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!
I am pleased to report that our discussion of L.M. Montgomery’s novel Emily of New Moon on the L.M. Montgomery Readathon concluded a few weeks ago and was a great success. Once again, Andrea McKenzie and I have been blown away by the level of enthusiasm and engagement from participants and by the number of new Montgomery friends we’ve made since we started this project in the early weeks of the pandemic. When Andrea and I talked about which book we’d like to cover next, we were immediately in agreement that we wanted to carry on with this book’s sequel, Emily Climbs. This we’ll begin tomorrow, September 20, discussing two chapters a week until the middle of December. In addition to discussion questions for each chapter, posts will cover historical context, links to Montgomery’s life and body of work, differences between editions, book covers, and the way the book was advertised and reviewed when it was published in 1925, and participants will take turns reading chapters aloud. All L.M. Montgomery readers are welcome to join us, including those who are reading this book for the first time.
Andrea McKenzie and I are pleased to announce that starting on Monday, June 14, we will begin our next discussion on the L.M. Montgomery Readathon. When we launched this discussion group on Facebook in March 2020, near the beginning of the pandemic, we hoped that we might reach a few dozen interested participants readers, but as our discussion of our first book, Rilla of Ingleside, began to take shape, we were stunned when the amount of interested readers who wanted to join the group kept growing. Once we finished Rilla of Ingleside last June, we decided to keep the conversation going, first with Jane of Lantern Hill (July–September 2020) and later with The Blue Castle (September 2020–February 2021) and Chronicles of Avonlea (March–May 2021).
With the group now consisting of almost eight hundred members, we have selected Emily of New Moon as our fifth Readathon book, and starting Monday, we will work our way through each chapter week by week until the end of August. Once again, recordings of each chapter by group participants will be available on YouTube, and each chapter will be accompanied by discussion questions as well as posts about literary allusions, textual variants between the first edition and a widely circulated recent edition, book covers from around the world, as well as background information about fashion, technology, education, the natural world, and Montgomery’s life.
Emily of New Moon was published in 1923, fifteen years after the appearance of Anne of Green Gables, and it appeared two years after Rilla of Ingleside, which Montgomery had vowed would be the last book about Anne. The book reflects Montgomery’s renewed creative energy as she wrote it, not only because this was her first non-Anne book-length work of fiction in a decade but also because she had been wanting to write about this character for quite some time. And as a book focusing on a child writer, Emily of New Moon is a somewhat more autobiographical work than the Anne series. As Montgomery wrote to her penpal Ephraim Weber in 1921, “People were never right in saying I was ‘Anne’ but, in some respects, they will be right if they write me down as Emily.”
Along with its two sequels, Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest, Emily of New Moon has been celebrated not only as a work of fiction of superior literary merit but also as a work of fiction that has inspired subsequent generations of writers. Alice Munro, Jane Urquhart, and P.K. Page wrote afterwords to New Canadian Library editions of the three books that appeared in 1989, and the three books are featured prominently in Arlene Perly Rae’s book Everybody’s Favourites: Canadians Talk about Books That Changed Their Lives (1997). Moreover, a television series based on Emily of New Moon and its sequels aired starting in the late 1990s and ran for four seasons, all of which can now be viewed on YouTube.
This week the L.M. Montgomery Readathon—an interactive group that Andrea McKenzie and I curate on Facebook—began its discussion of our fourth Montgomery book, Chronicles of Avonlea, a volume of linked short stories. We have just surpassed 700 participants, people from all over the world who are rediscovering L.M. Montgomery’s works and seeking community during this time of global uncertainty. If you haven’t yet joined the conversation, please do!
Published in summer 1912, Chronicles of Avonlea is L.M. Montgomery’s fifth book, preceded by Anne of Green Gables (1908), Anne of Avonlea (1909), Kilmeny of the Orchard (1910), and The Story Girl (1911). All four of these books were bestsellers in Canada and the U.S., although Anne of Green Gables continued to be the strongest seller. Somewhat understandingly from his point of view, Montgomery’s publisher, L.C. Page, was keen to publish more Montgomery books, particularly ones that were linked to Anne and might approximate or even surpass the sales success of Montgomery’s first book.
Because Montgomery couldn’t write books fast enough to please her publisher and because she was reluctant to write a third Anne book because she wanted to resist the inevitable romantic conclusion, Page—who had already suggested that she postpone The Story Girl and expand a nine-chapter serial entitled “Una of the Garden” as the basis for Kilmeny of the Orchard—asked her to compile a volume of linked short stories set in the same geographical environment as Anne of Green Gables and to feature Anne whenever possible, thinking that such a volume would be seen as the next best thing to a new novel about Anne. By this point Montgomery had published hundreds of short stories in North American periodicals, so she looked through her scrapbooks to see which stories could be revised for this project and ended up sending close to thirty revised stories for Page for consideration.
The twelve stories that made the final cut were first published in a range of North American periodicals between 1904 and 1912 (only “Old Lady Lloyd” has not yet been found in its original incarnation). Here they are, in chronological order:
“Little Joscelyn.” The Christian Endeavor World (Boston), 1 September 1904, 988–89.
“The Hurrying of Ludovic.” The Canadian Magazine (Toronto), May 1905, 67–71.
“Aunt Olivia’s Beau.” The Designer (New York), June 1905, 196–200.
“Ol’ Man Reeves’ Girl.” The Farm and Fireside (Springfield, OH), 15 June 1905, 14–15. (Revised as “Old Man Shaw’s Girl.”)
“A Case of Atavism.” The Reader Magazine (Indianapolis), November 1905, 658–66. (Revised as “The Winning of Lucinda.”)
“Pa Rudge’s Purchase.” The Christian Endeavor World (Boston), 22 February 1906, 421–22. (Revised as “Pa Sloane’s Purchase.”)
“The Quarantine at Alexander Abraham’s.” Everybody’s Magazine (New York), April 1907, 495–503.
“The End of a Quarrel.” American Agriculturist (New York), 20 July 1907, 56, 58–59.
“The Courting of Prissy Strong.” The Housewife (New York), July 1909, 12–13.
“Miracle at Mayfield.” The Christian Endeavor World (Boston), 28 October 1909, 69–70. (Revised as “The Miracle at Carmody.”)
“Each in His Own Tongue.” The Delineator (New York), October 1910, 247, 324–28.
Still, although there’s no record of the process of selecting and arranging the stories in this volume (most of the remaining stories would appear in Further Chronicles of Avonlea in 1920, but that’s a story for another day), there are some clues in the first published edition that indicate that Page and/or Montgomery considered a few arrangements before they finalized the contents of the book.
First, although the title on the cover appears simply as Chronicles of Avonlea, the title page adds an explanatory subtitle that tries to solidify the connection between this book and the character for whom Montgomery was best known:
In which Anne Shirley of Green Gables and Avonlea plays some part, and which have to do with other personalities and events, including The Hurrying of Ludovic, Old Lady Lloyd, The Training of Felix, Little Joscelyn, The Winning of Lucinda, Old Man Shaw’s Girl, Aunt Olivia’s Beau, The Quarantine at Alexander Abraham’s, Pa Sloane’s Purchase, The Courting of Prissy Strong, The Miracle at Carmody, and finally The End of a Quarrel.
The order of the stories here is the same as what appears in the book, and the only difference is that “Each in His Own Tongue” is renamed “The Training of Felix”—perhaps this was Page’s suggestion, given that the story had originally been published as “Each in His Own Tongue.” But an ad for the book at the end of this edition reads quite differently, with many of the titles referring to stories that ultimately appeared in Further Chronicles:
In which Anne Shirley of Green Gables and Avonlea plays some part, and which have to do with other personalities and events, including The Purchase of Sloane, The Baby Which Came to Jane, The Mystery of Her Father’s Daughter and of Tannis of the Flats, The Promise of Lucy Ellen, The Beau and Aunt Olivia, The Deferment of Hester, and finally of The Hurrying of Ludovic.
Although we don’t know how involved Montgomery was in making this selection and arrangement, the final, published version was certainly a hit with reviewers and a strong seller with the general public. Although some reviewers still yearned for another novel with Anne as the protagonist, most of the reviews had high praise for Montgomery’s skill as a short story writer. Here are some representative samples from reviews of the time, all of which are included or excerpted in Volume 3 of The L.M. Montgomery Reader.
“In this volume the author establishes her right to be considered one of the best short story writers in our country.” —Oakland Tribune
“All the insight and charm of the Anne books, with the added grace of a more finished craftsmanship, render this an exceptional collection; and a few of the chapters will take very high rank in the short-story domain.” —Christian Science Monitor
“To say that one sketch was better than another would be to insinuate that the latter was not just as good as it possibly could be. Which would be insinuating something utterly untrue.” —Mail and Empire (Toronto)
“Avonlea might be any one of those home towns to which wandering sons and daughters hurry back for their summer holiday; a village where every little white house has its grass plot, flower beds and vegetable garden; where the air is sweet with rose odors in June and apples in September; an out-of-the way spot where quaint characters develop idiosyncrasies.” —The Publishers’ Weekly
“The charm of the author’s style was never more in evidence. The stories ‘tell themselves’ with a readiness and naturalness which is the perfection of literary skill. . . . These ‘Chronicles of Avonlea’ demonstrate anew the truth that simple, quiet lives may be full of romance and of tragedy, even if the latter be bloodless.” —Boston Times
“The author shows a wonderful knowledge of humanity, great insight and warm-heartedness in the manner in which some of the scenes are treated, and the sympathetic way the gentle peculiarities of the characters are brought out.” —Boston Globe
“Instinctively one feels that the men and women, the boys and girls, the very cats and dogs of her stories are human and real; and they remain not creatures of the imagination but actual friends whose pleasures we have shared, whose griefs we have borne, and whose good fortunes we rejoice over. The authoress, too, is not without a saving sense of humor that lends the quaint charm to her stories that mark their individuality.” —Saint John Globe
“The author has won a fine reputation as a depictor of child life, but it is a mistake to consider that she is limited to that life. Indeed her finest work is to be found wherein she gives us the relation of the child and the adult.” —Brooklyn Daily Eagle
“These chronicles are of the best work that Miss Montgomery has done. The characters are real, living people, full of human weaknesses and homely virtues.” —The Canadian Magazine
I started writing this as a post in the L.M. Montgomery Readathon, where we’re currently reading and discussing chapter 3 of The Blue Castle, but since it’s rather on the long side for a post, I thought I’d turn it into a blog entry instead. Comments welcome, either here or on Facebook, but please—no spoilers!
Right in the first chapter of The Blue Castle, the narrator establishes the unique, almost undefinable appeal that the work of John Foster has for Valancy: “She could hardly say what it was—some tantalising lure of a mystery never revealed—some hint of a great secret just a little further on—some faint, elusive echo of lovely, forgotten things—John Foster’s magic was indefinable.” Although the librarian notes that John Foster’s books are popular with the library’s patrons, she doesn’t see the appeal of them herself, whereas Mrs. Frederick and Cousin Stickles consider all pleasure reading to be “idleness,” meaning that John Foster’s “magic” is not only indefinable but also not shared by everyone. In chapter three, Valancy “open[s] Thistle Harvest guiltily at random” when she’s supposed to be looking for her thimble, and the experience of rereading just one paragraph makes her feel “the strange exhilaration of spirit that always came momentarily to her when she dipped into one of John Foster’s books.” In other words, John Foster’s books are a form of bibliotherapy for Valancy: they centre her, calm her down, distract her from her problems, and make her feel as one with the world.
It may surprise you—and it may not—to learn that the source of this extract from John Foster’s Thistle Harvest is none other than L.M. Montgomery. As Elizabeth Rollins Epperly reveals in her 2007 book Through Lover’s Lane: L.M. Montgomery’s Photography and Visual Imagination, in creating these extracts from John Foster’s books Montgomery borrowed from a quartet of nature essays she’d published in The Canadian Magazine (Toronto) in 1911: “Spring in the Woods,” “The Woods in Summer,” “The Woods in Autumn,” and “The Woods in Winter.” Although the essays are not set anywhere explicitly, for Epperly they are “memory pictures of her favourite home in nature, Lover’s Lane.” And although Montgomery mentioned to one of her correspondents that she’d written these essays in mid-1909, they ended up being published in the midst of perhaps her most significant life transition: after her grandmother died in March 1911, she left her beloved home in Cavendish, spent three months with relatives in nearby Park Corner, married her longtime fiancé at the beginning of July, honeymooned with him in England and Scotland, moved with him to Leaskdale, Ontario, to start her new responsibilities as the wife of a Presbyterian minister in an entirely new community, and soon became pregnant with her first child, who would be born the following summer.
Here are the first two paragraphs from “Spring in the Woods,” which correspond almost exactly to the extract from Thistle Harvest included in chapter 3 of The Blue Castle:
The woods are so human that to know them we must live with them. An occasional saunter through them, keeping, it may be, to the well trodden paths, will never admit us to their intimacy. If we wish to be near friends we must seek them out and win them by frequent reverent visits at all hours, by morning, by noon, and by night, and at all seasons, in spring and in summer, in autumn and in winter. Otherwise, we can never really know them, and any pretence we can make to the contrary will never impose on them. They have their own effective way of keeping aliens at a distance and shutting their heart to mere casual sight-seers.
Believe me, it is of no use to seek the woods from any motive except sheer love of them; they will find us out at once and hide all their sweet, world-old secrets from us. But if they know we come to them because we love them they will be very kind to us and give us such treasure of beauty and delight as is not bought or sold in market nor even can be paid for in coin of earthly minting; for the woods when they give at all give unstintedly and hold nothing back from their true worshippers. We must go to them lovingly, humbly, patiently, watchfully, and we shall learn what poignant loveliness lurks in the wild places and silent intervals, lying under starshine and sunset, what cadences of unearthly music are harped on aged pine boughs or crooned in copses of fir, what delicate savours exhale from mosses and ferns in sunny corners or on damp brooklands, what dreams and myths and legends of an older time haunt them, what unsuspected tintings glimmer in their dark demesnes and glow in their al- luring by-ways; for it is the by-ways that lead to the heart of the woods, and we must not fail to follow them if we would know the forests and be known of them.
The last sentence from the corresponding extract from Thistle Harvest occurs several paragraphs later in this first “Woods” article:
This is where the immortal heart of the wood will beat against ours and its subtle life will steal into our veins and make us its own forever, so that no matter where we go or how wide we wander in the noisy ways of cities or over lone paths of sea, we shall yet be drawn back to the forest to find our most enduring kinship.
I blogged a few days ago about Montgomery’s “self-repetitions,” and of course this is yet another example of her doing so in a way that would have been difficult for readers at the time to pick up on, given that the “Woods” articles had been published in a periodical fifteen years before The Blue Castle and were not collected in book form until I included them in Volume 1 of The L.M. Montgomery Reader. But what I want to draw your attention to are two complications with this instance of self-repetition.
The first is that Valancy’s stated experience of reading John Foster’s work—seemingly straightforward nature writing that’s really so much more than that for readers who are willing to take these books seriously—is remarkably similar to the way innumerable readers of Montgomery’s books have described the impact that her work has had on their lives. This response to Montgomery’s work is hardly a new phenomenon—by 1926, she’d already received enough fan mail to have a clear sense of the impact her books were having on readers. So what is Montgomery doing here by describing Valancy as having a similarly “indefinable” reaction to John Foster’s work, but cloaking herself as the author of that work and attributing it within the book to a male author (or at least to a male pseudonym), especially given that the book in which John Foster’s work appears was written by an author with a gender-neutral name (“L.M. Montgomery”)?
The second complication is that, intrigued by Epperly’s discovery about the links between John Foster and these “Woods” articles and unable to shake the nagging feeling that the rest of the text of these four nature essays seemed strangely familiar, I took a closer look at these essays when I prepared them for republication and discovered that Montgomery reused extracts from them in nearly all of her Ontario novels, from The Golden Road (1913) to Anne of Ingleside (1939), making only minor changes. Here is part of page 90 of Volume 1 of The L.M. Montgomery Reader, with part of “The Woods in Winter” with some of the passages underlined.
The phrase beginning with “beautiful pagan maidens” appears in Rilla of Ingleside; the sentences beginning with “But the conebearers” and “See how beautiful” appear in two different chapters in Emily Climbs; the phrase “at peace in their white loveliness” appears in Mistress Pat, along with the sentences beginning with “Every step I took”; the phrase beginning with “so taintless and wonderful” is in The Golden Road; the sentences beginning with “Every twig and spray” are in The Blue Castle. Not only that, but immediately after the second extract in Emily Climbs, the narrator adds, “Emily decided she would write that sentence down in her Jimmy-book when she went back.” Presumably, Emily, too, would want to use it again.
In my introductory headnote to Montgomery’s four nature essays, which I included in my book under the collective title “[Seasons in the Woods],” I noted that “these borrowings reveal an attempt on [Montgomery’s] part to recapture [when living in Ontario] a delightful ‘spot’ that loved on in her memory.” Since writing those words, I’ve started to look at this a bit differently. Although she expressed ambivalence to her correspondent about the literary quality of these essays, she must have come to see them as authoritative depictions of Prince Edward Island scenery in order to turn to them again and again for several of the nature descriptions that appeared in most of her novels written in Ontario. In other words, these essays acted as a bridge between the Montgomery of Lover’s Lane and the Montgomery of Ontario who never recovered fully from leaving her beloved Cavendish behind.
In other words, Montgomery’s acts of self-repetition don’t need to be understood merely as a busy writer taking shortcuts or being strategic, although certainly that can be part of it too. Perhaps these essays became a form of bibliotherapy for Montgomery as well, as she sought to centre herself in the Cavendish woods that she had renamed Lover’s Lane and that she could access only in written form while writing in Ontario. To my mind, anyway, the complexity here is worth further consideration.
Epperly, Elizabeth Rollins. Through Lover’s Lane: L.M. Montgomery’s Photography and Visual Imagination. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.
Lefebvre, Benjamin. Headnote to “[Seasons in the Woods].” In Lefebvre, The L.M. Montgomery Reader, 1: 73–74.
—, ed. The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 1: A Life in Print. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013.
Montgomery, L.M. The Green Gables Letters from L.M. Montgomery to Ephraim Weber, 1905–1909. Edited by Wilfrid Eggleston. Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1960.
—. “[Seasons in the Woods].” In Lefebvre, The L.M. Montgomery Reader, 1: 73–97.
—. “Spring in the Woods.” The Canadian Magazine (Toronto), May 1911, 59–62.
—. “The Woods in Autumn.” The Canadian Magazine (Toronto), October 1911, 574–77.
—. “The Woods in Summer.” The Canadian Magazine (Toronto), September 1911, 399–402.
—. “The Woods in Winter.” The Canadian Magazine (Toronto), December 1911, 162–64.
Last March, shortly after the start of the COVID-19 restrictions, Andrea McKenzie asked me to collaborate with her on a new initiative designed to help bring L.M. Montgomery’s readers together during this uncertain time. She suggested a Rilla of Ingleside Readathon as a way for us to connect with Montgomery’s worldwide readership through Facebook and as an opportunity for us to revisit some of the contextual work we had put together a decade ago in our restored and annotated edition of the novel, published by Penguin Canada. In a series of Facebook posts, we read the book within the context of Montgomery’s life and times, discussing historical context, gender, nationalism, fashion, technology, allusions to previous works of literature, book covers, translations, and the controversial 1970s abridgement of the text (which, it turns out, happened even earlier than I’d thought!) that continues to be reprinted today.
Andrea and I so enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the novel with so many people around the world that once we were done, we decided to keep the party going, so to speak, and ended up doing the same thing with Jane of Lantern Hill, which we read over the summer. By this point the focus of the group had shifted away from Rilla of Ingleside specifically to more of Montgomery’s work, and so we decided to change the name of the group to the L.M. Montgomery Readathon.
Starting today, we turn to a third Montgomery novel, The Blue Castle, which is a favourite of many Montgomery readers. The only Montgomery book to be set entirely outside Prince Edward Island, The Blue Castle was seen as a major departure for Montgomery when it was first published in 1926. As the Calgary Herald stated in its review of the book, “Admirers of [Anne of Green Gables] have followed [Montgomery] loyally and patiently in the hope that one day she would give them a story which would equal or surpass Anne in theme and reader interest. That day has arrived, and The Blue Castle is the story.” As the New York Times Book Review noted, “although perhaps a little more mature in its spirit than the earlier books,” this book “is unmistakably from first page to last an L.M. Montgomery novel, compact of sentiment, rosily trimmed with romance, peopled with beings drawn solely out of the imagination, but telling a well-made story with humor and pathos.”
The L.M. Montgomery Readathon is open to all readers of L.M. Montgomery’s fiction, including those who are reading The Blue Castle for the first time. Please join us!
Recognizing the many ways that L.M. Montgomery’s books have brought people together over time, and mindful that the current global pandemic means we need to be creative about staying in touch with people, Andrea McKenzie and I have started a Rilla of Ingleside readathon on Facebook. Starting Monday, March 30, we will read together three chapters a week from Montgomery’s Great War novel, supplementing our conversation about the text with book covers, reviews, ads, literary allusions, and historical context. Please join us!