A popular and financially successful writer, Lucy Maud Montgomery MacDonald (1874-1942) is considered one of Canada's best known and most enduring authors.
Lucy Maud Montgomery
Lucy Maud Montgomery was born on November 30, 1874, in Clifton, Prince Edward Island. Her parents, Hugh Montgomery, a former sea captain turned merchant, and Clara Macneill Montgomery, came from large, long-established, and eminent Prince Edward Island families. Clara Montgomery died before her daughter, always known as Maud, was two years old, and her grief-stricken father sent her to live with her elderly, strictly Presbyterian maternal grandparents at their isolated farmhouse in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island.
Young Maud was a solitary child, sensitive, imaginative, and rather out of place in her grandparents' household. She found respite in books, notably Dickens, Scott, Byron, and Longfellow, and in writing stories and poems of her own, a talent which she developed at a very early age. She also enjoyed the company of her many cousins and later school friends.
In 1890 her father, now remarried and with a new family, asked Maud to join him in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and she spent the next year in the Canadian West. She found her stepmother uncongenial (she was expected to serve as an unpaid maid and nanny and was kept home from school for months) and her father too busy with a variety of enterprises—business, political, and social—to be much of a companion. However, she soon made several close friends. Although she was thrilled in November 1890 when her first published work, a poem, appeared in the Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Daily Patriot, she was equally excited to return to Prince Edward Island in August 1891.
In 1893 Maud went to Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown to prepare for a teaching career. She taught in rural schools for three years, finding the work rather taxing and less rewarding than she had hoped, but she was able to devote several hours a day to writing. By the mid-1890s she had achieved moderate success as a writer, having had many stories and poems published for money.
Gives Up Teaching for Writing
Intelligent, energetic, ambitious, and strong-willed, Maud was also very feminine. She loved fashionable clothes, was grateful for her slim good looks, and enjoyed the company and admiration of men. Like most young women of her era, Maud believed that marriage was the highest occupation for women, and she looked forward to her own marriage and children. However, she had high standards—her husband would have to meet certain social and educational criteria—and she had a romantic nature. In 1897 she became engaged to a suitable young man, but she quickly became disillusioned with him. While engaged she met and became involved with another wholly unsuitable young man, whom she thought she loved but knew she could never marry. Within a few months she had broken with both men and henceforth ceased to look for or expect romantic love.
Maud's grandfather died in 1898, and for the next 13 years, with the exception of a brief stint as a reporter for a Halifax newspaper in 1901, she lived with and cared for her aging grandmother in Cavendish. Her life there was very constrained, but she found enjoyment in writing and produced poems and stories which, by the early 1900s, provided considerable income. During this time she also began what were to become two of her most important long-term friendships, based almost entirely on correspondence, with Canadian teacher Ephraim Weber and Scottish journalist G.B. MacMillan. In her long letters to these sympathetic friends she was able to express her hopes and fears as a writer.
In 1907 Maud's previously rejected first novel was accepted by a publisher. Anne of Green Gables, the appealing story of an imaginative, irrepressible, red-headed orphan girl who was adopted by two elderly Prince Edward Islanders was published by the L.C. Page Company of Boston in 1908. It was an immediate and tremendous success with readers of all ages and both sexes. With some surprise Maud wrote a friend, "Anne seems to have hit the public taste." Among the thousands of fan letters Maud received was one from Mark Twain, who described her heroine as "the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice." A sequel, Anne of Avonlea, followed in 1909 (there eventually were eight Anne books) and, despite not having received very favorable royalty terms from her publisher, Maud's professional and financial success was assured.
Maud's grandmother died in March 1911, and four months later she married Ewan MacDonald, an attractive, amiable, conscientious Presbyterian minister to whom she had been secretly engaged for five years. After a honeymoon in the British Isles, the MacDonalds returned to Canada, where Ewan resumed his pastoral duties in Leaskdale, Ontario. Maud found that being a minister's wife involved endless rounds of meetings, sewing bees, Sunday school classes, choir practice, and visits. Although she did not enjoy these activities and found herself temperamentally unsuited to them, Maud, with her keen sense of duty, performed them with skill and grace. To these responsibilities she soon added those of a mother (she had two sons: Chester, in 1912, and Stuart, in 1915), and she continued to write. Her busy and full life required very careful organization, and she often felt strained and exhausted.
Growing Appreciation of Her Work
World War I was a source of great concern to Maud, and her relief over the end of the war was soon overwhelmed by a series of travails. In January 1919 her cousin and closest friend, Frederica Campbell, died. Later in the same year her husband suffered an attack of what was termed "religious melancholia," a feeling of hopeless certainty of eternal damnation. Worried for her children (mental illness was believed to be hereditary), Maud also was horrified that others would learn of Ewan's illness. She sought medical help in Toronto and in Boston, but little was forthcoming. After several months Ewan recovered, but he remained subject to attacks at irregular and unpredictable intervals for the rest of his life. Henceforth Ewan became a source of chronic anxiety for Maud. In addition, in 1920 she became engaged in a series of acrimonious, expensive, and very trying lawsuits with publisher L.C. Page, which dragged on until Maud finally won in 1929.
Maud did find consolations in the 1920s, however. Her growing sons were always a source of delight and pride to her. In 1926 the family moved to Norval, Ontario, where Ewan became the minister of a smaller and friendlier congregation. In the early 1920s Maud created a new, highly autobiographical heroine, Emily of New Moon, who proved nearly as popular as Anne. Her achievements were recognized when in 1923 she became the first Canadian woman to be named a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in England. She was further honored in August 1927 when she was asked to meet the visiting Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII) and the British prime minister and Anne of Green Gables fan, Stanley Baldwin.
The 1930s continued Maud's successes and anxieties. Several new juvenile books were well received. She was invested with the Order of the British Empire in 1935, and in 1936 the Canadian government created a national park on Prince Edward Island in and around Cavendish because of the renown Maud's books had brought the area. Ewan's health, however, was her primary concern. In 1935, after a series of physical ailments, he had a complete breakdown and was institutionalized for months. He slowly improved, but, overwhelmed by stress, Maud had a brief breakdown of her own. In 1935 Ewan retired, and the MacDonalds moved to Toronto, where their sons were at college. Ewan and Maud both had breakdowns again in 1937, but both recovered, and by the spring of 1939 Maud wrote that she was feeling better than she had in years.
Her recovery was of short duration, however. The outbreak of World War II depressed her greatly. Ewan's health declined, and, after a bad fall in 1940, Maud herself became very ill. Her condition worsened in 1941, and she died on April 24, 1942.
The author of over 20 books and hundreds of short stories and poems, Maud never felt she had achieved what she had aimed for—her "great" book. She was appreciative of her financial and popular successes and felt that her work was well-done as far as it went, but she recognized and regretted her limitations. Serious critics agreed with her, and for years she was dismissed as a hack writer of children's books. In the last quarter of the 20th century, however, as part of their search for a unique Canadian identity, Canadian scholars devoted a great deal of attention to L.M. Montgomery and the continued popularity of her works.
Further Reading on Lucy Maud Montgomery
The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery, so far in three volumes to 1929, edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston (Volume 1, 1985; Volume II, 1987; Volume III, 1992), provide an unparalleled source of information about Montgomery. Engagingly written and ably edited, they present a fascinating, revealing, and honest record of an intelligent, talented, busy, and troubled woman. Montgomery's The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career, originally published as a magazine serial in 1917 and reprinted in book form in 1990, is a good-humored look at her childhood and development as a writer. Her long and interesting letters to her friends are published in Wilfred Eggleston's edition of The Green Gables Letters; From L. M. Montgomery to Ephriam Weber (1960) and in Francis W.P. Bolger and Elizabeth R. Epperly's edition of My Dear Mr. M: Letters to G.B. MacMillan from L.M. Montgomery (1980).
Montgomery has been the subject of several biographies, including Hilda M. Ridley's The Story of L.M. Montgomery (1956), a short book with a surprisingly feminist slant; Francis W.P. Bolger's The Years Before Anne (1974), which deals with Montgomery's life to 1908; and Hanna Schwarz-Eisler's L.M. Montgomery: A Popular Canadian Writer for Children (1991), a study by a German scholar. The most valuable biography is Mollie Gillen's The Wheel of Things (1975), which is well-researched and sympathetic. Gillen's later short volume, L.M. Montgomery (1978), has a similar outlook, is intended for a youthful audience, and contains many relevant photographs.
Montgomery's books have been extensively examined by scholars including Elizabeth Waterston, whose essay "L.M. Montgomery, 1874-1942" (in Mary Quayle Innis, editor, The Clear Spirit: Twenty Canadian Women and Their Times, 1966), provides penetrating analyses of Montgomery's works. John Robert Sorfleet, editor of L.M. Montgomery: An Assessment (1975), presents seven articles with differing and very serious critical approaches to the L.M. Montgomery opus; Mavis Reimer has edited a similar volume, Such a Simple Tale: Critical Responses to L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (1992). And L.M. Montgomery: A Preliminary Bibliography, by Ruth Weber Russell, D.W. Russell, and Rea Wilmshurst (1986) provides an excellent bibliography of works by and about Montgomery.
Additional Biography Sources
Bolger, Francis W. P. (Francis William Pius), 1925-, The years before "Anne," Halifax, Nova Scotia: Nimbus Pub., 1991.
Gillen, Mollie, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Don Mills, Ont.: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1978.
Gillen, Mollie, The wheel of things: a biography of L. M. Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, London: Harrap, 1976.
Rubio, Mary, Writing a life: L.M. Montgomery, Toronto: ECW Press; East Haven, Conn.: Distributed to the trade in the U.S. exclusively by In Book, 1995.