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How Fair the Realm Literary Allusions Open to the View

Extract from the first edition of ANNE OF AVONLEA, by L.M. Montgomery.
"Splendid," Anne agreed, gray shining eyes looking down into blue shining ones Anne and Paul both knew
"How fair the realm
Imagination opens to the view,"
and both knew the way to that happy land. There the rose of joy bloomed immortal by dale and stream; clouds never darkened the sunny sky; sweet bells never jangled out of tune; and kindred spirits abounded. The knowledge of that land’s geography … “east o’ the sun, west o’ the moon” … is priceless lore, not to be bought in any market place.
Detail from page 167 of the original edition (first impression) of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Avonlea,
published by L.C. Page and Company in 1909. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.

Earlier this year, I received a message from a fellow L.M. Montgomery reader asking about an apparent quotation that appears in chapter 15 of Anne of Avonlea: “How fair the realm / Imagination opens to the view.” Some digging revealed that this was one of the quotations that Rea Wilmshurst, in her pioneering 1989 article entitled “L.M. Montgomery’s Use of Quotations and Allusions in the ‘Anne’ Books,” had not been able to identify. And although the quotation also appears, in identical form but without the line break, in an entry in Montgomery’s comic diary written collaboratively with Nora Lefurgey (included in The Intimate Life of L.M. Montgomery, edited by Irene Gammel) and in a 1927 letter from Montgomery to Ephraim Weber (included in After Green Gables, edited by Hildi Froese Tiessen and Paul Gerard Tiessen), the editors of those volumes were unable to identify this source either (see Montgomery to Weber, 16 November 1927, in After Green Gables, 148; Montgomery, 26 January 1903, in Montgomery and Lefurgey, “‘ . . . Where Has My Yellow Garter Gone?,” 27).

What I found intriguing is that Montgomery used this quotation, in identical form except for the line break, on three separate occasions, years apart from each other (1903, 1909, and 1927), and yet, the fact that this quotation still hasn’t been identified indicates that either Montgomery quoted the text inaccurately (as she often did, since when dropping quotations into her work she evidently relied on memory, which is rarely exact) or the source in question is incredibly obscure. At the same time, judging by the large number of results from a Google search for the text of this quotation, it’s clear that its text has resonated with Montgomery readers, many of whom, faced with no evidence to the contrary, credit Montgomery herself as the source of the quotation.

Still, as I’ve remarked several times before, the increased digitization of old print materials over the last fifteen years or longer has given researchers opportunities to fill many of the gaps in the work of earlier scholars like Wilmshurst, who had to rely on dictionaries of quotations and sayings and to comb through hard copies of the complete works of innumerable poets and prose writers in order to complete her research, and so it is a testament to Wilmshurst’s determination and skill that she identified as many quotations and allusions as she did. Digitization allows researchers not only access to books, magazines, and newspapers beyond the physical holdings at individual libraries but also the ability to search through electronic texts.

Detail from the title page of the original edition of ANNE OF AVONLEA, published by L.C. Page and Company, in 1909, with text as follows:
"Flowers spring to blossom where she walks / The careful ways of duty, / Our hard, stiff lines of life with her / Are flowing curves of beauty." —Whittier.
Detail from the title page of the original edition (first impression) of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Avonlea,
published by L.C. Page and Company in 1909. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.

And so, in most cases, a few rounds on Google will solve lingering mysteries or confirm earlier findings quite easily: it takes less than a minute to determine that “east o’ the sun, west o’ the moon,” quoted in that same paragraph in Anne of Avonlea, refers to the title of a Norse fairy tale that appears in translated form under the title “East of the Sun & West of the Moon” in Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book (1889). It is equally straightforward to determine that the epigraph to Anne of Avonlea—“Flowers spring to blossom where she walks / The careful ways of duty, / Our hard, stiff lines of life with her / Are flowing curves of beauty,” attributed on the title page simply to “Whittier”—is from John Greenleaf Whittier’s long poem “Among the Hills” and to read the extract in the context of the whole poem. And as I pointed out last year when discussing the epigraph to Rilla of Ingleside, the digitization of old print materials can sometimes allow us to determine not only what text but also what version of a text Montgomery is quoting.

After trying multiple combinations of terms from the “imagination opens to the view” quotation, I finally came across a single instance of something that initially looked like a dead end: a poem entitled “Day-Dreams,” attributed to Harriet Trowbridge, which begins with what looks like an epigraph: “How fair the realm / Imagination opes [sic] to view— / Soft emerald fields / And skies of melting blue!” The poem appears in the February 1886 issue of Wide Awake, a Boston periodical, but doesn’t offer a source for the epigraph. I couldn’t find any other hits for this version of the quotation, which disappointed me; while at least I could answer my fellow Montgomery reader’s question and confirm that yes, this is a real quotation, I didn’t seem to be any closer to determining where it was from.

Page from a digitized nineteenth-century magazine, beginning with the following textual items:
DAY-DREAMS
Harriet Trowbridge
“How fair the realm
  Imagination opes to view—
Soft emerald fields
  And skies of melting blue!”
What follows is the first half of a poem, consisting of two-couplet stanzas (beginning with "O tell me, pretty, Alice, tell me, I pray, / Where have you been wand’ring this midsummer day?") and including a drawing of a little girl with frizzy hair accompanied by a caption that reads "Pretty Alice."
Detail from “Day-Dreams,” a poem by Harriet Trowbridge that was published in the
February 1886 issue of Wide Awake, a Boston periodical. Courtesy of Google Books.

Still, figuring this discovery was better than nothing, I sent all of this to my longtime friend Jennifer H. Litster, whose Ph.D. on Montgomery at the University of Edinburgh involved a tremendous amount of work on Montgomery’s literary allusions (and was completed prior to the widespread digitization of older print materials). And I’m glad I did, because her response made me reconsider my initial assumption that I’d hit another dead end.

“She read Wide Awake, didn’t she? So there is of course the possibility that this is the source for her.”

Jenny reminded me that Montgomery had read Wide Awake as a child at some point during the years Wellington and David Nelson had lived with her and her grandparents in Cavendish, something I had forgotten. And so, armed with our respective copies of Montgomery’s journals are both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, we pieced together a possible chronology as best we could using the clues Montgomery had left behind in both her journals and in her celebrity memoir “The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career.” The first thing to do was to determine if it was possible that Montgomery had read the February 1886 issue of Wide Awake, given that, as Montgomery mentioned in a journal entry dated 7 January 1910, it was Wellington Nelson who had been sent this monthly magazine (CJLMM, 2: 258). Elsewhere in her journal, she mentioned that the Nelson boys had stayed with her until she was eleven (3 May 1908, in CJLMM, 2: 185) and that they left sometime in the winter (7 January 1910, in CJLMM, 2: 266). Given that Montgomery turned eleven at the end of November 1885, it is plausible that she read that February 1886 issue of Wide Awake before the Nelson boys left. And it’s also plausible that she incorporated the contents of this magazine into her own creative life, given that she mentioned earlier in that 1910 journal entry that as a child she had named her cat Topsy “after a cat in ‘Wide Awake’” (CJLMM, 2: 264).

And if it seems unlikely that Montgomery clipped or copied items she had read in magazines as a child and used them in her own writing as an adult, we do have evidence of her doing just this. In a journal entry dated October 1916 in which she mentioned that she had written “the story of ‘My Literary Career’” for the Toronto magazine Everywoman’s World, she reported that she had selected “The Alpine Path” as a her title, an echo of “a bit of fugitive verse entitled ‘Lines to the Fringed Gentian’ by some forgotten author. The last verse haunted my memory and has been with me all these years as an aspiration” (LMMCJ, 1: 251). When she mentioned this memoir again in an entry dated January 1917, she specified that the poem, entitled “The Fringed Gentian,” had been “published in the old Godey’s Lady’s Book” and referred to it as “the little verse which I wrote in my port-folio” (LMMCJ, 1: 268). In the late 1980s, Carol Gaboury established that this poem had appeared as part of a sixteen-chapter serial entitled “Tam: The Story of a Woman,” by Ella Rodman Church and Augusta de Bubna, published in six instalments between January and June 1884, when Montgomery was nine (see Lefebvre, Headnote, 232).

What Montgomery did not mention in either journal entry is that she also clipped the poem from the pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book and pasted it in what is now known as her Red Scrapbook, on a page that was reproduced in Elizabeth Rollins Epperly’s book Imagining Anne: The Island Scrapbooks of L.M. Montgomery.

Scan of a yellowed scrapbook clipping from an old periodical, cropped around the full text of a poem called "The Fringed Gentian"; the full text of this poem is in the blog post.
Scan of a clipping from an old periodical, cropped around the full text of a poem called "The Fringed Gentian"; the full text of this poem is in the blog post.
Two clippings of the poem “The Fringed Gentian,” appearing in a fiction serial entitled “Tam:
The Story of a Woman,” by Ella Rodman Church and Augusta de Bubna, published in the March 1884
issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book (Philadelphia). On the left is a detail from the page in Godey’s Lady’s Book
(courtesy of the Internet Archive); on the right is a detail from a page in Montgomery’s Red Scrapbook,
appearing in Elizabeth Rollins Epperly’s Imagining Anne: L.M. Montgomery’s Island Scrapbooks.

I’m not aware that anyone has found a clipping of Harriet Trowbridge’s “Day-Dreams” in Montgomery’s scrapbook, but since the issue of Wide Awake in question didn’t belong to her, perhaps she had to content herself with transcribing it in a notebook (one that, like her “port-folio,” no longer survives).

In a sense, this is one of the reasons I chose to make Montgomery the central focus of my academic research more than twenty years ago: that there’s always some new to investigate and discover, especially as the digitization of older print materials reveals new clues that can be added to the mix. And given that Montgomery was born 148 years ago today, it is worth taking stock of all of the ways that her life, her work, and her legacy continue to fascinate readers all around the world.

Still, when it comes to the literary allusions in Montgomery’s work, for every mystery that’s solved are a dozen more than remain elusive. The opening line of Anne of Avonlea refers to Anne as “a tall, slim girl, ‘half-past sixteen’” (AA, 1), but my attempts to find a source for that quotation have so far led me nowhere, except for Mrs. A.D. Hawkins’s 1879 novel Hannah: The Odd Fellow’s Orphan (where the phrase “half past sixteen” also appears within quotation marks) and various references to 4:30 in the afternoon. But maybe one day, the right print publication will be digitized and made text searchable, and someone will have better luck solving that mystery, too.

Bibliography

Church, Ellen Rodman, and Augusta de Bubna. “Tam: The Story of a Woman” (third instalment). Godey’s Lady’s Book (Philadelphia), March 1884, 233–46. https://archive.org/details/sim_godeys-magazine_1884-03_108_645/page/232/.

Epperly, Elizabeth Rollins. Imagining Anne: The Island Scrapbooks of L.M. Montgomery. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2008. 100 Years of Anne.

Hawkins, Mrs. A.D. Hannah: The Odd Fellow’s Orphan. Indianapolis: Douglass & Carlon, 1879. https://archive.org/details/hannahoddfellow00hawkgoog/page/n86/

Lefebvre, Benjamin. Headnote to “The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career,” by L.M. Montgomery. In Montgomery, A Name for Herself, 231–35.

Montgomery, L.M. After Green Gables: L.M. Montgomery’s Letters to Ephraim Weber, 1916–1941. Edited by Hildi Froese Tiessen and Paul Gerard Tiessen. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.

—. Anne of Avonlea. Boston: L.C. Page and Company, 1909. https://archive.org/details/anneavonlea00montgoog/.

—. The Complete Journals of L.M. Montgomery: The PEI Years, 1901–1911. Edited by Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2013.

—. L.M. Montgomery’s Complete Journals: The Ontario Years, 1911–1917. Edited by Jen Rubio. N.p.: Rock’s Mills Press, 2016.

—. A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891–1917. Edited by Benjamin Lefebvre. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018. The L.M. Montgomery Library.

Montgomery, L.M., and Nora Lefurgey. “‘ . . . Where Has My Yellow Garter Gone?’ The Diary of L.M. Montgomery and Nora Lefurgey.” Edited, annotated, and illustrated by Irene Gammel. In The Intimate Life of L.M. Montgomery, edited by Irene Gammel, 19–87. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.

Trowbridge, Harriet. “Day-Dreams.” Wide Awake (Boston), February 1886, 164–65. https://books.google.ca/books?id=ekg_AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA164.

Wilmshurst, Rea. “L.M. Montgomery’s Use of Quotations and Allusions in the ‘Anne’ Books.” Canadian Children’s Literature / Littérature canadienne pour la jeunesse 56 (1989): 15–45.