My most vivid memories of L.M. Montgomery’s stories are of reading them aloud, or having them read to me, although I discovered them as a silent reader when I was about eight. Once, ill in bed in my elementary-school years, my mother read the first four Anne books aloud before I was well enough to return to school. And I remember reading to her in turn, on other occasions, always skipping any talk of love between Anne and Gilbert as the series progressed, needless distractions from the “real story”.
My girlhood best friend, my Diana Barry, and I combed the shelves of our favourite bookstores for the brightly-coloured McClelland & Stewart editions of her other novels; some books we were content to borrow from the library, but these books were unequivocably “keepers”, and more than one copy of a Montgomery novel could only be a good thing. It was my first foray into collecting, which proved to be even more addictive than the stories themselves.
But it was while I was in university that I discovered the first volume of her journals and they spoke to me more directly than any of her fiction. I felt as though passages from her notebooks could have been lifted from my own and I copied them out excitedly, fervently thinking “kindred spirit”. And years later, on re-reading, I find that I have noted many of the same passages, so that I believe I will regularly return to these chronicles as an adult just as I returned to her stories as a girl.
Standing there beneath that endless blue dome, deep with the breathing of universal space, I felt as if all the world had a claim on my love – as if there were nothing of good I could not assimilate – no noble thought I could not re-echo. I put my arm around a lichened old spruce and laid my cheek against its rough side – it seemed like an old friend.
Wednesday March 16, 1892 (Journals I)
There is a short biography of LM Montgomery here and you can virtually explore her book covers, scrapbooks and photographs here. There have been three books published recently, in the wake of the 100th anniversary of the publication of Anne of Green Gables, which will be of interest to anyone who is keen to know more about LMM’s life: Elizabeth Waterston’s Magic Island, Mary Rubio’s Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings, and Jane Urquhart’s L.M. Montgomery.
All three are wonderful sources and very complementary, but I still feel as though I first got acquainted with the writer behind the fiction by reading her published journals, which were edited by Rubio and Waterston. Several excerpts from each of the published volumes appear below; this is an absurdly long page to scroll through, but it’s not like anyone’s forcing you, and believe me, my own notes are much, much longer!
If two souls do not know each other all the accidents of birth and association will be of no avail to bring them together.
Sunday October 8, 1899
Sometimes I am conscious of a great soul loneliness. Spiritually, and mentally I have always had to stand alone. I suppose it has made for strength and self-reliance – but it is hard.
Saturday December 22, 1900
If they could only see below the mask! I am thankful they cannot. I don’t want to be pitied. And pain would not be any the less because it were known – nay, it would be – for me, at least – far greater.
Tuesday April 12, 1903
If I could not ‘write out’ freely certain words, opinions and fancies they would remain bottled up in my soul and would probably ferment and sour and cause some acute disturbance.
Monday November 14, 1904
I had besides, then as now, two great refuges and consolations – the world of nature and the world of books. They kept life in my soul; they made me love my home because of my dreams and rambles and the deep joy and delight they gave me – because of the halo they threw over what was otherwise bare and savorless.
Monday January 2, 1905
I wonder if all things we look forward to with dread in the future will not be like this. When we come to them we shall not mind them – we shall not be afraid.
Sunday December 14, 1907
There in my hand lay the material realization of all the dreams and hopes and ambitions and struggles of my whole conscious existence – my first book! Not a great book at all – but mine, mine, mine, – something to which I had given birth – something which, but for me, would never have existed.
June 20, 1908
For it is my doom to love whatever I care for with such intensity that there is as much pain as pleasure in my love.
Friday January 7, 1910
What a great blessing faithful friendship is – the friendship of a true woman on whom one can depend and in whom one can trust. I fear it is a rare thing.
Tuesday March 29, 1910
I have been revelling for a week in Mrs. Gaskell’s novels, Mr. Macdonald having given me a complete set of her works at Christmas. They are delightful. And I have read ‘Romola’ again. Oh, truly, there were giants in those days in literature. We haven’t a writer today of either sex who can compete with them. While reading those books I felt ashamed to think I had written things I called books at all. Mine seemed so trivial and petty compared to those masterpieces.
Monday December 26, 1910
I have always loved them; and when I have ‘lived with’ a tree for a long time it seems to me like a beloved human companion ….
Sunday January 22, 1911
I had left Cavendish forever, save as a fitful visitor; and in leaving it felt that I was leaving the only place on earth my heart would ever truly love. The world might have a home for me somewhere; but the only home my inmost soul would ever acknowledge would be that little country settlement by the gulf shore….
January 28, 1912
I often think wistfully of the quiet hours by my old window ‘down home’, where I thought and wrote ‘without haste and without rest’. But those days are gone and cannot return as long as wee Chester is a small make-trouble. I do not wish them back – but I would like some undisturbed hours for writing.
Wednesday May 21, 1913
I re-read Kipling’s “Kim” tonight – that is, I finished re-reading it, having had it out for several weeks – for alas, I get so little time for reading now, and what I do get I steal from sleep. I read it many years ago when it first came out and cared little for it as contrasted with his short tales. But this time I found it charming. And yet how strangely far away everything written before the war seems now. I felt as if I were perusing some classic as ancient as the Iliad.
December 21, 1916
I have been contented in my marriage, and intensely happy in my motherhood. Life has not been – never can be – what I once hoped it would be in my girlhood dreams. But I think, taking one thing with another, that I am as happy as the majority of people in this odd world and happier than a great many of them.
January 5, 1917
How can I go on living when half my life has been wrenched away, leaving me torn and bleeding in heart and soul and mind. I had one friend – one only – in whom I could absolutely trust – before whom, I could in Emerson’s splendid definition ‘think aloud’ – and she [Frede] has been taken from me. Truly, as has been said, in such an instance as this ‘it is the survivor who dies’.
February 7, 1919
Today I finished Emily of New Moon, after six months writing. It is the best book I have ever written – and I have had more intense pleasure in writing it than any of the others – not even excepting Green Gables. I have lived it, and I hated to pen the last line and write finis. Of course I’ll have to write several sequels but they will be more or less hackwork I fear. They cannot be to me what this book has been.
February 15, 1922
Have been reading in the half hour before I go to sleep The End of the House of Alard. Sheila Kaye-Smith is a favorite of mine. She reminds me of George Eliot. But her work is tinged – I had almost said tainted – with the pessimism of most present day writers of power. They reflect their age. It is hard to be hopeful today when one looks at the weltering world.
November 22, 1923
I might here mention that the crossword puzzle infection which has swept like an epidemic over North America has at last struck Leaskdale manse in its most virulent form. Chester developed the first attack. For several days he worried me to death with appeals for ‘words’ and as I had a thousand things to do I felt I could not spare the time to puzzle over them. Then, all at once, the germ laid me low.
December 28, 1924
People have spoken of Charlotte Brontë’s ‘creative genius’. Charlotte Brontë had no creative genius. Her genius was one of amazing ability to describe and interpret the people and surroundings she knew. All the people in her books who impress us with such a wonderful sense of reality were drawn from life.
September 22, 1925
….I had the old recurrent dream I have had so often all my life. A vivid dream – yet I have never been able to solve its significance if it has any. It is always the same in outline – I suddenly discover a beautiful and unsuspected suite of rooms in a house I’ve been living in for years. They are always full of beautiful things. I run through them delightedly, wondering why I have never before known they were there – and wake up disappointed in the midst of my wonder and delight. I fancy it is merely an effort on the part of my subconscious mind to escape from the narrow confines of my harassed life.
November 13, 1926
Have re-read Undine. What is there in books like this [1811 de la Motte Fouqué] that never grows old or stale? Yet it is the simplest tale. And a fairy tale at that, which the modern world sneers at. But we all need some kind of fairy tale else we cannot live.
December 31, 1927
I am working now on an adult story, centering around the old Woolner jug. But so far my heart isn’t in it either. But I have a good idea for a story – one that really appeals to me – and I hope to write it when I get the present one off my hands.
May 3, 1929
Today I went to Guelph and bought me a new hat – with an ostrich feather curling around it! It made me feel queerly young again. It is years since feathers were ‘in’. Many of the new hats are very pretty. For years hats have been hideous in themselves and unbecoming to anyone past first youth. [If you go here, you can take a walking tour which includes a stop at the hat shop.]
September 16, 1931
And my generation! What have we not seen? Everything we once thought immoveable wrenched from its pedestal and hurled to ruins. All our old standards and beliefs swept away – our whole world turned upside down and stirred up – before us nothing but a welter of doubt and confusion and uncertainty. Such times have to come, I suppose, but woe to us whose kismet it is to live in them.
January 24, 1932
Life crawls on. I perform all my little household rites which once meant so much to me but the heart has gone out of them. Sometimes a few moments of forgetfulness come – as in the evening we spent at the Glen House. But the fresh remembrance is so terrible that one would almost rather not forget. I cannot sleep and spend half the night in tears. And it must all be hidden from the world. It is not a grief or a worry one can tell.
April 8, 1933
Ewan slept naturally and well from ten to seven but has had none too good a day. His head and his phobias bothered him considerably. I had a good sleep, too, but have felt very tired all day. I am feeling the strain of these past dreadful weeks very severely. And I am not getting any writing done. I don’t see how I am going to get Pat II finished in time and if I don’t things will be serious financially.
September 12, 1934
Writing it all out seems to have taken some poison out of my soul. I think the wounds will heal up wholesomely now. The scars will always be there but the old ache will disappear. It will just be something over and finished with – a page turned – a book closed.
April 24, 1935
There was a time when I began the first page of a new volume of this journal with a thrill of excitement. What would be written in it? There were possibilities – hopes – that many of the entries at least would be pleasant. That time has gone. It will never return. I would be content if I could hope that this journal would be free from entries of sadness and worry and disappointment. I cannot even hope that, so crushed and beaten do I feel.
September 30, 1936
I did some ‘spade work’ on short stories this morning but will I ever be able to write them? Writing is the one thing I cannot do unless I have a mind at peace with itself.
March 8, 1937
I missed Lucky so tonight! I miss him always but there come times when it seems to me I can’t do without him. Was ever a cat so mourned and missed? If he could just come in, his plumy tail waving over his back, his beautiful eyes beseeching a lap! Oh, little comrade, dear, dear little comrade, do come back to me. He comes not! But sometime, somewhere in the endless cycles of eternity Lukcy and I will be companions again.
March 24, 1938
This evening I read a passage in a magazine article: — “It is the duration of harsh and difficult things that breaks us. We can stand appalling happenings if we think they are not going to last long.” Overtrue!
May 6, 1938
This evening, feeling able to read, I looked over old East Lynne [Mrs. Henry Wood]. One paragraph I marked as cruelly true: — “It is curious – nay, appalling, to trace the thread in a human life; how the most trivial occurrences lead to the great events of existence, bringing happiness or misery, weal or woe.”
May 6, 1938
I went down town [Toronto] after lunch yesterday to take the completed MS. of Anne of Ingleside to Mr. McClelland. Hitler has seized Czechoslovakia and a new world scare is in the offing. These recurrent ‘crises’ are getting on the world’s nerves. It is in a dreadful state – hate and fear and distrust everywhere, with no prospect of settlement as long as power-mad dictators are ruling their doomed countries.
March 21, 1939
Oh God, such an end to life. Such suffering and wretchedness.
July 8, 1941
Since then my life has been hell, hell, hell. My mind is gone – everything in the world I loved for has gone – the world has gone mad. I shall be driven to end my life. Oh God, forgive me. Nobody dreams what my awful position is.
March 23, 1942
It’s hard to think of a writer for whom place is MORE important than it is for L.M. Montgomery. As Jane Urquhart writes: “Places became almost characters in her books and in her life: in fiction, Green Gables, Silver Bush, New Moon, and Windy Poplars; in the actual world, Park / Corner, Sea View, and Journey’s End.”*
I went across the snowy fields to Lover’s Lane. I love that place idolatrously – I am happier there than anywhere else. What is the power of that silent shadowy wood lane, even in its white winter solitude? Why can it always steal away the sting of life and pour the oil of gladness into my heart?
From her journal, Monday, March 11, 1904
We Prince Edward Islanders are a loyal race. In our secret soul we believe that there is no place like the little Province that gave us birth. We may suspect that it isn’t quite perfect, any more than any other spot on the planet, but you will not catch us admitting it. And how furiously we hate any one who does say it!
The Alpine Path
For lands have personalities just as well as human beings; and to know that personality you must live in the land and companion it, and draw sustenance of body and spirit from it; so only can you really know a land and be known of it.
The Alpine Path
I am writing here by the window of my dear old room. It is a veritable little haven of rest and dreams to me, and the window opens on a world of wonder and beauty. Winds drift by with clover scent in their breath; the rustle of leaves comes up from the poplars, and birds flit low in joyous vagrance. Below is a bosky old apple orchard and a row of cherry trees along the dyke where the old tamarack stands guard. Beyond it green meadows slope down to a star-dusted valley of buttercups and past that wide fields stretch up again to the purple rim of wooded hills in the background.
From her journal, Sunday July 10, 1898
But in the woods I like to be alone for every tree is a true old friend and every tiptoeing wind a merry comrade. If I believed seriously in the doctrine of transmigration I should think I had been a tree in some previous stage of existence.
From a letter to G.B. Macmillan, September 16, 1906
The first Sunday evening we slipped down in the dusk to see the manse – for I was eager to see my new home. As I have said, it is quite prettily situated – though … [w]e are far too close to the road for my liking – I love solitude and remoteness. We have a rather pretty little lawn. I wish it were eight times as large but we must make the best of it.
About Leaskdale, from her journal, Sunday September 24, 1911
And there was the sea. I was not prepared for the flood of emotion which swept over me when I saw it. I was stirred to the very deeps of my being – tears filled my eyes – I trembled! For a moment it seemed passionately to me that I could never leave it again.
About missing PEI, from a letter to G.B. Macmillan, September 13, 1913
* Jane Urquhart, L.M. Montgomery. (TO: Penguin, 2009): 18-9.
The L.M. Montgomery Research Centre is a fantastic place to go for All-Things-LMM. They also have a terrific set of links for other fantastic online resources.
Quotes from novels:
It’s so easy to be wicked without knowing it, isn’t it?
Anne of Green Gables
Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one’s life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one’s side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music, perhaps … perhaps … love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.
Anne of Avonlea
Anyone who has gumption knows what it is, and anyone who hasn’t can never know what it is. So there is no need of defining it.
Anne of the Island
Nobody is ever too old to dream. And dreams never grow old.
Anne of Windy Poplars
Proverbs are all very fine when there’s nothing to worry you, but when you’re in real trouble, they’re not a bit of help.
The Story Girl
Our ideals are always beautiful, whether they so translate themselves into realities or not.
Kilmeny of the Orchard
Let me remind you that the measure of anyone’s freedom is what he can do without.
Jane of Lantern Hill
Nothing mattered but her story. The characters came to life under her hand and swarmed through her consciousness, vivid, alluring, compelling. Wit, tears and laughter trickled from her pen. She lived and breathed in another world and came back to New Moon only at dawn to find her lamp burnt out and her table littered with manuscript – the first four chapters of her book. Her book! What magic and delight and awe and incredulity in the thought.
Outgrowing things we love is never a pleasant process.
Emily of New Moon