Today came the official announcement of the signing of the armistice! The Great War is over—the world’s agony has ended. What has been born? The next generation may be able to answer that. We can never know fully.
—L.M. Montgomery, journal entry dated 11 November 1918
Given that not only is today Remembrance Day but also this year marks the one-hundredth anniversary of L.M. Montgomery’s Great War novel Rilla of Ingleside, I thought this might be a good opportunity to share with you some findings about an aspect of Montgomery’s work that I’ve long found fascinating, since it has to do with her attempts to engage with the work of fellow Canadian writers.
As her journals and letters show, Montgomery’s reading interests overall were quite broad, but she had a particular fondness for the work of canonical nineteenth-century poets (mostly male) who were located in England, Scotland, and the United States. And so, since her books are filled with allusions to and quotations from a vast array of literary works, it’s not surprising that the same names recur several times.
If we look specifically at her books’ epigraphs—short quotations that appear near the beginning of a book as a way to offer readers a hint about its contents (particularly for readers who recognize the quotation and can place it in the context of the overall work)—we can see a clear pattern in terms of what texts and what authors Montgomery chose to highlight. Of the ten books by Montgomery that begin with an epigraph from someone else’s work, all but one quote the work of a male poet from outside Canada: Robert Browning (Anne of Green Gables), John Greenleaf Whittier (Anne of Avonlea and Chronicles of Avonlea), James Hogg (Kilmeny of the Orchard), George Gordon, Lord Byron (The Story Girl), Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Anne of the Island), Rupert Brooke (Anne’s House of Dreams), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Rainbow Valley), and Rudyard Kipling (Pat of Silver Bush).
The epigraph to Rilla of Ingleside is thus unique in two particular ways: first, its author, Virna Sheard, is the only Canadian as well as the only woman whose work appears in one of Montgomery’s epigraphs; and second, Sheard is so relatively unknown that when Rea Wilmshurst published her list of literary allusions in the Anne books in Canadian Children’s Literature / Littérature canadienne pour la jeunesse in 1989, she was unable to identify the poem by Sheard in question. In the years then, as more and more print materials have been digitized and made text searchable, it’s been far easier to determine that these lines are from Sheard’s poem “The Young Knights,” which appeared in her 1917 collection Carry On! and which was reprinted in John W. Garvin’s anthology Canadian Poems of the Great War (1918). Montgomery’s poem “Our Women” also appears in that anthology, so it would seem plausible that she had come across Sheard’s poem in that anthology and used it when she started writing Rilla of Ingleside in mid-March 1919.
The problem, though, is that the lines from Sheard’s poem as they appear on the title page of Rilla of Ingleside don’t quite match the way they appear in Carry On! or in Canadian Poems of the Great War. Here is a detail from the title page of Rilla of Ingleside.
Note the preference here for the Canadian spelling of “splendour” and the line break just before “youth away.” In the versions appearing in Sheard’s and Garvin’s books, these elements appear slightly differently:
In Carry On!, the first of the two images, the text opts for the American spelling of “splendor,” and in both versions there’s no line break before “youth away” as there is on the title page of Rilla of Ingleside. There seemed to be a mystery here and I knew it would continue to bug me until I figured it out.
And so, when Andrea McKenzie and I started discussing Rilla of Ingleside at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic on the L.M. Montgomery Readathon, I decided to take another look at the surviving files. I found a digital copy of Carry On! on the website of the Canadiana digital project, so I combed through the rest of the book and noticed that Sheard mentions in the acknowledgements section that “The Young Knights” was one of several poems in the collection that was first published in the Toronto Globe (now the Globe and Mail). Lo and behold, a quick search through the digital archives of the Globe showed that the poem appeared in that newspaper on 23 May 1916:
Because this poem appeared in a newspaper with narrow columns, longer lines of poetry needed to broken in two and indented, as happens three times in this stanza. So even though this Globe version uses the U.S. spelling of “splendor,” it seems more likely that Montgomery drew on this newspaper version when writing her book. Not to mention that, on the title of her handwritten manuscript, she writes “splendor” instead of “splendour,” so presumably the change to Canadian spelling was made at the typescript stage or at the typesetting stage.
These are obviously minor differences between texts, and devoting an entire blog post to them may seem somewhat excessive. To close, then, here is the full text of Virna Sheard’s poem “The Young Knights,” as it appeared in her book Carry On!, published in 1917:
Now they remain to us forever young
Who with such splendor gave their youth away;
Perpetual Spring is their inheritance,
Though they have lived in Flanders and in France
A round of years, in one remembered day.
They drained life’s goblet as a joyous draught
And left within the cup no bitter lees.
Sweetly they answered to the King’s behest,
And gallantly fared forth upon a quest,
Beset by foes on land and on the seas.
So in the ancient world hath bloomed again
The rose of old romance—red as of yore;
The flower of high emprise hath whitely blown
Above the graves of those we call our own,
And we will know its fragrance evermore.
Now if their deeds were written with the stars,
In golden letters on the midnight sky
They would not care. They were so young, and dear,
They loved the best the things that were most near,
And gave no thought to glory far and high.
They need no shafts of marble pure and cold—
No painted windows radiantly bright;
Across our hearts their names are carven deep—
In waking dreams, and in the dreams of sleep,
They bring us still ineffable delight.
Methinks heaven’s gates swing open very wide
To welcome in a host so fair and strong;
Perchance the unharmed angels as they sing,
May envy these the battle-scars they bring,
And sigh e’er they take up the triumph song!
- Cover of the original edition of L.M. Montgomery’s novel Rilla of Ingleside, published by McClelland and Stewart (Toronto) and Frederick A. Stokes Company (New York) in 1921. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.
- Title page of the original edition of L.M. Montgomery’s novel Rilla of Ingleside, published by McClelland and Stewart in 1921. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.
- Detail from the title page of the original edition of L.M. Montgomery’s novel Rilla of Ingleside, published by McClelland and Stewart in 1921. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.
- Detail from Virna Sheard’s poem “The Young Knights,” appearing in her book Carry On!, published by Warwick Bros. & Rutter in 1917. Courtesy of Canadiana.
- Detail from Virna Sheard’s poem “The Young Knights,” appearing in Canadian Poems of the Great War, edited by John W. Garvin and published by McClelland and Stewart in 1918. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.
- Detail from Virna Sheard’s poem “The Young Knights,” appearing in the Globe (Toronto) on 23 May 1916. Courtesy of the Globe and Mail digital archives.
- Detail from the title page of the handwritten manuscript of L.M. Montgomery’s novel Rilla of Ingleside, written in 1919 and 1920. Courtesy of Archival and Special Collections, University of Guelph Library.
—. “Rilla of Ingleside.” MS. XZ5 MS A004, L.M. Montgomery Collection, Archival and Special Collections, University of Guelph Library.
—. Rilla of Ingleside. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1921. https://archive.org/details/rillaofingleside00mont_0/.
—. Rilla of Ingleside. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1921. https://archive.org/details/rillaingleside00montgoog.
Sheard, Virna. Carry On!, Toronto: Warwick Bros. & Rutter, 1917. https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.76272/8?r=0&s=1.
—. “The Young Knights.” Globe (Toronto), 23 May 1916, 4.
—. “The Young Knights.” In Canadian Poems of the Great War, edited by John W. Garvin, 219–20. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1918. https://archive.org/details/canadianpoemsofg00garv/page/218/mode/2up.
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. https://ccl-lcj.ca/index.php/ccl-lcj/article/view/2413.