Although L.M. Montgomery received overwhelmingly positive reviews throughout her lifetime, reviewers were not always unanimous in their praise. In fact, in the first known review of Anne of Green Gables (appearing in The New York Times Saturday Review), the unsigned reviewer is more than a little taken aback by Anne, referred to here as “one of the most extraordinary girls that ever came out of an ink pot”:
The author undoubtedly meant her to be queer, but she is altogether too queer. She was only 11 years old when she reached the house in Prince Edward Island that was to be her home, but, in spite of her tender years, and in spite of the fact that, excepting for four months spent in the asylum, she had passed all her life with illiterate folks, and had had almost no schooling, she talked to the farmer and his sister as though she had borrowed Bernard Shaw’s vocabulary, Alfred Austin’s sentimentality, and the reasoning powers of a Justice of the Supreme Court. She knew so much that she spoiled the author’s plan at the very outset and greatly marred a story that had in it quaint and charming possibilities.
This approach to Montgomery’s first book hardly set the stage for the reviews that followed, however: as she explained in a letter to her pen pal Ephraim Weber (included in The Green Gables Letters from L.M. Montgomery to Ephraim Weber, 1905–1909, published in 1960) concerning the sixty reviews she had received within three months of the book’s publication, “two were harsh, one contemptuous, two mixed praise and blame and the remaining fifty-five were kind and flattering beyond my highest expectations. So I feel satisfied as far as that goes.” She then copied out some extracts, and while her list includes one for “N.Y. Times,” it reads somewhat differently in this version: “A mawkish, tiresome impossible heroine, combining the sentimentality of an Alfred Austin with the vocabulary of Bernard Shaw. Anne is a bore.”
Whether they were “kind and flattering” or “harsh” or anything in between, Montgomery kept copies of these reviews in a number of scrapbooks as a unique record of her career. Both positive and negative reviews reveal so much to twenty-first-century readers in terms of literary trends or what Montgomery referred to as “the public taste.” And that’s why this week we’ll be looking at a wider range of responses to her work in the mainstream press of her day.