Originally published in the Globe and Mail, 20 July 2012, R16.
THE COMPLETE JOURNALS OF L.M. MONTGOMERY. The PEI Years, 1889–1900. Edited by Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston. Oxford University Press, 484 pages, $39.95.
When the first volume of The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery was published, in 1985, readers all over the world were surprised and intrigued by the narrative voice revealed in its pages: Instead of the person they had imagined, the author of Anne of Green Gables could be passionate and tortured, effusive and spiteful; she clung to the traditions of the Presbyterian church even as she rejected many basic Christian teachings, and she suffered keenly from mental health issues and from the societal mores of rural communities in Prince Edward Island. That volume shortened Montgomery’s text by 50 per cent to make it maintain a steady pace, with the rest of the narrative available only in Montgomery’s handwritten originals at the University of Guelph archives—until now.
Edited and introduced once again by Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston, this volume not only restores the full text of Montgomery’s journals from 1889 to 1900 but includes a selection of photographs, clippings and captions that she used to supplement her narrative. Among the sections that appear here for the first time are descriptions of Montgomery’s interactions with the natural world (including several mentions of Lover’s Lane, her favourite spot in nature), her reflections on novels and sermons, as well as the more mundane and repetitive entries that make the unabridged edition more believable as a diary.
This volume not only supplements the five-volume Selected Journals, it is an opportunity to revisit Montgomery’s earliest self-portrait now that we know so much more about her life: her disastrous marriage, her often tense relationship with sons and other family members, the gap between her cheerful public persona and her private, proud self, the periods of profound depression.
With this knowledge in mind, returning to Montgomery’s self-portrait of the artist as a young woman is a fascinating reading experience. In contrast to the world-weary woman she would later become, the young Montgomery was a merry creature who peppered her journal entries with phrases like “lots of fun” and “a lovely time” to describe her busy social life. Montgomery is a born storyteller, and the humour and wit that would become her trademark in fiction are already much in evidence.
And yet her life was not entirely without shadow: Her Grandfather Macneill bitterly opposed her quest for higher education and impeded her career as a schoolteacher, and due to her limited mobility she had to rely on neighbouring young men (most of whom bored her) to drive her around to social functions. These men inevitably got the wrong impression and fell in love with her, and because Montgomery lived in a society in which being direct was not an option, she could do nothing except wait until they proposed marriage and then decline them as gently as she could. When they reacted badly or expressed any kind of emotion, she tried to be courteous but commented privately about their “lack of birth and breeding.”
At the same time, even as an adolescent, she seemed already to be living in the past, frequently engaging friends in discussions of what she called “lang syne days.” This tendency toward nostalgia took over some of her journal entries as well. Wherever she went, she recorded being homesick for the place she just left. And the tone starts to shift drastically as she recovers from two disastrous relationships, four significant deaths and a falling-out with her closest girl friend from adolescence. Yet through it all she keenly recorded her impressions of literature, schooling, religion, relationships and nature: She saw her journal partly as a safe place in which to express unorthodox feelings and observations, and partly as a tool for self-analysis.
By the time this volume ends, Montgomery is looking toward an uncertain future in Cavendish, caring for her aged grandmother. The monotony is already starting to oppress her, but she is determined to persevere as a writer, having published poems, essays and short stories in North American periodicals since 1890. This volume, a welcome addition to our knowledge of Montgomery’s life and legacy, captures the thoughts and observations of a highly articulate woman, one whose bestselling Anne of Green Gables was several years away, but who would eventually become one of Canada’s most enduring authors.