Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Personal Journals of LM Montgomery: My growing interest in a topic

The evolution of my interest in these literary works spans twenty-five years. For the amount of time I have been interested in this topic I should have received a PhD by now. The unfortunate part of this is that my studies have never been official or affiliated with any kind of university. But, nevertheless it is true, I am fascinated with the life and works of LM Montgomery. Her writing never ceases to lift my spirits in times of trial or provide general entertainment on a rainy day.

When I was ten years old I had very little exposure to television or movies. My viewing was limited to Little House on the Prairie and a few other harmless shows. However, one night I got lucky: Mom and Dad were having a party and needed me to stay upstairs for the entire evening. This meant that not only did I get to watch TV but I got to move the TV into my bedroom to watch it. Since this had never happened before I was thrilled beyond belief. My mom set up the TV in my room to watch the brand new Canadian version of the classic movie Anne of Green Gables. From this moment (was it 1985 or 1986 that it made its debut on television?) I was a hard-core Anne of Green Gables/LM Montgomery fan. Little did I know how my life changed the night I saw the movie for the first time.

Shortly after that I had my own copy of the book, then the entire Anne series (8 books). Not too long after that I had the Emily of New Moon books and a few others. By the time the second movie came out I had parts of the first movie memorized.

As I grew older my enthusiasm waned a bit. Anne seemed a bit juvenile as I got into high school and then during college I was too busy for my old love affair with a fictional character. It wasn't sometime after college that I discovered LM Montgomery  had written novels for adults. There are actually two novels for adults: Blue Castle and A Tangled Web. Both were written while she was living in the Toronto area. A Blue Castle is actually based on a location she visited as a tourist in Toronto; the owners of the hotel have created a museum to commemorate the fame she created out of their hotel in her novel.

When I met my husband one of the things that interested me about him was his Canadian origins. He had lived in Toronto for a number of years before he moved to the United States. I wondered if he had ever heard of famous Anne and her creator. Of course he had not.  (Most men are not overly fond of Anne in the way I am.) I told him about my love affair with LM Montgomery and her origins on Prince Edward Island and he convinced me we should pay her hometown a visit. So we did. And thus began my second love affair with LM Montgomery.

In 2009 we fulfilled a life-long dream of mine and went to Prince Edward Island. Cavendish is just as beautiful as Montgomery describes in her books. We were even able to stay right across the street from the Cavendish cemetery that borders the MacNeill family property. Green Gables is just down the road. Of course the guest house was named after Rachel Lynde (of all people) and ties in with the theme of the different buildings Anne used from Cavendish in her Anne novel. The entire setup is a fairy land.

How much delight it gave me to roam the old MacNeill property so elegantly described in LM's books. The old MacNeill house was torn down long ago - apparently Uncle John was not thrilled with LM's literary fantasies (as obvious in her journals) and rid the property of the house in a utilitarian sweep of the unnecessary. However, John's son and his wife Jenny refurbished the old foundation and created a walking path with a gift shop nearby. You can traverse through the haunted wood to the Green Gables house and walk through the famous Lover's Lane. Surprisingly the Lake of Shining Waters is not there but  over at Park Corner (Campbell home) which is several miles away.

Trips to Rustico and to the North Cape proved to me that there is even more to PEI than Cavendish and Green Gables. I could buy a summer home there it is so beautiful.

It was at the gift shop on the Macneill property that I first became interested in autobiographical information about LM Montgomery. There is a book called the Alpine Path in which she describes her literary career. It is the only such book available by her about her own career and decisions. I read it from cover to cover and found it fascinating. (As an added bonus, John MacNeill's son David MacNeill signed a copy of it for me)

Here in Brampton I discovered that Montgomery and Ewan Macdonald (her husband) served in the Presbyterian Church in Norval. It is about fifteen minutes down the road from us.  In the town there is a bakery owned by the Crawford family; Marion Crawford was one of the children who grew up in the house Montgomery used as her scaffold for Green Gables. The Webbs were cousins of the MacNeill family in Cavendish.  The bakery has a museum in the back dedicated to the memory of LM Montgomery. Of course they sell the 100-year anniversary memorabilia, display her belongings like old teacups and dishes, first-editions of her novels, and display pictures, flyers and other advertisements from the many theatre, church and other functions during her time at the manse. Apparently there is a garden dedicated to her memory- it features her favorite flowers. You can drive by the old Presbyterian manse; however, it is not a museum because the current  pastor of the Presbyterian church (and his family) live there.

The University of Guelph nearby (about 1.5 hour drive from here) owns all of the original journals, scrapbooks, fiction manuscripts and correspondence of LM Montgomery in a special collection that is available for public viewing. Her son Stuart donated the collection shortly before his death in 1982. I am drooling already in anticipation of going there. And go there I will because my in-laws live here. What luck for me!

Meanwhile, The Blue Castle and A Tangled Webb are high on my list of books to read in the near future.

May the love affair continue!