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Twenty Twenty in Review

This morning, while on our way to a socially distant walk in the woods with a few family members, my partner and I drove past a small grocery store whose outside sign read “Don’t worry. 2020 is almost over!”

That may certainly capture a larger societal feeling about the year that’s drawing to a close in less than an hour (at least in my time zone), and it may explain why I’ve been seeing fewer “best of” retrospective lists this month than I have in previous years (or maybe I’m just less inclined to notice them). Still, although 2020 has undeniably been difficult in so many ways, it’s worth looking back on this year in terms of new publications on L.M. Montgomery as well as looking ahead to projects that have already been announced for 2021. It’s also worth considering what anniversaries occurred this year and what they can remind us about the past, the present, and the future of Montgomery scholarship.

In looking back on this year, I’m reminded of the (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) comments Montgomery made as her alter ego, “Cynthia,” in the 30 December 1901 instalment of “Around the Table,” the newspaper column she published over a nine-month period in the Halifax Daily Echo (and whose text appears in its entirety for the first time in A Name for Herself).

The end of the year is, as a general thing, somewhat given over to retrospection. We like to overhaul our memories as well as our consciences, on New Year’s eve, as we sit before a dying fire – it must always be dying to be properly romantic – watching the Old Year out. We grow dreamy and sad and a wee bit sentimental. We recall the loves and hatreds, the pleasures and sorrows, the successes and failures of the past twelve months. We think of our flirtations, and wonder where the Toms, Dicks and Harrys are now, and if they have forgotten. We sigh softly, and quote scraps of poetry that occur to us as appropriate. In short, we get out Memory’s treasure-box and rummage among its motley contents. We have the vague regret that everyone experiences at the turning of a life page. Good or bad, earnest or frivolous, it is written and filed away in the archives of Eternity. We will never have a chance to correct its mistakes. Old Father Time has no proof-readers.

Then the clock strikes twelve and we open the door to let the Old Year go limping out and the New Year come joyously in. “The King is dead. Long live the King!”

This past month, I read through several items of scholarship that made good use of the extensive Alice Munro papers at the University of Calgary, and I was fascinated by the attempts of scholars to use surviving drafts, fragments, and correspondence in order to piece together Munro’s process of writing and revision, especially in terms of her collaboration with her agent and with various editors with whom she worked. I have to admit feeling envious of those scholars given the numerous gaps in Montgomery’s papers, especially pertaining to her short stories, poems, and miscellaneous pieces, which have been of particular interest to me over the last several years. Still, I’m very grateful for the Montgomery materials that do survive, including journals, letters, some manuscripts and typescripts, and scrapbooks. This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of The Green Gables Letters from L.M. Montgomery to Ephraim Weber, 1905–1909 (released in 1960) and the fortieth anniversary of the publication of My Dear Mr. M: Letters to G.B. MacMillan from L.M. Montgomery (released in 1980), two volumes that, along with the first reprinting in book form of her celebrity memoir “The Alpine Path” in 1974, showed readers for the first time that Montgomery’s life writing was just as fascinating as her fiction, and this has certainly been proven true with the publication of five volumes of Montgomery’s selected journals starting in 1985 and seven volumes to date of her unabridged journals starting in 2012.

This year also marks one hundred years since the publication of Further Chronicles of Avonlea (1920), an anniversary that highlights the importance of placing Montgomery’s work in its historical and literary (as well as biographical) context. While the vast amount of surviving life writing makes biographical readings of the primary work so tempting, it’s also worth paying attention to some of the broader external circumstances that shaped the words appearing on the page, at least as far as these can be pieced together through surviving documents. This collection of linked short stories is particularly fascinating as evidence of a battle of wills between Montgomery and her first publisher, L.C. Page, given that Page manipulated her into agreeing to its publication but ended up violating some of the terms of that agreement in ways that she felt did damage to her literary reputation, prompting her to fight him in court for eight years until the book was withdrawn from circulation. Further Chronicles formed part of the basis of the ever-popular television series Road to Avonlea (1990–1996), which celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year, an anniversary that reminds us of Montgomery’s status as an enduringly popular author whose fan base includes consumers of adaptations in addition to readers of her books.

In terms of publications, 2020 began and ended with The Shining Scroll, the annual newsletter of the L.M. Montgomery Literary Society of Minnesota that’s edited by Mary Beth Cavert and Carolyn Strom Collins, two longtime contributors to the field of Montgomery studies. Its 2019 edition, released in January, and its 2020 edition, released just a few days ago, are filled with news items and original research on topics as varied as the centenary of the 1919 silent film adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, the handwritten manuscript of Anne, heritage and tourist sites in Prince Edward Island, and some newly discovered postcards that Montgomery sent to her Scottish pen pal, G.B. MacMillan.

This year also saw the publication of a number of trade books, including Kallie George’s picture book If I Couldn’t Be Anne (which follows Goodnight, Anne, released in 2018), Brooke Jorden’s abridgement of Anne of Green Gables for the Lit for Little Hands series published by Familius, Crystal S. Chan’s manga adaptation of Anne of Green Gables for Manga Classics, Josée Ouimet’s biography of Montgomery (one of the only secondary sources about Montgomery to appear in French) for the Bonjour l’histoire series, and Rachel Dodge’s The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-by-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits.

Book-length scholarship this year included Katja Lee’s Limelight: Canadian Women and the Rise of Celebrity Autobiography, which places Montgomery in conversation with fellow Canadian women including Nellie L. McClung, Margaret Trudeau, and Shania Twain, and a new paperback edition of my three-volume critical anthology The L.M. Montgomery Reader, with Volume 1 consisting of essays by and interviews with Montgomery along with commentary on her work throughout her career as a novelist, Volume 2 narrating her critical reputation in the decades since her death, and Volume 3 turning to the book review as a largely overlooked repository of critical discussion.

In addition, this year saw the publication of a wide number of book chapters, journal articles, and reviews focusing on topics such as environmental history, correspondence, spirituality, adaptation, the archive, translations, and fan fiction, including some work dated 2019 but that was released or that I came across this past year:

What’s been announced for 2021? So far, quite a bit! Two new print adaptations will be released in the spring: Brina Starler’s Anne of Manhattan (William Morrow), which is billed as “a romantic, charming, and hilarious modern adaptation” of Anne of Green Gables that depicts Anne’s experiences as a graduate student in present-day New York City, and Louise Michalos’s Marilla before Anne (Nimbus Publishing), which focuses on eighteen-year-old Marilla’s coming of age, set in Avonlea and Halifax. Nimbus Publishing will also release Eri Muraoka’s Anne’s Cradle: The Life and Works of Hanako Muraoka, Japanese Translator of Anne of Green Gables, translated by Cathy Hirano, this spring, which promises to add considerably to our understanding of the international circulation of Montgomery’s work. In addition to Kallie George’s third Anne picture book, Merry Christmas, Anne, Tundra Books will release Anne’s School Days, the third of George’s abridgements of Anne of Green Gables, following Anne Arrives (2018) and Anne’s Kindred Spirits (2019).

And speaking of abridgements, New York’s Starry Forest Books plans to release three abridgements of Anne of Green Gables this spring, each part of a separate series of abridgements of classic works of literature and targeting a specific age range: a Baby’s Classics abridgement by Alex Fabrizio (24 pp.), a Classic Stories abridgement by Saviour Pirotta (40 pp.), and a Classic Adventures abridgement by Jacqueline Dembar Greene (64 pp.). Each of these series will place Anne alongside new abridgements of many other classic works of literature by authors ranging from Alcott and Baum to Shakespeare and the Brothers Grimm.

I’d like to end this post by recalling the words of Captain Jim in Anne’s House of Dreams, after he and his guests, as Cynthia describes in “Around the Table,” open the lighthouse door to welcome in the new year as the clock strikes twelve. “I wish you all the best year of your lives, mates. I reckon that whatever the New Year brings us will be the best the Great Captain has for us – and somehow or other we’ll all make port in a good harbour.”

There’s a lot of uncertainty about what the world will experience in 2021, but, like Captain Jim, I remain hopeful that “somehow or other we’ll all make port in a good harbour.” And in the meantime, there is always something new to discover about L.M. Montgomery.

Posted in Scholarship

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6 Comments

  1. Kathy Gastle

    Bravo Ben, for opening more doors to the world of Lucy Maud Montgomery past and present! I have lived one hour into 2021 and your selection of Montgomery’s quotes brightened my start to this New Year! I do hope this year we can cross paths in person and get caught up. Cheers!

  2. Danielle Wallace

    Thank you for this thoughtful summary and a window into other works and analysis about L.M. Montgomery. I feel that I have both a new reading list to seek out in 2021 as well as a lot of great pieces to catch up on. Thank you!

  3. Susan Croll

    I am in awe of all of this LMM scholarship and of your effort to make it available to those who share your interest. I considered myself a knowledgeable LMM reader and fan until I made a pathetic attempt at the trivia contest and quickly gave up. Thank you for making this information available to the likes of me — and Happy New Year!

    • Benjamin Lefebvre

      Thanks so much for your comment, Susan! One of the things I learned as a result of the trivia question is that people’s knowledge of Montgomery is specific to their interests—some know Montgomery’s fiction very well but not her journals, or they know the Anne books really well but not the remaining books. I tend not to pay much attention to fashion, so I would have had to make a wild guess with those kinds of questions. But it shows there’s always something more to learn. Happy New Year to you as well!

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