Friday, April 25, 2014

Before Mom was born, L.M. Montgomery left us

 Yesterday marked the anniversary of the death of L.M. Montgomery. Since in my fiction and history reading I am currently immersed in all things Montgomery, this drew my attention.

I recently discovered the blog of Benjamin Lefebvre, a Montgomery scholar. I recently picked up his book, The L.M. Montgomery Reader, after having read a few of his critical pieces. He has an article discussing Montgomery's death here.

My mother was born on May 26, 1942, just a month after Montgomery's death. My grandmother had many of the books in hardcover. They weren't initially published in Canada, a fact some people don't know. In 1908, there was no real Canadian publishing, so authors had to go to the U.S. The copies my grandmother had were ones re-published in Canada. My mother has those books, and it was those books where I first met Montgomery. They are battered now, a sign of a well-loved book. I am in the process of getting my own copies from second hand book sellers. I want older ones, hard-backed, and in good condition, not those cheap trade paperbacks. And I want the ones that were published here in Canada. So far, I have three, and two of them are the ones published by Ryerson Press, just like the ones that belonged to my grandmother.

Some of the warmest memories of time with my mother are of those occasions when I would help her dry dishes and she would tell me the plot lines of all the books in the Anne series. I would sit cross-legged on the counter, taking dishes from the dish rack while she talked. I shared my love of the books with my own daughter.

Last night, I finished Anne's House of Dreams, which is one of my favourites. It was written in 1917, in the middle of the First World War. By this time, Montgomery was married and had left P.E.I. for Ontario, where her husband was a Presbyterian Minister. The book is a celebration of home and family, no doubt a reaction to the horrors of the war. Many people today would turn their noses up at the book because it celebrates the joy of marriage and motherhood, and many think Anne "sold out" because she did not pursue a writing career. As a woman who has spent the last 27 years focusing on home, I love the story, one where people are not perfect, but work to be good, and love each other.

Anne's House of Dreams is filled with descriptions of the sea. As you read, you cannot help but see it in your mind. If you have never visited P.E.I., you must. As I read the book and drank in Montgomery's descriptions of sea, full of sound and colour, I was thinking of the places on the Island where I visited.

I particularly liked this description, where she compares the beauty of the woods to the beauty of the sea:
There is a great solitude about the shore. The woods are never solitary -- they are full of whispering, friendly life. But the sea is a mighty soul, forever moaning of some great unshareable sorrow, which shuts it up into itself for all eternity. We can never pierce its infinite mystery -- we may only wander, awed and spell-bound, on the outer fringes of it. The woods calls to us with a hundred voices, but the sea has one only -- a mighty voice that drowns our souls in majestic music. The woods are human, but the sea is of the company of the arcangels.
I'm reading the books in order of publication, and next up is Rainbow Valley, which is a book about Anne's children. Alongside, I'm reading Elizabeth Epperly's Fragrance of Sweet-Grass, which discusses the heroines of Montgomery. Some people don't care for literary criticism, but I enjoy seeing what others have to say, and being prodded to think more about a book.