A Diary’s Promise, Extended

  • Mary Henley Rubio (Editor) and Elizabeth Waterston (Editor)
    The Complete Journals of L. M. Montgomery: The P. E. I. Years (1889-1900). Oxford University Press
Reviewed by Emily Aoife Somers

The publication of the Selected Journals in the 1980s showed that those who had hastily applied the death of the author as a critical axiom may have done so prematurely. Lucy Maud Montgomery who, through a reception history had been both lionized and lampooned, was reconsidered through these autobiographical materials and their authorial self-reflections that so vehemently conflicted with status quo interpretations of her work that were often trite, cloying, and superficial.

Much of her readership, through the forces of market popularization and iconic status, had frequently held rather beatific opinions of this saint of the romantic island. But this initial effort at offering selections from Montgomery’s private writings instigated popular and scholarly revision because of its widened revelation of Montgomery’s own sense of herself, her literature, and her position as a beloved author. As this multi-volume series will further show, the imaginative appetites and emotional makeup of Montgomery were far more intricate and catalytic than either postage stamps or porcelain dolls could allow.

As striking as many of those passages were from the Selected Journals—particularly their earnest documentation of mental illness and the struggles of a woman author in a patriarchal publishing machine—apparently all had not been revealed. The introduction to this current volume now under review—the Complete Journals—makes clear that a massive amount of publishing interference from the highest ranks of editorial intervention entailed censorship and silencing of Montgomery’s posthumous voice. Selection involved censoring. As the press release to the Complete Journals even concedes, “The editors were instructed to excise anything that was not upbeat or did not ‘move the story along’ [of] . . . . a fun loving, simple country girl. The unabridged, journal, however, reveals something quite different.” Who had instructed and why?

So this current project—the publication of the entirety of her journals—seeks to make amends for the previously intrusive reduction of her voice by various powers who wanted a pure, parsimonious version of Montgomery’s mental makeup. And the current results are striking.

Rubio and Waterston, aided with advances in digital page design, have sought as faithfully as possible to produce an accurate facsimile of Montgomery’s text. The most noteworthy feature of this effort is the visual dimension: Montgomery had an intensely photographic sensibility, as well as a collage approach to compiling her personal notes. Previously, the Selected Journals followed the custom of the time by including a brief number of selections of these as plate inserts. However, the Complete volumes restore all of the visual material
to their specific contexts amidst the setting of the diary’s layout. Now restored, image and text coincide in precisely the way that Montgomery had arranged them. The configurations are impressively informative, with a satisfyingly intimate effect that, I add cheekily, preludes the look and feel of Facebook. Montgomery places captions, images, cutouts, and other found material not as accessories to her written considerations but as reciprocal media that interacts directly with her personal descriptions, in a way becoming part of her lived experience. One can sense how much personal investment she put into the archive of her impressions that became foundational material for her novels.

This first volume of her earliest years already exhibited some of the tremendous mental strain that would be a challenge for her entire life. She constantly writes of being tired, overwhelmed, and fatigued by various demands. As she notes, “If, as is said, the way to hell is paved with good intentions, then I fear me I have contributed not a little of late to the paving.”

What were those flagstones on the path of consequences? As the forthcoming volumes are published, no longer excised by pruning hands, scholars can hope that biographical questions left unresolved by the Selected Journals will be explored more fully in her own words. For example, since it was already clear when the Selected Journals were published in the mid-1980s, what was Montgomery›s rationale for marrying Ewan? She accepted his proposal after writing AGG, although she does not mention the book until 1907, when she had no options as far as building a home for herself. But even after the success of her novel she still went through with the arrangement, even though she could easily have afforded to buy a house of her own and to keep writing, rather than become a minister’s wife. Why did she still leave Cavendish, then? Why didn’t she buy the Macneill homestead from her uncle and stay there on her own? Such questions intersect directly with issues of female authorship, fame, and the collision between domestic duties and a woman’s self-determination during the era of First Wave feminism. Thus, we can eagerly look forward, as appreciators of Montgomery,
to the promised revelations that our editors have respectfully sought to bring to us through their intensive research.

This review “A Diary’s Promise, Extended” originally appeared in Gendering the Archive. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 217 (Summer 2013): 183-84.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.

Canadian Literature is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.