MARY RUBIO and Elizabeth Waterston's The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Volume 111: 1921-1929 is a vitally important document in Canadian social and literary history. It is written with a skill equal to that of any Canadian writer, living or dead.
Lucy Maud Montgomery kept her journals very methodically. During the years covered by Volume 111, she made notes day by day. Then, at intervals ranging between a few days and a week or two, she wrote her formal entries. She recopied older journals years after she wrote them, illustrating them with snapshots, and she re-edited copied journals by blacking things out, erasing passages and writing over them, and replacing the pages she no longer wished to preserve with revised pages. By 1922, her intention was firm: My heirs," she says, "might publish an abridged volume after my death, if I do not myself do it before."
Montgomery's journals plait her activities, emotions, and literary experiments into an intricate braid. Because her husband, Ewan Macdonald, was a minister, she led a double life, playing the part of a rural clergyman's wife while writing the books that made her internationally famous. By the 1920s, she, Ewan, and their two sons could have lived comfortably on her income, but propriety constrained them to exist on Ewan's salary. Montgomery indulged her taste for fashion and cars in a modest way, but the manse in Leaskdale, 0ntario, lacked electricity and indoor plumbing, and she could do nothing about it. Gossips and snoops added chagrin to discomfort, while Ewan refused to acknowledge her success in private and became distressed if it was recognized in public. She had no close friends.
A worse problem reduced these burdens to mere inconvenience: Ewan suffered from acute attacks of depression, during which the knowledge that he was damned for eternity made him mutter prayers and hymns constantly. Montgomery shielded him from his congregation when he was at his worst, but forced him to perform his public duties when his attacks ended so he could maintain a normal life. Her husband's mental illness would represent only one woman's grief had Montgomery not been such an astute thinker and writer. As well as unburdening her heart, she describes Ewan's symptoms, summarizes her research into medical and psychiatric opinion, records what medicines she tries and what works best, and calculates how to help Ewan without ruining herself and her children.
Montgomery's moving and perceptive account of the formation of the United Church of Canada will make Volume III of The Selected Journals indispensable for social historians. Literary historians will discover a key to the plight of many Canadian authors in Montgomery's account of her nine-year battle with the L.C. Page Company. But what becomes clearer and clearer through the journals is the reason why Montgomery could and did write stories beloved by generations of readers around the world. When she wrote, she withdrew from uncontrollable reality into a world of natural beauty recalled and reordered by her eidetic imagination. In her journals, she practised finding the words to take her readers with her, to infuse even books she considered hack work with a sense of presence that few writers can create. This strong sense of presence makes The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery, Volume III, Montgomery's most exciting book -so far.