More About Anne
- Irene Gammel (Author)
Looking for Anne: How Lucy Maud Montgomery Dreamed Up a Literary Classic. Key Porter Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Janice Fiamengo
It might appear that little remains to be discovered about Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery’s hundred-year-old literary classic. A perennial best-seller, it has for the past two decades received much scholarly attention in conferences, monographs, multi-authored volumes, and journal articles, which together attest to its double status as a much-loved, iconic story, and a finely wrought textual construct. One could be forgiven for thinking that everything has already been said. Yet Irene Gammel begins Looking for Anne: How Lucy Maud Montgomery Dreamed Up a Literary Classic with the counter-intuitive claim that despite all the popular and academic interest, we know surprisingly little about the novel’s creation: how it came to be written, and what materials—biographical, cultural, and literary—Montgomery drew on for inspiration. Pursuing these sources with scholarly enthusiasm and a light narrative touch, Gammel has produced a readable and informative study that, despite dealing in part with familiar biographical evidence, offers fresh perspectives throughout and a number of original discoveries.
Searching for origins can be a dangerous endeavour, sometimes blinding a critic, in her determination to find a work’s ‘essence,’ to the element of the incalculable. Gammel’s discussion might have followed the recipe approach, in which a novel is blended from 2 parts pent-up anguish plus 2 parts prior reading, with a peck of spring sunshine after a long winter and a pinch of visual stimulation (the Nesbit photograph of the Chrysanthemum girl, framed and hung in Montgomery’s den). Fortunately, Gammel is too intelligent a critic, and far too cognizant of the complexities of artistic first causes, to follow that path. Her book offers a multi-layered meditation on the “unique blend” of seasonal change, life experiences, moods, memories, emotional preoccupations, and literary influences that made its way into Anne; and for its elegant synthesis and subtle analysis of the forces that shaped the novel, the study is well worth reading. Confident in the abundance of visual and textual sources she has uncovered—and these are striking—Gammel shows us that the novel did not spring out of nothing; she finds solid evidence of direct influence, as for example in a 1905 article in the Delineator on Hans Christian Andersen, author of “The Snow Queen,” to which the novel alludes when Anne renames the cherry tree outside her window. Gammel is aware, too, of the way that a lifetime of associations, fears, and fantasies is distilled in a powerful book.
To trace the novel’s genealogy, Gammel has sifted through everything that is known about Montgomery’s life, examining every experience and reference through the lens of Anne for possible correspondences—from family quarrels to girlhood loves, school rivalries, and contemporary cultural practices—and also reconstructing, as precisely as possible, Montgomery’s reading and environment. She shows us how, from the time she was an unhappy child in her grandparents’ stern Presbyterian household to the year prior to writing Anne, Montgomery used the losses and regrets of her life, and her increasing fear of old age and dread of the irrecoverability of joy (she was thirty when she began Anne), to fuel her imaginative work, transforming loneliness and frustration into compensatory wish-fulfillment narratives in which children create families anew and discover kindred spirits. These powerful themes at the centre of Anne had already begun to be articulated by Montgomery in such magazine stories as “The Understanding of Sister Sara” (1905), a version of Anne’s parents’ courtship, and “The Running Away of Chester” (1903) about a freckled orphan boy desperate for a home. Painstaking research enabled Gammel to find the story behind The Metropolitan Magazine’s photograph of Evelyn Nesbit, which, with its quality of combined sensuality and innocence, summoned Anne before Montgomery’s eyes at the same time that she was re-reading the journal of her time in Prince Albert, remembering her youthful passions, and brooding over the losses of her parents.
There is much of interest in Gammel’s reconstruction of how Montgomery’s Cavendish experiences, loves, and hates were (often comically or conservatively) transformed in her first novel; but what is perhaps most exciting for Montgomery scholars is her discovery of two source texts for the character of Anne: the first, “Charity Ann” in Godey’s Lady’s Book (to which Montgomery’s grandmother subscribed), and the second, “Lucy Ann” in Zion’s Herald, a Boston Methodist newspaper in which Montgomery published stories. Both are narratives of skinny, big-eyed orphans making homes for themselves with the aid of love and determination. Both contain phrases that are strikingly echoed in Montgomery’s novel, and “Lucy Ann” is particularly significant for its focus on the “developing emotional bond between Lucy Ann and her adoptive mother, a middle-aged spinster.” Montgomery never mentioned these precursors, and although there is, of course, no question of plagiarism—Gammel is clear that Anne of Green Gables is an entirely different order of story—their existence demonstrates something of the depth of Montgomery’s borrowing and reshaping of the materials she found to hand. None of Gammel’s research minimizes the inspired invention at the heart of Montgomery’s novel; rather, it helps us think anew about its lasting achievement.
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MLA: Fiamengo, Janice. More About Anne. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 22 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #200 (Spring 2009), Strategic Nationalisms. (pg. 149 - 150)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.