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She was Maud, not Anne

Today is the birthday of Lucy Maud Montgomery. Along with Nellie McClung, she is one of my favourite women in Canadian history. She was a complex individual. She had a wonderful way with words, and was a passionate lover of beauty.

Anne of Green Gables is a book known around the world, but it is only one volume in a huge number of books, stories, and articles. The stories of Anne have appeal because Anne is optimistic, warm, and loving, despite having been raised an orphan. She was everything Maud was not.

Montgomery had a life of sorrow and struggle. For an excellent volume on this, see Mary Rubio's The Gift of Wings. Rubio is a Montgomery scholar who was given access to Montgomery's papers and journals. She, along with Elizabeth Waterson, edited the five volumes of her journals. I've read those journals along with Rubio's biography and a number of critical works on Montgomery's writing. There is a lot more simmering underneath than one what can discern from her fiction.

Montgomery lived with domineering grandparents, an absent father, and later a husband who had mental illness. She struggled to get her books written and published because she had to support herself and take care of her grandmother while she wrote. Once she was published, she was at the mercy of a publishing industry which didn't care much for her rights. She spent years in litigation with the first publishers of her books, Page Company. Once she had children, relatively late in life, one of her sons caused her no end of grief. She suffered with bouts of depression and anxiety herself. 

In short, she was not Anne.

Two things draw me to her. First, the ability she has to create happy stories. There is nothing wrong with a story which ends well. Children obey parents; families stay together; communities pitch in and help one another; Canadians love their country. Those things are good things, and she wrote about them. The other thing which draws me to her is a sense of sorrow for her. She was married to a Presbyterian minister, but she did not seem to have a strong faith. Often, her writing reveals a desperation, and evidence that she felt very much alone in the world. She had to keep up appearances, something she was born and raised to do. She  Yet at the same time, there were occasions which she looked down her nose on some of the people in her husband's congregation. She did not enjoy being a pastor's wife. She lost her cousin Frederica to the flu in 1919, losing the only person she could truly cofide in.

I suppose I find her interesting because she was able to rise above these things and produce lovely stories. She also had a sharp wit, and I think I probably would have liked her. Everyone did. This is one of my favourite quotations from her. Unlike so many today who actually attract readers by revealing their most intimate detals, Maud shunned it. When asked by a magazine editor to provide details about her personal life, especially romantic details, she refused, and her personal reflections conclude with this:

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.

I have read articles over the years written by Montgomery fans, romanticizing her life, revealing clearly that they have developed their views of her based on her novels. The best way to know who Montgomery was is to read her journals alongside her stories. Ultimately, she ended her own life, which was a shock and disappointment to many. How could the creator of Anne Shirley be so desperate? Because she was not Anne.

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