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New Reviews, 1919–1922

Cover of The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 3: A Legacy in Review (paperback edition)

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?

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2 Comments

  1. Anna M Thow

    Hello Benjamin, so appreciative that you have devoted much of your career on LM; she is marvel to me and only wish more was taught about her in our schools; I only wish that you would use a “happy” looking Maud on your book covers because that is what she wanted her readers to see in life through her writing. Thank you!

    • Benjamin Lefebvre

      Thanks for your comment, Anna! I have to admit I’m partial to that photograph of Montgomery because it depicts a more mature author who’s a force to be reckoned with on the CanLit scene (which she was). My publisher decided to go with a very different concept for the paperback editions of the three volumes of The L.M. Montgomery Reader that were released this summer. Each of them depicts a different combination of copies of the Ryerson Press editions of some of her books that were released in April 1942 (coincidentally, the same month as her death). Hope you like those!

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