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Author: Benjamin Lefebvre

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.

Trivia Contest: Final Round Today!

So far 96 people have written our new L.M. Montgomery trivia contest, which is far more than we were expecting, so thank you all for playing! Just a reminder that at this afternoon’s Conversations about L.M. Montgomery event (at 2:00 p.m. EST on Zoom) we will reveal the answers to the quiz and have a bonus round for four finalists. This is our final event for 2020, but we are planning several more events for 2021. Please join us if you can! Registration is required.

Next on Conversations: Trivia Contest!

Thanks to all of you who joined us for our second instalment in our Conversations about L.M. Montgomery initiative, a round table discussion of Rilla of Ingleside, on Zoom earlier this month. That conversation has now been archived on YouTube. I’m pleased to announce our third and final instalment for 2020, which is a trivia contest that opens today, coinciding with the anniversary of L.M. Montgomery’s birth. Participants are invited to complete the quiz on their own time and to join us over Zoom on Saturday, December 12, at 2:00 p.m. (EST) (registration is required) to find out the answers and to watch a bonus round for attendees with the highest scores. Break a leg!

Four Days of Free Shipping from UTP!

I just received a notification email telling me that University of Toronto Press is offering free shipping, in Canada and the United States, on all its orders between now and the end of this Sunday, November 29. Since UTP has published a number of books by or about L.M. Montgomery over the years, and given that these books are substantially discounted on their website, this is the perfect time for readers to complete their collections!

Among the books available are the first two volumes of The L.M. Montgomery Library and the three volumes of The L.M. Montgomery Reader, which are still available in hardcover as well as the paperback editions released earlier this year. I was also pleased to see that paperback copies of Mary Quayle Innis’s The Clear Spirit: Twenty Canadian Women and Their Times (1966), which includes Elizabeth Waterston’s chapter on Montgomery that is widely acknowledged as the starting point of L.M. Montgomery studies, are still available.

A full list of titles is as follows:

I decided to take advantage of this sale myself, and I ordered two books that will certainly come in handy as I continue my work of preparing all of L.M. Montgomery’s short stories and poems for book publication: T.K. Pratt’s Dictionary of Prince Edward Island English (1996) and T.K. Pratt and Scott Burke’s Prince Edward Island Sayings (1998). I look forward to reading these!

Rilla Round Table This Afternoon!

Don’t forget that our Rilla of Ingleside round table, the second instalment in our Conversations about L.M. Montgomery initiative, is happening this afternoon (2 p.m. EST) on Zoom! Three speakers will be discussing key aspects of this book, followed by open discussion among participants. Please register in advance and join us if you can! A recording will be posted on YouTube later on.

Host
Kate Sutherland (York University)

Moderator
Caroline E. Jones (Austin)

Chat Moderator
Sarah Goff (Albany)

Speakers
Maureen O. Gallagher (Australian National University), L.M. Montgomery’s Reframing of the Great War through Women’s Homefront Experiences
Sarah Glassford (University of Windsor), L.M. Montgomery’s Representations of Women’s War Work
Andrea McKenzie (York University), L.M. Montgomery’s Subversions of Cultural War Myths

Next on Conversations: Round Table on Rilla of Ingleside!

On behalf of the steering committee for Conversations about L.M. Montgomery, I’m happy to let you all know that, as a follow-up to our round table on The Blue Castle last month (which attracted about 70 participants and which you can now watch on YouTube), our next instalment, held on Zoom and scheduled for Saturday, November 21 at 2:00 p.m. EST, will be a round table on Rilla of Ingleside. Set in rural Prince Edward Island during the First World War and published in 1921, this book is now widely recognized as having significant literary and historical value, and it was the first book that we discussed on the L.M. Montgomery Readathon. Speakers will include Sarah Glassford (University of Windsor), Maureen O. Gallagher (Australian National University), and Andrea McKenzie (York University), and it promises to be a lively discussion.

Registration is now open—look forward to seeing you there!

This Saturday: Round Table on The Blue Castle

Early cover art for /The Blue Castle/, by L.M. Montgomery

Just a reminder that the first event in the new Conversations about L.M. Montgomery initiative, a round table discussion of frequent Montgomery fan favourite The Blue Castle, will take place over Zoom on Saturday, 17 October 2020, at 2:00 p.m. (EST). I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce the three speakers, who will be talking about the novel in terms of the environment, romance, and the figure of the “bad girl.”

Caroline E. Jones has been reading L.M. Montgomery’s work since she was a preteen, and her love for the author sent her after a PhD in English studies, with a focus on children’s literature. She has presented at six of the L.M. Montgomery Institute’s biennial conferences, and her Montgomery research focuses on issues of motherhood and girlhood. Caroline has published four book chapters on Montgomery’s work, most recently “Idylls of Play: L.M. Montgomery’s Child-Worlds,” in Children’s Play in Literature: Investigating the Strengths and the Subversions of the Playing Child (2019).

Rachel McMillan is the author of the Herringford and Watts mysteries, the Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries, and the Three Quarter Time series of contemporary Viennese romances. Her newest releases include Dream, Plan and GoA Travel Guide to Inspire Independent AdventureA Very Merry Holiday Movie Guide, and The London Restoration. Rachel is a long-time enthusiast of The Blue Castle, has lectured on L.M. Montgomery’s ties to Muskoka, and curated an international readalong of The Blue Castle that dug deep into the historical and social tenets of the book.

Tara K. Parmiter received her B.A. in English from Cornell University and her Ph.D. from New York University, where she teaches in the expository writing program and is the assistant director of the writing centre. Her article on village improvement societies in Anne of Avonlea appeared in CREArTA, and her article on nature study in the Anne books appeared in L.M. Montgomery and the Matter of Nature(s) (2018). She has also published on summer vacationing in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, journey narratives in the Muppet movies, and the green gothic landscapes of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga.

Registration is now open for this event. If you’re unable to join us for the event, a recording will be available after the fact on YouTube. First-time readers of the book are warned that the discussion will contain plot spoilers. Be sure to subscribe to this blog via email to get all the latest updates about this exciting new initiative.

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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?

Starting Soon: Conversations about L.M. Montgomery

When Andrea McKenzie told me last March about her idea to start a Rilla of Ingleside Readathon, she mentioned that she wanted to find new ways to connect with fellow L.M. Montgomery readers using the tools of the digital age (in this case, Facebook). After all, it’s been well documented that Montgomery’s novels have the power to bring people together, and Andrea thought it would be worthwhile for a group of people to read (or reread) Rilla of Ingleside together, partly as a distraction from the pandemic, partly because there’s such rich cultural and literary context to explore in that novel, and partly because it depicts a community of people working together to get through a different kind of global crisis (in this case, four years of war). The level of response from readers all over the world surpassed our expectations completely, and the group—now called L.M. Montgomery Readathon—recently started discussing a third Montgomery book, The Blue Castle.

In light of the level of enthusiasm that the Readathon has received, Andrea and I soon started talking about additional ways we would connect virtually with fellow Montgomery readers around the world. To that end, I am pleased to announce Conversations about L.M. Montgomery, a series of virtual conversations and activities that will be hosted over Zoom and archived on a YouTube page. For this initiative, we reached out to Melanie J. Fishbane, Sarah Goff, Daniela Janes, Caroline E. Jones, Yuka Kajihara, and Kate Sutherland, and together the eight of us form the steering committee.

In figuring out a format for a series of virtual events, we were motivated by the wide range of workshops, conferences, events, meetings, and conversations that have happened on Zoom, but we were also mindful of the well-documented phenomenon known as “Zoom fatigue.” And so, instead of an all-day or a multi-day virtual conference, we’ve opted for a series of short events (round tables, formal papers, workshops, informal conversations, and readings), scattered throughout the year, for which any Montgomery reader who downloads the Zoom app can join us.

Early cover art for /The Blue Castle/, by L.M. Montgomery

Our first event will be a round table discussion of The Blue Castle and will take place on Saturday, 17 October 2020, at 2:00 p.m. (EST). It will feature three engaging and knowledgeable speakers: Tara K. Parmiter (New York University) will speak on The Blue Castle and the environment, Rachel McMillan (Toronto) will speak on The Blue Castle and romance, and Caroline E. Jones (Austin) will speak on The Blue Castle and the figure of the bad girl.

Interested participants should register in advance. First-time readers of the book are warned that the discussion will contain plot spoilers. Questions? Suggestions? Comment on this post below or get in touch through the contact form. Please subscribe to this blog via email to get all the latest updates.

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Happy October from L.M. Montgomery!

Today is the first of October, which means that today is the day several memes start going around quoting chapter 16 of Anne of Green Gables, in which Anne says to Marilla, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

Although that’s probably one of the most frequently quoted sentences from Montgomery’s work, it is not the only time she wrote about the wonders of October. (One extract that comes to mind is from The Blue Castle, but I don’t want to quote it here out of respect for members of the L.M. Montgomery Readathon who are reading the book for the first time.) Instead, this morning I decided to share with you an excerpt from “Around the Table,” the newspaper column that Montgomery wrote for the Halifax Daily Echo over a nine-month period between September 1901 and May 1902. This column is narrated and signed by “Cynthia,” a single woman of indeterminate age who shares a Halifax boarding house with Polly, Ted, and Theodosia. In the instalment published on 26 October 1901, Cynthia writes about the complexities of waking up early to catch a beautiful October sunrise.

Is there anything in the world more lovely than a fine October morning? When I ask questions like this Polly and Ted laugh heartlessly and say that if I try to describe an October sunrise I must do it by dead reckoning, because I never get up early enough to see. But that’s a libel – born of their mean malice, you know. I do get up early sometimes – and I always enjoy it so much that I make a resolution on the spot that I will rise with the lark every morning thereafter for the space of my natural life. And the next morning I sleep so late that I have to gobble down my breakfast standing, and pin my hat and put my gloves on as I tear down the street! There ought to be a law against making resolutions.

The full text of “Around the Table” appears exclusively in A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917, available from the publisher (at a substantial discount) or from your favourite bookseller.

Image: Detail from the Canadian Favourites edition of Anne of Ingleside, published by McClelland and Stewart in 1972. Artist unknown.