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Lucy Maud Montgomery
Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942), Canadian author wrote Anne of Green Gables (1908);
“Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it's such an interesting world. It wouldn't be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There'd be no scope for imagination then, would there? But am I talking too much? People are always telling me I do. Would you rather I didn't talk? If you say so I'll stop. I can stop when I make up my mind to it, although it's difficult.” Ch. 2
Matthew Cuthbert has gone to the train station to pick up the little boy he and his kind-hearted sister Marilla Cuthbert, owners of Green Gables farm, adopted from the Halifax orphanage. But what he finds is a precocious little red-haired girl named Anne Shirley, with a cheery disposition and some profound thoughts to share. Anne soon becomes best friends with Diana Wright, and although Gilbert Blythe can be a pest at times, he too becomes a loyal friend. Anne wins the hearts of many and has continued to attract readers of all ages and touch the hearts of millions of fans world-wide.
L.M. Montgomery’s first published novel was a resounding success with many sequels to follow. She made Canada’s Prince Edward Island an international tourist destination and her novels and hundreds of short stories have contributed greatly to Canadian Literature. Now almost a century later her works remain in print and continue to inspire stage, television, and film adaptations.
Lucy Maud ‘Maud’ Montgomery was born into a long line of Scots-Canadian ancestors who first settled in P.E.I. in the late 1770s. Among their numbers were successful farmers, businessmen, and politicians. Lucy Maud was born on 30 November 1874 in the village of Clifton (now New London), Prince Edward Island, Canada. Her birthplace is now preserved as it was in her time. She was the only daughter of Hugh John Montgomery (1841-1900) and Clara ‘Tillie’ Woolner Macneill (1853-1876) who died of tuberculosis when Maud was twenty-one months old. Young Maud then went to live with her maternal grandparents Alexander Marquis Macneill (1820-1898) and Lucy Ann Woolner Macneill (1824-1911), staunch Presbyterians who maintained the Post Office for Cavendish, on P.E.I.’s north shore. Their rambling farm was the inspiration for “Green Gables”, now part of the Prince Edward Island Provincial Park, established in 1937.
Maud led an idyllic childhood of adventure and discovery at the Macneill family homestead and at the home of her paternal grandparents in Park Corner—Senator for almost twenty years, Donald ‘Big’ Montgomery (1807-1893) and his wife Louisa (1821-1893). She also visited her Uncle John and Aunt Annie née Murray Campbell at their “wonder castle” farm “Silver Bush” in Kensington. It is now the “Anne of Green Gables Museum”, which preserves much of what it was like in Montgomery’s time. Her Aunt Emily and numerous other relatives, cousins, and friends provided constant companionship for Anne who hated to be alone. Often there was a boarder staying with them. Her Grandfather Montgomery loved to tell stories, some about true shipwrecks, some fictional, but all contributing to Maud’s own fertile imagination which in turn inspired many of her own stories.
The Macneills devoutly attended Cavendish Presbyterian Church every Sunday. Although the services often bored her, Maud cherished her days at Sunday School where, dressed up in her best, she recited her memorised paraphrases of which she was extremely proficient at. Her days were spent in the emerald fields picking berries, fishing, and collecting shells along the shores of the St. Lawrence Gulf and New London Bay. With a life of so many external delights, young Maud was also growing into an introspective, very sensitive young lady. She wrote of having vivid memories of her mother’s death and held hope that she would meet her again one day in Heaven. The turmoil of childhood emotions often intruded on her gregarious and friendly nature; any teasing or being singled-out by adults or other children horrified her.
“I do not think that the majority of grown-ups have any real conception of the tortures sensitive children suffer over any marked difference between themselves and the other denizens of their small world.” The Alpine Path: The Story Of My Career (1917)
At the age of five Maud suffered a near-fatal bout of typhoid fever, but otherwise was a healthy young girl. Although she played with dolls and enjoyed feminine privileges like reading Grandmother’s Godey's Lady's Book, she also capably and gleefully held up her end of the tom-boyish activities she and her friends Well and Dave pursued: climbing in the apple trees in the orchard, building forts, and scaring each other with ghost stories. She developed her life-long connection and appreciation of nature, went on picnics with her friends, and flexed her imagination. In the surrounding countryside she had the habit of giving names to places and landmarks like the “Haunted Wood” and “The Lake of Shining Waters”. The infrequent trips to the town of Cavendish were a delight to her.
When she turned six Maud attended the Cavendish Schoolhouse, which was located near the Macneill farm. Already having learned to read at home, she had little problem starting with the Second Reader, although she rued missing out on the First Reader in the series. Maud was a voracious reader; besides magazines and newspapers, she read and re-read books such as Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy, Thomas De Witt Talmage's Sermons, and Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers. She also read much of the poetry by Robert Burns, Lord George Gordon Byron, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Milton, Lord Alfred Tennyson, and John Greenleaf Whittier.
Some of Maud’s first writings were hymns but she also wrote poems and sketches of her imaginary friends and the people and pets in her life. Starting at the age of nine she wrote on scraps of paper and started keeping a journal. “Only lonely people keep diaries.” she wrote in one of them. Her innermost thoughts were often dominated by the at-times bittersweet loss of innocence in matters of life and death, such as when her beloved kitten Pussy-willow was poisoned.
“It was the first time I realized death, the first time, since I had become conscious of loving, that anything I loved had left me forever. At that moment the curse of the race came upon me, “death entered into my world” and I turned my back on the Eden of childhood where everything had seemed everlasting. I was barred out of it forevermore by the fiery sword of that keen and unforgettable pain. ibid.
In 1889, at the age of fifteen, Maud and her Grandfather Montgomery travelled by train to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. It was her first train trip and a long one. It was one of the rare times she would see her father and his new wife Mary Anne McCrae. Maud was to stay with them for a year while she attended high school. During this time the newspaper the Patriot printed one of her poems, based on the legend of Cape Leforce. After a number of previous submissions to other papers had been rejected “the first sweet bubble on the cup of success”....“intoxicated” her. “The moment we see our first darling brain-child arrayed in black type is never to be forgotten.” ibid. It was the first of many to be published in newspapers and magazines across the country.
In 1893 Montgomery earned a teacher’s license from Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown, P.E.I. Her first year-long teaching job was at the No. 6 one-room school in Bideford, where she boarded with Reverend Estey and his wife. She next attended Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, then took a teaching position in Belmont, P.E.I. She also taught in Lower Bedeque for a time. In 1896 she became engaged to her cousin Edwin Simpson (1872-1955). They did not marry, but Maud’s vivacious personality and outgoing spirit led to many more proposals of marriage by hopeful young men.
During her years of study and teaching she never gave up on her dream career of being a writer. The first money she earned was in 1895, the sum of 5 dollars for a short story she had sent to a Philadelphia publication. She had ‘arrived’ and to commemorate the event “I did not squander it in riotous living, neither did I invest it in necessary boots and gloves. I went up town and bought five volumes of poetry with it....” ibid.
In 1898 Maud gave up teaching to move back home with her Grandmother after her Grandfather’s death. She earnestly continued to write many stories for juvenile publications, often with a moral to the story as was popular for the genre at the time. She yearned to branch out and from under the dictates of editors--9 out of 10 of her submissions were rejected, but she persisted. She eagerly watched for Munsey's, Ainslies' and the Patriot hoping to see her work in print. “I never expect to be famous. I merely want to have a recognized place among good workers in my chosen profession.” ibid. In 1901 Montgomery took a position with the Halifax Chronicle’s evening edition Daily Echo as proof reader and writer. She worked long hours, often only finding the time and energy to do her own writing in the early mornings before work.
In 1902 Maud gave up the hectic life of the publishing world and was back in Cavendish. She continued to write short and serialised fiction for magazines, but the idea of a novel was forming—in the spring of 1904 Anne was born. “....she soon seemed very real to me and took possession of me to an unusual extent.” ibid. After several rejections by publishers, Maud was much discouraged and Anne was stored in “an old hat-box” for four years. As she wrote in her journal “I wrote it for love, not money, but very often such books are the most successful, just as everything in the world that is born of true love has life in it.” ibid. Finally, on 20 June 1908, she held the first published copy of Anne of Green Gables, her first of many novels to come.
The next few years were eventful for Montgomery. In 1910 she travelled to Boston to meet with her publisher L.C. Page. The following year her Grandmother Macneill died. She stayed on at Park Corner for a few more months and continued to write. It was there in front of the fireplace on 5 July 1911 that she married Presbyterian minister Ewan Macdonald (1870-1943). Sailing from Montreal on the Megantic two days later, they embarked on their honeymoon which took them to Scotland, England, and the British Isles, including Iona, the final resting place of so many Scottish Kings. They visited numerous haunts evoked by such authors as William Shakespeare, James M. Barrie, Oliver Goldsmith, William Makepeace Thackeray, Robert Burns, and William Wordsworth.
On their return to Canada on the Adriatic in September of 1911, Maud and Ewan settled in at the Manse in Leaskdale, north of Uxbridge, Ontario where Ewan was parish minister. On 7 July 1912 their son Chester Cameron was born; Hugh Alexander died just after birth on 13 August 1914; Ewan Stuart was born on 7 October 1915. While raising her children Montgomery continued to write further Anne works, poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.
In 1923 Montgomery became the first Canadian woman to join the Royal Society of Arts in Britain, which also boasts Adam Smith, William Hogarth, Samuel Johnson and Karl Marx among its members. More honours came in 1935 when Montgomery became a member of the Literary and Artistic Institute of France and was awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire. In 1943 Canada declared Montgomery a person of national historic significance.
Despite all the accolades she had enjoyed for so many years, by the mid-1930s, Montgomery’s professional and personal life was falling apart. Post-World War I, her works had increasingly lost their popularity—their idealism was out of kilter with the realities of the world stage. Other authors were writing of the horrors of war, plumbing the dark depths of human nature, often with blunt but sympathetic authenticity. While Montgomery adhered to her style of “good” and “jolly” stories with happy endings, her personal life was anything but. She had been struggling for many years with a lingering unhappiness, and now nervous fatigue plagued her daily. Ewans’ health was also suffering: near to a breakdown, he retired from the ministry and they moved to “Journey’s End” in Swansea, west of the city of Toronto. Faring worse than Maud, Ewan took to consuming bromides and chloroform and underwent electro-convulsive therapy to help ease his mental health issues. In 1938 Montgomery suffered a nervous breakdown and took to pain medications to relieve physical ills.
Lucy Maud Montgomery Macdonald died of congestive heart failure in Toronto on 24 April 1942. Her body lay in state at Green Gables, then she was buried in her home town’s Cavendish Cemetery. Her husband, Reverend Ewan Macdonald now rests beside her.
“We must follow our ‘airy voices’, follow them through bitter suffering and discouragement and darkness, through doubt and disbelief, through valleys of humiliation and over delectable hills where sweet things would lure us from our quest, ever and always must we follow, if we would reach the ‘far-off divine event’ and look out thence to the aerial spires of our City of Fulfilment.” ibid.
Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2007. All Rights Reserved.
L.M. Montgomery titles include:
Anne of Avonlea (1909),
Kilmeny of the Orchard (1910),
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