Friday, February 07, 2014

Did Anne of Green Gables ever meet Pearlie Watson?

Two of Canada's most celebrated women are L.M. Montgomery and Nellie McClung. Both women were known beyond the borders of this country, and both were writers. Montgomery's most famous character was Anne Shirley. Nellie's Pearlie Watson was her well-known character. In both Anne and Pearlie, we have a glimpse into the personalities and character of these two women.

Montgomery was born in P.E.I. in 1874. McClung was born in Chatsworth, Ontario in 1873. They died eleven years apart, McClung in 1951 and Montgomery in 1942. Judging from a recent, comprehensive biography of Montgomery, there is the strong belief she ended her own life. While she was certainly adept at creating happy, warm stories, Montgomery led a life of many sorrows. McClung, on the other hand, seems to have had less misfortune, although her son committed suicide as a young adult. These women were contemporaries, and they would have been at the height of their success at about the same time, but I don't get the idea they met. Having read McClung's autobiography and two biographies, as well as Montgomery's biography, I suspect that either they did not, or if they did, it was not worth mentioning.

Both women were strong personalities and successful. Both wrote with loving prose about the places where they grew up. Both women were church-going women. Nellie's father-in-law was a minister, and Montgomery was married to a Presbyterian minister. Nellie talked a lot more about her faith than did Montgomery. Her faith was the driving force behind her activism. Perhaps Montgomery's published journals contain spiritual reflections, but she had the habit of returning to her journals and editing them, so one is left wondering if the memories recorded come from the young Maud or the older Maud.

Both women married very quiet men, and both men suffered serious illness, although Montgomery's husband's was more widely known. Both women were called upon to contribute to the income of their families through writing because their husbands were ill. Both women seemed to be tireless in their work even as they were into their late forties and early fifties.

Both women also endured the marginalizing of their fiction. Many people demonstrate surprise when they learn that the books written by Montgomery were originally directed to an adult audience. In her biography of Montgomery, Mary Rubio gives details about the disappointment and discouragement Montgomery went through later in life as her fiction increasingly became viewed as sentimental and more suited to children. McClung's novels centred around the Pearlie Watson character went through something similar, as the 1930's began and fiction itself began to change. I suspect this was more difficult for Montgomery because her primary work was writing, whereas McClung used writing as a platform for discussion regarding social change, and by the time the 1930's came, she was more involved in other things.

As I reflected on these things, I could not help but wonder if anyone has ever compared the lives of these two women closely. I wonder if their paths crossed. I think they would have liked each other, and found much to share in common. Everyone who met McClung liked her, even her adversaries. I cannot help but think that if they'd met, they'd have been friends.