One hundred and seven years ago today—on 5 July 1911—L.M. Montgomery married the Reverend Ewan Macdonald, in Park Corner, Prince Edward Island, at the home of her maternal relatives, the Campbells (the location is now known as the Anne of Green Gables Museum and is a delightful place to visit).
Since I started this website eleven years ago, I’ve blogged on the anniversary of Montgomery’s birth and on the anniversary of her death, but I don’t believe I’ve ever blogged to commemorate her wedding day. This year, as I finish work on a restored and annotated edition of Montgomery’s celebrity memoir “The Alpine Path,” which will appear in A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917, the first volume in The L.M. Montgomery Library, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on what made this day rather complicated for Montgomery, and to consider the contrast between the public face she put on for her guests that day and the clues she planned to leave behind that would make future friends aware of some of the drama that at the time she had to hide.
One aspect that has always amazed me about Montgomery’s journals is the murkiness of her overall portrait of Ewan Macdonald. Montgomery’s first mention of him in her journals is when she announces their engagement, in an entry dated October 1906 in which she devotes far more space outlining why marrying him would be a bad idea before revealing that she’d indeed accepted his proposal, ending with a lukewarm statement: “I feel content.”
The engagement wasn’t exactly promising: Macdonald proposed to her just as he was about to embark on further studies in Scotland, although Mary Henley Rubio notes in her biography of Montgomery that there’s no evidence that he completed any work there, whereas Montgomery would not be free to marry for as long as her elderly maternal grandmother was still living, hence the five-year engagement. Scholars who have tried to establish the composition and submission timeline of Anne of Green Gables based on Montgomery’s few (and conflicting) clues have pointed out that, if the novel was accepted in April 1907 after being refused by four other publishers—as well as an unspecified amount of time in which the typescript sat in a hat box, something the recent Heritage Minute on Montgomery captured very well—then quite possibly Macdonald’s proposal coincided with a particularly discouraging point in her attempt to launch herself from freelance writer of short stories and poems to novelist.
Not only that, but two major changes happened after the 1906 engagement: the publication of Anne of Green Gables in June 1908 changed the trajectory of Montgomery’s career completely, and Macdonald being called to a parish in Leaskdale, Ontario, in early 1910—something Montgomery does not mention in her journals—meant that she would have to leave Prince Edward Island in order to marry him. In short, marriage would not resemble what either of them had had in mind in 1906. But there’s no record that indicates that Montgomery contemplated breaking off the engagement at any point.
Macdonald proved in many ways to be a difficult husband, according to Montgomery’s account. Not only did he express no interest in Montgomery’s career, but also, he resented her success as an author as well as any tribute she received for her work as a minister’s wife. What’s most noticeable about Montgomery’s record of him in her journals, however, is how often he disappears from the journal for pages at a time, almost as though it often didn’t occur to Montgomery to write about him unless something was wrong. Still, he made a mistake in underestimating the power of her pen. Although Macdonald spelled his name “Ewen,” Montgomery consistently wrote it as “Ewan” in her journals—consequently, everyone now follows her lead. Not only did they name their second surviving son “Ewan Stuart Macdonald,” but also, both spellings appear on their tombstone in Cavendish. Every time I go to the Cavendish cemetery to pay my respects, I ponder this.
I also frequently wonder about the fact that no photograph of the wedding or of Montgomery wearing her wedding dress survives. (The dress itself is on display at the Lucy Maud Montgomery Birthplace in Clifton, PEI.) Instead, we have nine trousseau photographs depicting Montgomery, standing in roughly the same spot, wearing elaborate dresses and hats. Two different combinations of six of these images appear in cropped form in Montgomery’s Selected Journals and Complete Journals, but to me, the uncropped versions are even more fascinating. She must have been aware of the laundry flapping on the clothesline behind her, but if so, I can’t imagine what point she was trying to make. (Actually, on second thought, maybe I can.)
All images courtesy of L.M. Montgomery Collection, Archival and Special Collections, University of Guelph Library.
When she wrote about her wedding day in a retrospective journal entry in 1912, she records feeling “contented” the night before her wedding and again the morning of the wedding, repeating the term she used in her journal the day of her engagement. After the ceremony was over, however, her emotions took a decidedly different turn:
I had been feeling contented all the morning. I had gone through the ceremony and the congratulations unflustered and unregretful. And now, when it was all over and I found myself sitting there by my husband’s side—my husband!—I felt a sudden horrible inrush of rebellion and despair. I wanted to be free! . . . At that moment if I could have torn the wedding ring from my finger and so freed myself I would have done it! But it was too late—and the realization that it was too late fell over me like a black cloud of wretchedness.
The mood passed, and she does not record expressing these feelings to anyone else at the time. But she immortalized this moment in the pages of her journal, which she wanted to be published after her death, as though she wanted future readers to understand why, at that wedding feast, “I was as unhappy as I had ever been in my life.”
What Montgomery omits from her journals, however, is that she’d done whatever she could to keep the media away from the event, as revealed in an unsigned piece appearing in The Boston Herald three weeks later and reprinted in Volume 1 of The L.M. Montgomery Reader:
Well, of course, a time came when she had to share her secret with a few intimate friends outside of her own family. Her publisher, Mr. L.C. Page of Boston, was one of the earliest of these, and naturally he wished to share it with the public. But straightway he received a letter, part of which ran as follows: “As for the ’embargo’—no, it must not be lifted until after the event. I am resolved that no hint of the matter shall get into the ‘paper news’ until it is over, and I shall be much annoyed if anything of the sort occurs.”
It is unclear how the Boston Herald had obtained a copy of this letter or whether Montgomery was aware they had published this piece, but it seems a safe bet that she did not consent for it to be published. After all, when she wrote about her marriage in “The Alpine Path,” she was brief and to the point: “As my husband was pastor of an Ontario congregation, I had now to leave Prince Edward Island and move to Ontario.” Not only did she not identify her husband by name or disclose either the denomination they belonged to or the Ontario location they lived in, but also, Montgomery’s wording emphasizes that her departure from Prince Edward Island had not been her choice. I have a new theory about why she chose to say so little about her husband in this public memoir, thanks to a new piece of evidence given to me by a longtime friend of mine, which I talk about in the afterword to A Name for Herself, coming this fall from University of Toronto Press.
UPDATE, 5 JULY 2018: I’ve just been reminded by someone in the Montgomery community that the dress on display at the Lucy Maud Montgomery Birthplace is a replica of Montgomery’s wedding dress, not the original.
What a well written and comprehensive article this is! You’ve done so much research for this article, it seems. Thank you for pulling from so many different sources to give us an overall picture of her marriage and her views on this event. I feel like every time I read your blog, I get a little bit more insight on her life and her writings.
I still do not understand WHY she marriage Ewan (Ewen?) Maybe your comment about her being at a low point in her life was the answer? Was it fear of missing out or always ‘staying on the shelf’ that prompted this marriage to a man who obviously was not an optimal choice?
Thanks for your comment, Sapphireanne! There were a lot of additional factors that I think motivated Montgomery to agree to Ewan/Ewen’s marriage proposal that I neglected to mention. One of them was the precarious situation she found herself in as the orphaned granddaughter. After her maternal grandfather died in 1898, his will bequeathed his house and property to his son John Franklin, who lived next door, but his widow had the moral right to stay in the house for the rest of her life. Depending on how you look at it, Montgomery was pressured by her family to give up teaching in order to care for her grandmother, or she grasped the opportunity to give up teaching in order to care for her grandmother and write full time. Either way, she knew perfectly well that she wouldn’t have a home after her grandmother’s eventual death, and unless she could support herself, a home of her own was possible only through marriage.
That’s why I sometimes wonder if Montgomery regretted the engagement after the publication of Anne of Green Gables, because at that point she could have afforded a home of her own. She could have done what Margaret Penhallow would do later in A Tangled Web: drop a fiancé she was only lukewarm about, reject patriarchy, buy a house of her own in the place of her choosing with the proceeds of a book (in this case, an antiquarian copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress bequeathed to her by Aunt Becky), adopt a child, and live her life any way she pleased. But she didn’t.
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