Two days ago, the word artist Lucy Maud Montgomery turned 140 years old. This lady is one of my top five favorite authors; I love her poetical descriptions and her well-drawn characters. She knew how to observe and translate those observations into writing that fills readers’ senses with images and insights … she heightens our appreciation for natural beauty and human personalities. There is deep emotion running beneath her descriptions, which makes their impact greater. The land, the water, the trees, the gardens, the houses, all are characters in themselves. She almost always wrote stories with Prince Edward Island, Canada, as backdrop. When you have read much of Montgomery’s work, the island becomes as much a storied land as England, or, in our individual experiences, our own homes. L. M. Montgomery’s work is probably what first revealed to me how much I value setting in a story.
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What fueled her development as a writer? How did she become so good at what she did? She wrote all the time—daily diary entries, letters, hundreds of short stories and 22 novels. She read—Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Anthony Trollope, William Thackeray; poetry, prose, history, psychology, contemporary best-sellers. She loved her home, Prince Edward Island. Her vivid imagination gave her no rest. I read an instructive biography a couple of years ago called Magic Island; you can read my review of it here and see what I learned about her life and writing. That’s where I found this endearing quote from her diary: “How I love my work. I seem to grow more and more wrapped up in it as the days pass and other hopes and interests fail me. Nearly everything I think or do or say is subordinated to a desire to improve in my work. I study people and events for that, I think and speculate and read for that” (December 31, 1898). If you’re a writer, doesn’t that sound familiar to your experience?
Her family and friends called her Maud. Her mother died before she was two, and at age seven she was sent by her father to live with her maternal grandparents. She was brought up strictly, and had little contact with children her age … she made up imaginary friends and worlds instead. She attributed her keen creativity to that necessity. She was good in school and achieved her teacher’s certificate in one year (as opposed to two!) at college before studying literature at a university. That certificate was useful—she became a teacher for some years—but she vastly preferred her writing … beginning in 1897, her short stories were regularly published. Her first novel, the phenomenal Anne of Green Gables, burst into readers’ hearts in 1908. In 1911 she married Ewan MacDonald, a Presbyterian minister, and had three sons, two of whom lived to adulthood: Chester and Stuart. Sadly, she suffered from depression, and her husband was mentally ill in later life. She wrote until her death in 1942, but the last novel she saw through publication was Anne of Ingleside, in 1939. The Anne-related short stories in The Road to Yesterday were published posthumously. Funny, and fitting, how she bookended her novelistic career with much-loved Anne ....
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I’ve read the eight Anne books, the three Emily books, The Blue Castle, Chronicles of Avonlea, and Further Chronicles of Avonlea—but I’ve by no means exhausted Montgomery’s supply of fiction! We readers have many opportunities to dip into the beautiful, occasionally disturbing and thought-provoking world that she sculpted out of the shores, meadows, woods, and people of Prince Edward Island. Have you read any of her books? Which ones?