This week on the L.M. Montgomery Readathon (which Andrea McKenzie and I run on Facebook), we are concluding our group discussion of Emily Climbs. As such, I thought this would be a good time to share (both on the Readathon and on this blog) a newspaper clipping I came across several years ago in one of L.M. Montgomery’s scrapbooks, in which she’s quoted talking about the difficulties she’d later face when trying to write the next volume about Emily, which would be published as Emily’s Quest in 1927. The clipping, entitled “L.M. Montgomery Is Undecided,” is unidentified and there’s no indication of to whom she has written these words (let alone if she intended them for publication), but it reads as follows:
L.M. Montgomery, whose charming story of love in an elysian Canadian summer, “Blue Castle,” has just been published by Stokes, writes that she is busy now on the third Emily book and a “dreadful time I am having, too, with all her beaux. Her love affairs won’t run straight. Then, too, I’m bombarded with letters from girls who implore me to let her marry Dean, not Teddy. But she is set on Teddy herself so what am I to do? One letter recently was quite unique. All previous letters have implored me to write ‘more about Emily, no matter whom she marries,’ but the writer of this begged me not to write another Emily book because she felt sure if I did she would marry Teddy and she (the writer) just couldn’t bear it. . . . So between these contradictory pleas, I’m in a regular mess!”
We won’t be reading Emily’s Quest next on the Readathon, but I wanted to bring this up as a way to raise three topics of conversation.
First, the clipping consists of a rare instance of Montgomery revealing that sometimes she feels as though the character truth of her characters and the input she receives from readers sometimes make her lose control of her own material. What does this reveal about Montgomery as a writer, especially as a writer of fiction released in instalments?
Second, it indicates that her readers felt differently (and yet adamantly) about Emily’s choice of husband, although of course there’s no way to indicate how evenly they were divided between Team Teddy and Team Dean. But there’s no indication here of any of the creepy subtext about Dean that many Readathon participants commented on as we read through this book. If our growing awareness of this subtext now is in part a byproduct of the #MeToo movement and of an increased societal awareness of toxic masculinity, what does this suggest about the way people read (or reread) and interpret (or reinterpret) a work of fiction?
Third, the only plot element mentioned in this clipping is Emily’s “beaux,” as though Emily’s sole quest in this novel-in-progress is to find a husband. What do you make of the fact that, at least as far as this article reports, Montgomery’s readers seem to be more interested in reading more about Emily’s love life than about her writing life? (Note that it refers to The Blue Castle as a “charming story of love in an elysian Canadian summer,” which really simplifies this complex novel.) Or is the emphasis here on Emily’s love life simply because her writing career is comparatively much more straightforward to write about?
If you’d like to join the L.M. Montgomery Readathon, we are always looking for new members! Andrea and I will soon announce the next book we’ll be reading together, starting in mid-January 2022.
UPDATE: Thanks to Simon Lloyd, university archivist and special collections librarian at the University of Prince Edward Island Library, this “unidentified” clipping is unidentified no more! He responded to my tweet about this blog post with a scan of a newspaper page that matches the clipping, and it shows that it appeared in the Salt Lake Telegram of Salt Lake City, Utah, on 10 October 1926, p. 4. Quite possibly this story was picked up by a number of other newspapers across the continent, but this particular clipping is most definitely from this newspaper. Thanks so much, Simon!