Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Despair from the pastor's wife

L.M Montgomery was an author, but she was a pastor's wife as well. And she was a pastor's wife with a whole bunch of burdens. Her husband struggled with mental illness; serious mental illness. One hears a lot about depression among Christians these days, and we need to be informed. I haven't heard a lot about depression in men in the ministry, which must be a reality.

Montgomery's husband would go through bouts of almost catatonic-like behaviour, convinced he was going to be damned to hell. Montgomery was never one for broadcasting her sorrows, so she put on a brave face. If she were alive today, I doubt she would have been practicing her "transparency" or "authenticity" on the internet.

In 1924, Canada's Presbyterian churches were debating the merits of uniting with the Methodists. If you read Montgomery's novels, especially the ones written when the character of Anne was married with children, you will hear snippets of the tension between Presbyterians and Methodists. In the final book of the Anne series, Mrs. Cornelia Bryant, a noted Methodist hater, sighs with resignation as one of the characters mentions union between the churches.

Montgomery was against union, and in her journals, speaks about it frequently, but there is also much in her journals which reveals a struggling faith. At one point in her journals, she expresses disdain for The Westminster Shorter Catechism, which her boys were learning, because it spoke about hell. I find it curious that she was against union when it sounds often like she had a lot of acrimony toward institutional church.

In 1924, after her husband's congregation voted against union, she makes some bitter comments about the institutional church in general:
I wonder if it would be such a terrible thing if "the church" ceased to influence people at all. I do not think so. The Spirit of God no longer works through the church for humanity. It did once but it has worn out its instrument and dropped it. Today it is working through Science. That is the real reason for all the "problems" we hear so much of in regard to "the church." The "leaders" are trying to galvanize into a semblance of life something from which life has departed....
Definitely not the kind of thing one wants to hear from a pastor's wife. Not uttering such  sentiments aloud, but rather writing them in a personal journal was a wise decision on her part.

The history of the union of these two churches in Canada is something I hope to learn more about at some point. Church history happened here in Canada, too, not just across the pond south of the border. I'd like to know more about why things unfolded here in Canada the way they did. Certainly, many of Montgomery's attitudes were influenced by the liberalizing tendencies of the day. Nothing happens outside of a context.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My kind of female author

In 1922, Maud Montgomery and her husband Ewan Macdonald slogged their way through a rather acrimonious law suit with a neighbour. A car accident was the instigating event, and in the midst of finishing Emily of New Moon and reading the first drafts, they dealt with the stress and strain of this lawsuit.

As always, Montgomery balanced the life of author, mother, and pastor's wife. Some days, she managed it well, and others, the frustration is evident. Some days, though, she demonstrates the diversity which makes me admire her.

On September 18, 1922, she writes:
"Today, I wrote a poem, canned six jars of tomatoes, and re-read Trilby."
She was a woman of great energy. And while she had paid help to care for her children because of her duties as pastor's wife and author, she was never afraid to get her hands dirty. For the most part, she detested many of the expectations placed on her as a writer. She enjoyed conversing with other writers, but some of the expectations took her away from things she would rather have been doing, like being with her sons or being in her beloved garden; sort of like the expectation today for writers to engage on social media in order to promote their books. Somehow, I doubt she would have been the type to take selfies and put them online.

But she had time to can tomatoes.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

"it is the survivor who dies."

L.M. Montgomery did not always have an easy time making friends. One gets the impression reading her journals that she was quite particular about with whom she was friends. I did find, often, a hint of snobbery in her words. She was not always gracious about those whom she did not regard as intellectually her equal. Nonetheless, she was, by and large, a woman often lonely. She kept her sorrows well-hidden.

On January 25, 1919, Montgomery lost the woman, her cousin, who was her closest friend; the only one with whom she felt confident to confide in. It was a hard blow, and one that is keenly felt for the rest of her life.

On February 7, 1919, she reflects on the death of Frederica, whom she called "Frede."
Her breath grew shorter and shorter. At seven it ceased. She died as peacefully and gently as a tired child might fall asleep. She died. And I live to write it! Frede is dead. "After life's fitful fever she sleeps well." But I wake and must face the dreary years without her. I must live as long as I can for my children's sake. I must live -- without that blithe comradeship, that intellectual companionship, that faithful, earnest friendship -- live, knowing that Frede will never come again under my roof -- that never again will come to me in a letter addressed in her old familiar hand -- that I will never again hear her laugh -- never save up a joke to tell her -- never walk with her again under the Park Corner birches or over the old bridge in the summer twilight! 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 has been taken from me. Truly, as has been said, in such an instance as this, "it is the survivor who dies." Yes, Frede, you did not suffer the pangs of death. It was I -- I -- as you would have suffered had it been I who went away!
Montgomery did not find her husband to be the kind of companion she had in Frede. While she was a dutiful and loyal wife, it is clear that she did not find her husband a great deal of comfort. It is not to him she turned for comfort in the subsequent days after Frede's death. In fact, it it shortly after this that Ewan Macdonald's mental illness takes hold. And despite being the wife of a minister, it seems that God is little comfort, either. I don't get the sense from any of her writings that she had an intimate knowledge of God.

She may have suffered terrible grief at the loss of Frede, but to have had such a friendship was surely a comfort. We don't all have the gift of that kind of friend in our lifetimes.

(Taken from The Selected Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Volume II: 1910-1921, Edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterson.)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Opening the portals of sacred shrines to the crowd

In 1917, L.M. Montgomery was approached by an editor of a magazine, Everywoman's World, to write a bit of a memoir. She did this, writing "The Alpine Path," an article which became a book (one I've read and recommend).

The editor lamented that Montgomery did not include enough about her personal life:
I sent "The Alpine Path" to the editor, and he writes, professing himself as delighted with the story, but laments that there is nothing in it "concerning my love affairs." He is sure I must have had some. Will I not write an additional thousand words and tell my "adoring Canadian girls" of my pangs and passions!!!!! 
Ye Gods! Suppose I were to do it! 
I smile when I imagine what the "parties of the second part" would think if they picked up a copy of Everywoman's World and read a cold-blooded account of their "affairs" with me in it. But I do not smile when I imagine what their wives would think! 
The dear public must get along without this particular tid-bit. I have snubbed that editor very unmistakably, telling him that I am not one of those who throw open the portals of sacred shrines to the gaze of the crowd.
Had Montgomery gone into some detail of these matters, some of the stories would have proven to shock and disappoint her readers. There were a few incidents where Montgomery does not shine. She was no different from many young women who make silly mistakes with young men.

Montgomery was a woman of her time; it mattered what others thought of her. There were impressions to maintain. Perhaps she held in too much and pretended too much. But perhaps, she knew what she was doing. Her attitude today would not fly, for many people write memoirs for the sole purpose of throwing open the "portals of sacred shrines to the gaze of the crowd."

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

World famous author becomes Mother

On July 7, 1912, Lucy Maud Montgomery, by then a world famous author, gave birth to her first child, a son named Chester. On September 22 of that year, she reflects on motherhood:
"When the nurse again laid my baby beside me my "great moment" came -- the exquisite moment of the realization of motherhood. It seemed to me that my whole being was engulfed in a wave of love for that little blinking mite of humanity that lay cuddled to my breast. Love -- such love! I never dreamed there could be such love. It seems blent and twined with the inmost fibres of my being -- as if it could not be wrenched away without wrenching soul and body apart also. At times I am terrified that I love him too much -- that it is a defiance of God to love any created thing so much. How can a mother bear to lose her child! It must be possible, since mothers do bear it and live. But I cannot believe that I could go on living if anything happened to my darling. The mere thought of it sends a thrill of agony to my very soul. The love of motherhood, exquisite as it is, is full of anguish, too. I see and realize the depths of pain I never realized before. Motherhood is a revelation from God."