept books from Tundra Books: Anne’s Feelings and Anne’s Alphabet, which follow Anne’s Colors and Anne’s Letters from 2018. Also from Tundra this past year is Kallie George’s Anne’s Kindred Spirits, a second abridgement for children of Anne of Green Gables, following 2018’s Anne Arrives, republished in paperback in 2019.

In terms of scholarship, December 2019 saw the publication of Wendy Roy’s book-length study The Next Instalment: Serials, Sequels, and Adaptations of Nellie L. McClung, L.M. Montgomery, and Mazo de la Roche, published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Roy’s book promises to become a major contribution to the field, not only because it focuses on the largely unexplored topic of serial publication, but also because it places Montgomery firmly alongside two of her contemporaries within Canadian literary studies.

Here’s a list of journal articles, book chapters, and reviews on L.M. Montgomery’s work that were published in 2019 (including a trio of articles on Swedish translations in Barnboken: Journal of Children’s Literature Research), in addition to those I mentioned in my blog post from last July:

  • Holly Blackford, “Unattached Women Raising Cain: Spinsters Touching Orphans in Anne of Green Gables and Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” in South: A Scholarly Journal
  • Claire Campbell, review of L.M. Montgomery and the Matter of Nature(s), in American Review of Canadian Studies
  • Frederika A. Eilers, “Making Green Gables Anne’s Home: Rural Landscapes and Ordinary Homes of Canadian Fiction and Film,” in Our Rural Selves: Memory and the Visual in Canadian Childhoods
  • Faye Hammill, review of A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917, in Times Literary Supplement
  • Victoria Kennedy, “Haunted by the Lady Novelist: Metafictional Anxieties about Women’s Writing from Northanger Abbey to The Carrie Diaries,” in Women: A Cultural Review
  • Andrea McKenzie, review of L.M. Montgomery and the Matter of Nature(s), in The Lion and the Unicorn
  • Claudia Mills, “Trying to Be Good (with Bad Results): The WouldbegoodsBetsy-Tacy and Tib, and Ivy and Bean: Bound to Be Bad,” in Children’s Literature
  • David Myles, “‘Anne Goes Rogue for Abortion Rights!’: Hashtag Feminism and the Polyphonic Nature of Activist Discourse,” in New Media and Society
  • Cornelia Rémi, “From Green Gables to Grönkulla: The Metamorphoses of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Its Various Swedish Translations,” in Barnboken: Journal of Children’s Literature Research
  • Jennifer Scott, review of A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917, in Victorian Periodicals Review
  • Åsa Warnqvist, “‘Don’t Be Too Upset with Your Unchivalrous Publisher’: Translator–Publisher Interactions in the Swedish Translations of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne and Emily Books,” in Barnboken: Journal of Children’s Literature Research

The 2018 annual volume of The Shining Scroll, the official publication of the L.M. Montgomery Literary Society (Minnesota), appeared early in 2019, featuring articles and news by Mary Beth Cavert, Carolyn Strom Collins, and Sandra Wagner. Be sure to download this newsletter if you don’t know it already. I look forward to reading the 2019 edition!

Twenty nineteen was also the year that the third – and ultimately the last – season of Anne with an “E” aired on CBC television. I was really disappointed to learn of the series’ cancellation, not only because I thought the show overall was excellent, but also because of the point at which it stops. The third season was released worldwide (except Canada) on Netflix just last Friday, so I don’t want to go into too much detail for viewers who haven’t finished it yet, but I was disappointed by what the networks decided was a suitable way to end a young woman’s story, given that the creators evidently hadn’t intended to end the story there. In spite of a petition and a flurry of positive responses on social media, it looks unlikely at this point that the series will be continued beyond the twenty-seven episodes already produced, which is a real shame. Although the television series departed in many ways from the book, it clearly struck a chord with viewers all over the world, much like how readers have responded to Montgomery’s writing for more than a century.

As for me, 2019 has been a busy year in terms of future volumes of The L.M. Montgomery Library. After completing the bulk of the work on the first of several chronological volumes of Montgomery’s short stories, I ended up deciding, in consultation with my editor, to move a few things around and to present this aspect of her work in a new way, with the result that I’ve spent six months working on three volumes simultaneously. One reason this has taken longer than anticipated is that I’ve been searching for a multi-chapter serial entitled “The Luck of the Tremaynes,” which Montgomery published in the January and February 1907 issues of The American Home of Waterville, Maine. I’ve searched through every digital repository I can think of and contacted libraries, collectors, and booksellers, and so far I haven’t had any luck. (I’ve come close a few times, though—a microfilm that claimed to have the full run of the issue ended at 1906, whereas copies of other 1907 issues are currently available on eBay.) In the off chance that you have a copy or have a suggestion of someone who might, please contact me. In the meantime, watch this space for news about future volumes in the series!

I guess that’s it. I look forward to seeing what 2020 will bring!

L.M. Montgomery Titles at 50% Off!

I’m so pleased to pass along the fact that University of Toronto Press is having a Black Friday sale between now and the end of November, and several of my L.M. Montgomery books are now 50% off. These include the first two volumes in The L.M. Montgomery Library – namely, A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917 and A World of Songs: Selected Poems, 1894–1921, both of which were published in the last year – as well as the three-volume critical anthology The L.M. Montgomery Reader, which is discounted at 50% off compared to the price of buying each volume individually.

I was also thrilled to come across Jennifer Scott’s review of A Name for Herself in the Fall 2019 issue of Victorian Periodicals Review.

“Lefebvre, one of the top Montgomery scholars in the world, has painstakingly collected these scattered publications from throughout Montgomery’s career to provide a valuable resource … By including Montgomery’s contributions to these publications, many of which were fleeting, Lefebvre enriches our knowledge of the periodical landscape in North America and demonstrates how these magazines and newspapers were important vehicles for women authors in Canada and the United States.”

Sale ends midnight on 1 December 2019!

This Is September

Lo! a ripe sheaf of many golden days
Gleaned by the year in autumn’s harvest ways,
     With here and there, blood-tinted as an ember,
Some crimson poppy of a late delight
Atoning in its splendour for the flight
     Of summer blooms and joys –
                    This is September.

L.M. Montgomery’s poem “September,” included in The Watchman and Other Poems (1916)
Cover of the original edition of ANNE OF THE ISLAND by L.M. Montgomery

“Harvest is ended and summer is gone,” Anne Shirley declares at the start of Anne of the Island (1915) – a statement that, as Rea Wilmshurst notes in her 1989 article “L.M. Montgomery’s Use of Quotations and Allusions in the ‘Anne’ Books,” is in fact a misquotation of Jeremiah 8:20 (“The harvest is past, the summer is ended”). For me as an academic, September also means the start of a new school year after a summer busy with research and writing projects – which this year included steady work on the next four volumes in The L.M. Montgomery Library. It doesn’t always make sense to work on four books at once, but in this case I became like the little boy in Anne of the Island (and originally in one of Montgomery’s “Around the Table” columns) who went to see a biograph: “I have to look for what’s coming next before I know what went last.”

This year, September also coincided with the next phase in my latest overhaul of this website. After I published my three-volume critical anthology, The L.M. Montgomery Reader, I added the items included in those volumes – including hundreds of reviews of Montgomery’s books appearing in periodicals from eight countries – to the bibliography of sources. Until recently, the vast majority of the items in that bibliography were listed multiple times: by author, by type (journal article and review, for instance), and again by periodical title. As I started adding to that bibliography items appearing in A Name for Herself and A World of Songs, I soon saw that this duplication was going to be unmanageable, given that some of these items (like Montgomery’s tract “What to Teach Your Son,” originally from her 1901 sketch “Half an Hour with Canadian Mothers“) were reprinted dozens of times.

In order to make this website more manageable, I decided to eliminate individual pages for periodicals except for those in which Montgomery published her hundreds of short stories, poems, and miscellaneous pieces between 1890 and 1942. As more and more newspapers have been digitized and made text searchable, I’ve noticed some of these items being reprinted again and again, sometimes anonymously. Her 1898 poem “Irrevocable,” for instance, appeared in The Congregationalist, a Boston periodical, before being reprinted in several newspapers between 1899 and 1901, including once, without Montgomery’s signature and under the title “Beyond Recall,” in the Brown County World of Hiawatha, Kansas. I haven’t yet found any more publications of that poem in the few years after that, but another burst of citations of this poem as “Beyond Recall” starts in 1905, usually unsigned, and sometimes attributed to Ewing Herbert, who owned the Brown County World. I’ve decided to list all these newspaper reprints but not create pages for each periodical given that Montgomery in all likelihood had no knowledge of how widely her work was recirculating, and given that more and more newspapers are being digitized all the time, there will always be more instances of reprinting to discover.

I’ve also created a page for the alternate signatures Montgomery used, particularly early in her career, including “Maud Cavendish,” “Joyce Cavendish,” “Cynthia,” and “J.C. Neville” – a form of authorship that I talk about in my afterword to A Name for Herself.

September is meaningful for another reason, too: the critically acclaimed television series Anne with an “E” is returning on CBC starting on Sunday night for a third season of ten episodes (it will appear on Netflix around the world, except Canada, on 3 January 2020). As I wrote in a blog post last year, the titles of all first-season episodes are quotations from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, whereas the titles of all second-season episodes are quotations from George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Brontë and Eliot were prominent models of nineteenth-century women’s authorship for Montgomery, so it was fitting that the episode titles for the first two seasons referred to their work. For the third season, the episode titles that I’ve seen so far all allude to another prominent book by a British woman – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which I find quite intriguing. And based on what I’ve read about the storylines for this season, I do look forward to seeing what lies ahead for Anne, her friends, and the community of Avonlea in this most recent incarnation of Montgomery’s story.

Revisiting Anne and Montgomery

Three new books released this month invite readers to revisit the story of Anne of Green Gables and the life story L.M. Montgomery prepared for posthumous publication in the form of ten handwritten volumes of journals. All three books are the result of careful dedication on the part of volume editors whose painstaking attention to detail has made rare archival material come alive for Montgomery’s worldwide readership.

Cover art for ANNE OF GREEN GABLES: THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT

First, Halifax publisher Nimbus Publishing has released Anne of Green Gables: The Original Manuscript, edited by Carolyn Strom Collins. This book consists of a transcription of the handwritten manuscript of Anne of Green Gables that showcases for the first time Montgomery’s creative process and elaborate revision system. It also includes, as an appendix, a gallery of rare covers of translated editions of the novel. Past scholarship has turned to the manuscript of Anne of Green Gables to study part of the writing process of the novel—revealing such details as the fact that Montgomery considered “Laura” and “Gertrude” as the names of Anne’s bosom friend before settling on “Diana”—but this book marks the first time readers will be able to see that creative process for themselves.

Anne of Green Gables: The Original Manuscript will be launched at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown on 1 August 2019.

Cover art for Imagining Anne: The Island Scrapbooks of L.M. Montgomery

Also from Nimbus Publishing is a paperback edition of Elizabeth Rollins Epperly’s Imagining Anne: The Island Scrapbooks of L.M. Montgomery, first published in hardcover in 2008 as part of Penguin Canada’s 100 Years of Anne celebration. This book features beautiful reproductions of key pages from two of Montgomery’s PEI scrapbooks on which she pasted a wide range of ephemera in order to create a visual archive for her creative process. In her commentary, Epperly suggests linkages between the individual items, the stories they tell in Montgomery’s arrangement of them on the page, and the way that they inspired key moments in Anne of Green Gables. As the back cover rightly proclaims, this book offers readers “a revealing look inside the mind of one of the most cherished writers of the twentieth century.”

The new edition of Imagining Anne will be launched at UPEI’s Robertson Library in Charlottetown on 25 July 2019.

Cover art for L.M. Montgomery's Complete Journals: The Ontario Years, 1930-1933

Finally, Rock’s Mills Press has published L.M. Montgomery’s Complete Journals: The Ontario Years, 1930–1933, the fifth volume of Montgomery’s unabridged Ontario journals prepared by Jen Rubio. This volume contains all diary entries dated 1930 to 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, at which point Montgomery and her family were living in Norval, Ontario. These were difficult years for her, especially due to a revelation made by one of her sons that distressed her so much that she was unable to write full diary entries for almost three years. Like Epperly’s Imagining Anne, this book offers readers “a revealing look inside the mind of one of the most cherished writers of the twentieth century,” but for very different reasons – it showcases the private anguish of a woman who, acutely aware of societal expectations, turned to her journal as a safe outlet for her worries and secrets, but her increased awareness of these journals as a document that she wanted to be published after her death also constrained her ability to be completely honest in this record of her life.

In addition to these three books, a number of recent journal articles and book chapters have been pushing the conversation about Montgomery’s life, work, and legacy in exciting new ways:

  • Elizabeth Rollins Epperly, “Reading Time: L.M. Montgomery and the ‘Alembic of Fiction’” (in Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies)
  • Irene Gammel, “‘We Are the Dead’: Rhetoric, Community and the Making of John McCrae’s Iconic War Poem” (in First World War Studies)
  • Caroline E. Jones, “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)
  • Vappu Kannas, “‘Emily Equals Childhood and Youth and First Love’: Finnish Readers and L.M. Montgomery’s Anne and Emily Books” (in Reading Today)
  • Laura Leden, “Girls’ Classics and Constraints in Translation: A Case Study of Purifying Adaptation in the Swedish Translation of L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon” (in Barnboken)
  • Jane Nicholas, “The Children’s Séance: Child Death, the Body, and Grief in Interwar Ontario” (in The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth)
  • Christopher Parkes, “Anne Is Angry: Female Beauty and the Transformative Power of Cruelty in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables” (in Cruel Children in Popular Texts and Cultures)
  • Julie A. Sellers, “‘A Good Imagination Gone Wrong’: Reading Anne of Green Gables as a Quixotic Novel” (in Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies)
  • Rob Shields, “Lifelong Sorrow: Settler Affect, State and Trauma at Anne of Green Gables” (in Settler Colonial Studies)
  • Emily Stokes-Rees, “Re-thinking Anne: Representing Japanese Culture at a Quintessentially Canadian Site” (in Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change)
  • Janet Wesselius, “Anne’s Body Has a Mind (and Soul) of Its Own: Embodiment and the Cartesian Legacy in Anne of Green Gables” (in The Embodied Child: Readings in Children’s Literature and Culture)