Thursday, June 05, 2014

L.M. Montomgery, the heart that longed for home

In 1890, Lucy Maud Montgomery went to live in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan with her father. She had been living with her maternal grandparents, but when her paternal grandfather went to visit his son, she accompanied him.

While Maud was very happy to see her father, she did not have a great relationship with her step mother, whom she refers in her journals to Mrs. Montgomery, or Mrs. M.  She speaks with enthusiasm and humour with regard to the social life she had with the young people she knew, but scattered throughout that time, there is evidence that she missed Prince Edward Island terribly.

Think about it. Prince Edward Island, by the sea with its lush forests and murmur of the sea compared to Saskatchewan at the end of the nineteenth century, sparsely populated, dry and arid. I am Saskatchewan born and I love the prairies, but if I had been born and raised in P.E.I., I may not have felt that way.

On December 11, 1890, Maud expresses her homesickness:
Oh, for one glimpse of Cavendish! Of course I know it is winter down there now, just as here, but in thinking of it I always remember it just as I left it in the prime of summer with buttercups and asters blooming by the brooks, ferns blowing spicily in the woods, lazy sunshine sleeping on the hills, with the beautiful sea beyond, blue and bright and far-reaching. There is no spot on earth more lovely.
Later, on the last day of the year, Maud wrote in her journal that all she would ask of the new year is "that it would take me back home."

Montgomery's heroines loved home. Anne Shirley, an orphan, wanted a home. There is an entire book, Anne's House of Dreams, where Anne is married and building a home. Emily Starr, when given an opportunity to have a writing career in New York could not leave her beloved New Moon, and her writing success came without having to leave it. Jane Stuart, living in Toronto, was shy, awkward and incapable. At Lantern Hill, in P.E.I., keeping house for her father, she blossomed and became everything she could be.

I've read critical works on Montgomery's writing that suggest this emphasis on home was a reflection of some sort of domestic drudgery, that it pointed to the fact that women were encouraged to stay in the home. I am no literary critic or theorist, but could it not be just as likely that these references to home have a lot to do with the young girl who missed home when she went away?  Could it be the fact that she never felt that her home with her grandparents was very warm or welcoming?

In the book Anne of the Island, Anne is away at school, and is about to go home for the holidays. Her housemate, Philippa Gordon is going home for a fun-filled vacation filled with social activities. Anne wants to go home. When her friend suggests that it sounds rather boring, Anne shares with her the thing that pulls her home:
There'll be love there, Phil -- faithful tender love, such as I'll never find anywhere else in the world -- love that's waiting for me. That makes my picture a masterpiece doesn't it, even if the colours are not very brilliant?
Even in married life and as a mother, Montgomery would have her share of strife and hardship. Did she always long for the home of her dreams?

The majority of Montgomery's novels were written after she left Prince Edward Island, and only one of them, The Blue Castle, is set outside of the Island. That says something. Perhaps the love of home is a reflection of  an attitude toward women. And perhaps it is just the reflection of a little girl who longed for home.