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.
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
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!
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.
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?
While searching for something else Montgomery-related on the open-access website Early Canadiana Online, I came across for the first time a much earlier article by French—entitled “Canada’s Jane Austen” and appearing in the December 1914 issue of The School, a Toronto publication—from which the bulk of Logan and French’s remarks about Montgomery in Highways would be lifted. The full text of this earlier article is as follows:
No history of English literature is considered complete unless it gives due place to the work done by Jane Austen in her portrayal of rural English domestic life; and no history of Canadian literature, when such comes to be written, should fail to recognize that L.M. Montgomery has done for Canada what Jane Austen did for England.
L.M. Montgomery (now Mrs. (Rev.) Evan [sic] Macdonald) was born at Clifton, Prince Edward Island, and spent her childhood in Cavendish—a seashore farming settlement which figures as “Avonlea” in her stories. Like many another young Canadian she has to the credit of her experiences a few years as teacher in the schools of her province. That her life so far has been spent chiefly within the limits of the little island province and the bounds of an Ontario country parish does not narrow her outlook although it necessarily confines her to themes bounded by rural experiences, for her forte is the portrayal of what she has seen and knows. She has the imaginative and creative gifts, but she uses these in enabling us to see the beauty, the humour, and the pathos that lies about our daily paths.
“Anne of Green Gables,” which was Miss Montgomery’s first novel, has an interesting literary history. She tells us that upon being asked for a short serial story for a Sunday school weekly, she cast about for a plot idea. A faded note book entry suggested: “Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy; a girl is sent to them.” The writing of a serial was started, but time did not allow the author to complete it for the purpose intended. As she brooded over the theme it began to expand and the result was a book which may already be confidently labelled a “Canadian Classic.”
In Anne we have an entirely new character in fiction, a high-spirited, sensitive girl, with a wonderfully vivid imagination; wise beyond her years, outspoken and daring; not always good but always lovable. The basis of the story is already explained; its working out is somewhat different from the original suggestion. Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, an elderly bachelor and his sister, living alone on the farm of Green Gables, send a message to an orphan asylum asking that a boy be sent them. Through some mistake a girl comes—the girl Anne. At first Marilla wants to send her back, but sympathy with the child’s longing for a real home, and an interest in her very quaintness, ends in establishing her as a member of the Green Gables family—and then the story has only begun. It is Anne who dominates the whole book. There are other characters, quaint too, and well-drawn, but the introduction of Anne into the community—Anne, so unconventional, so imaginative, and so altogether different from the staid, prosaic, general attitude of the neighbourhood proves to be the introduction of a peculiar ferment, and the incidents which discover to us the process of fermentation are most delightfully odd and mirth-provoking.
In “Anne of Avonlea” we follow the career of our orphan heroine. When we said goodbye to her she was fitting herself to become a teacher and it is with two eventful years of school teaching that this book deals. The writer understands children thoroughly and makes her child characters of all types perfectly natural and life-like. The same creative faculty which gave us in Anne an entirely new shadow-child shows itself in the portrayal of the mischievous but lovable Davy Keith, his demure twin sister Dora, the imaginative Paul Irving, and the many individualities of the pupils of Avonlea School.
Plot interest is not a strong feature of this or of any of L.M. Montgomery’s books. There are, nevertheless, several threads of action which bind together the series of incidents. Her novels are novels of incident rather than of plot; they do not, however, lack in continuity and unity. Frequent passages of nature description reveal at once the author’s intimacy with nature and her poetic attitude of mind.
Here is a typical descriptive passage: “A September day on Prince Edward Island hills; a crisp wind blowing up over the sand dunes from the sea; a long, red road, winding through fields and woods, now looping itself about a corner of thick set spruce, now threading a plantation of young maples with great feathery sheets of ferns beneath them, now dipping down into a hollow where a brook flashed out of the woods and into them again, now basking in the open sunshine between ribbons of goldenrod and of myriads of crickets.”
“Chronicles of Avonlea” is a volume of short stories, which contains some of the most finished work of this author. The perfect art that conceals all art is shown in many of these short stories. There is a strong vein of simple humour in this as in all Miss Montgomery’s work; there is also a very keen personal sympathy of the author towards her characters.
Two other books by this author, “The Story Girl” and “The Golden Road,” are written with even less attention to a central plot than either of the two “Anne” books. They are somewhat loosely connected series of incidents in which the same characters take part. But they have none the less a high value when viewed from our standpoint; we are to remember that our Canadian Jane Austen need not invent for us thrilling plots. Other writers can do that, but other writers cannot or at least do not hold before us the mirror of Canadian country life.
“Kilmeny of the Orchard” is in a sense but an expanded short story. It is a prose idyll and does not, perhaps, bulk very large when compared with the other books. It is really one of the extended “chronicles” of Avonlea.
In characterizing L.M. Montgomery the Jane Austen of Canada, let it be understood that we are not regardless of the difference in the scope of the work of the two writers. Jane Austen’s canvas is immensely broader, yet L.M. Montgomery’s portrayal of her fellowmen and fellowwomen shows a much keener personal sympathy; her work has more heart to it.
This is not the first time Montgomery had been referred to as the Canadian counterpart to Jane Austen; the earliest instance of this that I’ve found (so far) is a Toronto Worldreview of Chronicles of Avonlea (included in Volume 3 of The L.M. Montgomery Reader) that suggests that “we might perhaps call L.M. Montgomery the Jane Austen of Canadian literature.” And it is also not the first time French would recycle some of his own work. Take a look at an article (signed “D.F.”) entitled “Rilla, Daughter of Anne” that French published in the Toronto Globe in 1921, shortly after the publication of Rilla of Ingleside:
The creation of the character “Anne” was a literary achievement which won enthusiastic commendation from writers of the highest rank—Bliss Carman and Mark Twain. Since then L.M. Montgomery has definitely fixed her place as the Jane Austen of Canadian literature and she has gone on employing her wonderful imaginative and creative gifts in portraying the beauty, the humor and the pathos that lies about our daily paths.
Possessed of a keen personal sympathy, a close intimacy with nature, a poetic attitude of mind, she captivates an ever widening circle of readers with the lightness, spontaneity, quaintness and humor of her stories.
“Rilla of Ingleside,” her latest book, follows up the career of the daughter of “Anne” of “Anne of Green Gables.” Rilla is impetuous, fun-loving, like Anne Shirley, and yet different. Anne herself and the doctor have important parts; Susan, Miss Cornelia and many other old friends reappear.
Canada’s tiny sea-girt Province, Prince Edward Island, was her birthplace. Her childhood was spent at Cavendish—a seashore farming settlement, which forms the background of many of her stories. She attended the country school and Prince of Wales College, Charlottetown, afterwards teaching for three years.
“As far back as my memory runs I was writing stories for my own amusement,” she says. In 1909 [sic], with the publication of her first book, she found the true field for her talents, although she is equally successful as a writer of verse and short stories.
In 1911 she married Rev. Ewan Macdonald, a Presbyterian minister, and came to Ontario to live, her husband’s charge being not far from the city of Toronto.
Although the bulk of this article is original, notice the echo between the 1914 piece (“She has the imaginative and creative gifts, but she uses these in enabling us to see the beauty, the humour, and the pathos that lies about our daily paths”) and the 1921 piece (“she has gone on employing her wonderful imaginative and creative gifts in portraying the beauty, the humor and the pathos that lies about our daily paths”) in addition to the connection in both pieces between Montgomery and Austen.
With only minor changes, the text of the 1914 article would be reused for Logan and French’s Highways ten years later—but without the connection between Montgomery and Austen. Instead, they add a paragraph to discuss the novels that Montgomery had published in the intervening time:
The story of Anne Shirley continues through several volumes—Anne of the Island pictures her college days; Anne’s House of Dreams sees her established as mistress of her own home; while Rilla of Ingleside carries over the history into the second generation, Rilla being the daughter of Anne. There is no new development of method or treatment in these. In Emily of New Moon (1923) Miss Montgomery created a new child character, with a new environment, new conditions, and a new group of minor personages, yet in effect it is of the same type and in the same literary field as her previous novels. The chief difference to be observed is that she employs a more analytic psychological method in depicting her heroine—a method that tends to produce an adult’s story of youth. In a way it marks an advance in literary technique but is not as yet entirely divorced from that minute objective observation which makes equal appeal to the young in years and the young in heart.
Given the amount of repetition between these 1914, 1921, and 1924 pieces on Montgomery by French, how to account for the mysterious disappearance of Austen? Could it be that French’s co-author, J.D. Logan, didn’t share French’s enthusiasm for the literary merit of Montgomery’s work? That seems unlikely, given that, according to Montgomery’s journal entry dated 30 April 1923, Logan had approached her at a recent social function and exclaimed, “Hail, Queen of Canadian Novelists.” Might this be due to a decreased enthusiasm for women’s writing generally? Maybe, yet in Highways Logan and French claim that 1908 marked “the real beginning of the Second Renaissance in Canadian fiction” due to the publication of Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, McClung’s Sowing Seeds in Danny, and Keith’s Duncan Polite (even though Keith’s book had actually appeared in 1905). Might Logan and French have preferred to keep the focus on Canadian authors? Possibly, and yet their discussion of Keith’s novels a few paragraphs later links them to the Thrums books of Scottish author J.M. Barrie, best known as the author of Peter Pan.
So while I can’t guess what’s behind French’s decision (or possibly Logan and French’s decision) to drop the connection between Montgomery and Austen, it’s fortuitous that I came across this instance of repetition when I did. The next phase of my research on Montgomery’s periodical work focuses on periodical short stories in which Montgomery tested out characters, situations, and settings that she would rework—sometimes decades later—in her book-length fiction. Individually, these stories have been referred to as “practice exercises” by Elizabeth Waterston, as “prequels” by Irene Gammel, as “brief periodical warm-ups” by Wendy Roy, as an “early working-out in narrative” by Cecily Devereux, and as “recycled” and “replanted” by Claire E. Campbell. My earlier volumes in The L.M. Montgomery Library highlighted several instances of self-repetition in her non-fiction and her poetry—in A Name for Herself, for instance, I noted that parts of her essay “A Half-Hour in an Old Cemetery” and of her newspaper column “Around the Table” had been woven into Anne of the Island, whereas in my afterword to A World of Songs I noted that the fourteen extracts from the poems Emily shares with Mr. Carpenter in the last chapter of Emily of New Moon had been taken from Montgomery’s own poems. But when it comes to short fiction, the self-repetition becomes more strategic, more nuanced, and more complex. And so, discovering Donald French’s 1914 essay when I did was especially fortuitous, because it reminded me that Montgomery was hardly the only author who repurposed and revised their own work for new audiences, and there are multiple possible reasons for doing so.
Campbell, Claire E. “‘A Window Looking Seaward’: Finding Environmental History in the Writing of L.M. Montgomery.” In The Greater Gulf: Essays on the Environmental History of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, edited by Claire E. Campbell, Edward MacDonald, and Brian Payne, 283–318. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019.
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!
Those of you who follow this site on social media (specifically on Facebook or on Pinterest) have a sense already of how fascinated I’ve become with a phenomenon that has involved not only Montgomery but also any other still-popular author whose work is in the public domain: cheap reprint editions, either in print or in ebook form. Sometimes it seems as though new cheap editions of Montgomery’s books become available on Amazon every day, many of them offering numerous titles for 99 cents, most of them with cover art that is completely random and, as such, entirely unsuitable, with this recent cover of an edition of Rilla of Ingleside as just one example:
In other cases, creators of these cheap ebooks take art from existing editions, which could mislead readers about what edition they are buying. A couple of months ago, one such edition of Rilla of Ingleside appeared with the cover art from the restored and annotated edition that Andrea McKenzie and I edited for Penguin Canada in 2010. Because most of the editions do not identify any creators or publishers and simply have the line “Sold by Amazon Digital Services LLC,” it is impossible for consumers to know who is behind these editions. Thankfully, though, when we reported this edition to Amazon, it was soon taken down all its platforms.
But now a new twist has occurred, evident in the following screen caps taken yesterday:
While it is true that these books are in the public domain and that anyone anywhere can reprint them or make ebook versions of them, these editions are most definitely not Norton Critical Editions or part of the Penguin Twentieth Century Classics series (which is now called Penguin Modern Classics) or the Oxford World’s Classics series. These are all existing covers, although the cover for The Story Girl is actually from one of eight abridgements done for Zonderkids over a decade ago. Although one would have to buy these Kindle editions to assess the extent that they are “annotated,” my sense is that, if these editions were sufficiently annotated for publication by Norton, Penguin, or Oxford, they would not be retailing for $3.73. Not to mention that the editor of a critical or annotated edition is always identified, since it is that editor’s expertise in the subject matter that is of paramount importance.
And then, of course, is this recent ebook, which appears to be an L.M. Montgomery title no one has ever heard of: Bev’s Childhood. It is actually The Story Girl.
So what do you make of this new trend? What should be most important in terms of the book market?
“And you will tell your children of the Idea we fought and died for—teach them it must be lived for as well as died for, else the price paid for it will have been given for naught. This will be part of your work, Rilla. And if you—all you girls back in the homeland—do it, then we who don’t come back will know that you have not ‘broken faith’ with us.”
But I’m pleased to let you know that my first author’s copy of Volume 3 arrived last week, with the remaining author’s copies getting to me Thursday afternoon. As I mentioned on my own blog last week, the fact that this multi-year project has finally come to an end is bittersweet, and it’s been nice to clear my desk, both literally and figuratively, as I start to ponder what it is I’d like to tackle next. I do hope that the materials included in all three volumes will prove useful and interesting to Montgomery’s diverse readership, and of course I’m always happy to hear from readers in terms of questions, responses, and alerts to items I missed.
For those of you who are in the Toronto area: on the evening of Tuesday, 27 January, I will be joining Laura M. Robinson and Melanie J. Fishbane for an event called “The Canadian Home Front: L.M. Montgomery’s Reflections on War” at the North York Central Library branch of the Toronto Public Library. I’ll be talking briefly about how Montgomery’s shifting vision of the war appeared in periodicals of the period, not only in terms of some of Montgomery’s essays and letters published prior to the writing of Rilla of Ingleside but also the ways in which all her war books—not only Rilla but also Rainbow Valley, Anne’s House of Dreams, and The Watchman and Other Poems—were reviewed in North American newspapers and magazines. It promises to be a terrific evening, so please join us if you can.
I know it looks like I’ve been a bit neglectful this week of my promise to post every single day a review of or an ad for one of Montgomery’s books (the focus of Volume 3 of The L.M. Montgomery Reader, available late this December). In truth, I’ve become really busy with the end-of-year crunch, but there’s also a method to my madness, since what I planned to show next was an overall marketing strategy for L.M. Montgomery. In the second half of December 1921, Montgomery’s Canadian publisher, McClelland and Stewart, placed—in the Toronto Globe and the Toronto Daily Star—several different ads for Rilla of Ingleside, always prominently at the top of a page, as a way to promote it as a choice title for the holiday season. What’s especially noteworthy is that while Rilla is now celebrated as one of the only near-contemporaneous Canadian novels about women at the homefront during the First World War, the war is barely mentioned in this campaign.
Each image zooms in when you click on it, and you can also go through all of them as a slide show.
First, the Toronto Daily Star published this ad, complete with reviewers’ quotes, on 12 December:
Second, in the Globe, on 15 December:
An almost identical ad appeared the next day, on 16 December, in the Toronto Daily Star:
Third, in the Globe, on 16 December:
Fourth, in the Globe, on 17 December:
This one, too, appeared in the Toronto Daily Star, three days later:
Fifth, in the Toronto Daily Star, on 19 December, advertising Rilla of Ingleside alongside Marian Keith’s novel Little Miss Melody (Montgomery and Keith would eventually collaborate, along with Mabel Burns McKinley, on the volume of essays Courageous Women, published in 1934):
Sixth, the Globe, on 20 December:
Seventh, a similar ad in the Toronto Daily Star, on 21 December:
Eighth, in the Globe, on 21 December:
Stay tuned next week, when I start posting extracts from reviews that were less than enthusiastic about Montgomery’s writing—starting with the earliest known review of Anne of Green Gables.
L.M. Montgomery’s novel Rilla of Ingleside is justly celebrated as one of the only contemporaneous Canadian novels to depict the experiences of women and children at the homefront. It is important to remember, though, that while Montgomery had planned to write about Anne’s children during the war as early as 1917, it was only early in 1919, after the war had ended that she began drafting this book, meaning that the book’s depiction of characters waiting and working at home was written only after the waiting had stopped.
Yet the novel was not the first time that Montgomery’s perspective on the war made it into print. In a letter to an unidentified friend published as part of the “Writers and Books” column in the Boston Evening Transcript in November 1915, Montgomery offered a spontaneous and uncensored account of her experience at home, one that neither relied on hindsight nor was definitively intended for publication, for the benefit of a recipient living in the United States, which would not join the war effort until 1917.
“As for ‘the boys’ keeping me from literary work—alas it is not the boys. I could manage so far as they are concerned. It is this hideous war. . . . We are at war—at close grips with a deadly and determined enemy. We live and breathe in its shadows. Never for one moment is the strain lifted. . . . This horrible waiting—waiting—waiting every day for the war news—the dreadful uncertainty—the casualty lists—it all seems to me as if I were crushed under an ever-increasing weight. . . . Amid all this think you I can sit me down to calm creation of imaginary people and their imaginary joys and sorrows? No, I cannot. Literature for a while must wait on life and death.”