A Labour of Love

Reviewed by Irene Gammel and Jaclyn Marcus

“Children are refreshing. Stories about them are,” L. M. Montgomery told the reporter of the Boston Traveler in 1910 during her visit to that city. After the instant international success of her 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, and aided by her Boston publisher L. C. Page and Company, Montgomery quickly became the subject of many news articles, typically involving interviews with her. She obliged, aware that they helped cultivate her readership. These interviews were often conducted by letter, her answers quoted in short articles. Some of these articles are anonymous, while others are signed by the journalists, and others still appear under Montgomery’s name. They appeared in newspapers and periodicals such as the Boston Journal and the Editor; in Canadian Bookman, Chatelaine, and Maclean’s; and in more local papers, such as the Toronto Star Weekly and the Guardian (Charlottetown). They also appeared in religious papers such as Zion’s Herald, a Boston Methodist magazine to which Montgomery had contributed short stories long before Anne of Green Gables was published. From this vast array of articles from 1908 to 1944, some ninety interviews, opinion pieces, and articles have been collected and reprinted in The L. M. Montgomery Reader: Volume One: A Life in Print (2013; paperback 2020). It offers an invaluable scholarly resource and contextual fodder for scholars, students, and fans.

Chronologically structured, the early interviews take readers into Montgomery’s retrospective account of how Anne of Green Gables came about. “Origin of a Popular Book,” published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1908, quotes the author: “During these weeks I ‘brooded’ my story, and somehow Anne began to take possession of me. It is a mistake to say I ‘created’ her.” Emphasizing the risk-taking inherent in writing a novel, Montgomery explained: “In view of her [Anne’s] then uncertain future, I felt that I could not afford to take time from my regular magazine work for it; so I wrote the book in the evenings or at any odd spare time when I felt in the mood.” When one of the authors of this review, Irene Gammel, researched her book Looking for Anne of Green Gables: How L. M. Montgomery Dreamed Up a Literary Classic (2008), exploring how the novel came about, these pieces of interviews—not yet available in The L. M. Montgomery Reader—were important sources that had to be located through archival research. They helped piece together Montgomery’s process of writing, shaping, and finally publishing the novel. While these newspaper articles are not without errors and inconsistencies, there is a remarkable steadiness in Montgomery’s telling of the story—revealing also her predictable silences.

Indeed, these articles underscore the duality of Montgomery’s responses. In her public statements, she was like a public-relations officer who set clear boundaries. This is evident when the editor of Everywoman’s World begged Montgomery to share some of her personal romance stories for a long biographical piece published in the Toronto periodical in 1917, posthumously reprinted as The Alpine Path. Montgomery categorically refused, and yet, as readers of her journals know, she took this request to heart more privately, promptly adding a lengthy list and account of all her beaux to her journal, which she meant to be published posthumously.

The L. M. Montgomery Reader: Volume One contains additional biographical gems. Some essays penned by Montgomery—such as her 1911 “Seasons in the Woods,” in the Canadian Magazine, and her 1917 “My Favourite Bookshelf,” in an unidentified periodical—demonstrate her love of nature, reading, and, of course, her Prince Edward Island home; they depict her poignant memories of her girlhood and her belief in youth as carriers of hope across generations. In contrast, the unsigned “Says Woman’s Place Is Home,” printed in the Boston Post in 1910, reveals that she refused to lend her newly gained fame to the then-controversial women’s suffrage movement. As Montgomery stated: “I am a quiet, plain sort of person, and while I believe a woman, if intelligent, should be allowed to vote, I would have no use for suffrage myself. I have no aspirations to become a politician. I believe a woman’s place is in the home.” Likewise, in “‘I Dwell among My Own People,’” published in 1921 and again in 1925, Montgomery celebrates the blending of different cultures in Canada. “Such are my people,” she writes, “with the fire and romance of the Celt, the canny common sense of the Lowlander, the thrift of the English, the wit of the Irish, all beginning to be blended.” Yet she also universalized her personal story, with “Canadian” constituting this blend of identities, but problematically excluding Indigenous peoples, Black people, the French, and myriad other immigrant groups that were then building the country. These writings are ripe for postcolonial critiques, highlighting the need for revisionary readings in the continued study of Montgomery’s works.

Thanks to the volume’s editor, Benjamin Lefebvre, a long-time Montgomery scholar and researcher, a generous apparatus of headnotes and explanatory notes accompanies each article. Lefebvre excels in sleuthing, not only identifying literary allusions and historical figures, and tracking quotations from Montgomery’s own work, but also decoding archaic words and flagging misquotations and factual errors. Just as intertextuality always reigned supreme in Montgomery’s work, so it does in Lefebvre’s approach to annotating this collection.

Both scholarly and accessible, The L. M. Montgomery Reader: Volume One is the first part of a trilogy edited by Lefebvre. Volume Two: A Critical Heritage collects some twenty previously published scholarly articles that trace Montgomery’s legacy, while Volume Three: A Legacy in Review collects more than three hundred reviews of Montgomery’s work, offering her readers and critics the last word. Comprehensive and generous, Volume One: A Life in Print is a true labour of love. This collection will be an invaluable resource for decades to come.

This review “A Labour of Love” originally appeared in Canadian Literature, 2 Dec. 2020. Web.

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