The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Vol. 0: 1910-1921|
by edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston
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|The gift of wings
by Laurel Boone
Social constraints prevented Lucy Maud Montgomery from expressing her most intense feelings, and so, from the age of 14 until her death at 66, she narrated her experience, examined her conscience, and exorcised her demons in journals. In the privacy of her notebooks, she transmuted her life into a continuous story, upon which she practised her craft and which she sometimes mined to embellish her fiction.
But she couldn't predict or control this story's plot. Montgomery's life, in Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston's edition of the journals, is even more absorbing than fiction.
Volume one of The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery was published two years ago, and in the best tradition of first volumes, it was a cliff-hanger. Volume two quickly relieves the suspense - in 1911 Montgomery was freed by the death of her cantankerous grandmother to marry Evan MacDonald, to whom she had been engaged for four years but with whom she was never in love. The rest of volume two recounts the first 10 years of her marriage: the birth of two sons who lived and one who died; her copyright and royalty battles with her first publisher, L.C. Page of Boston; the First World War; the sudden death of her oldest and dearest friend and only confidante, her cousin Frederica Campbell; and, perhaps the heaviest blow of all, the early stages of her husband's crippling but secret mental illness.
Rubio and Waterston have given this volume its artistic form by making it end where it begins. In 1919 Montgomery decided that her journals were a life record that her children could publish if and when they saw fit, and she started copying her old journals into uniform volumes. For two years, she wrote in her current journal as she copied her old ones, narrating the present while reflecting on the past, filling in the ends of stories begun but not finished, explaining old attitudes and confessing old secrets. On March 13,1921, where the second volume ends, the circle is complete -- Montgomery finishes copying her Cavendish diary, the last year of which occupies the first pages of this book.
Why should readers today be interested in 'Lucy Maud Montgomery's journals? Anne of Green Gables has become an international icon, but Montgomery remains a minor writer. Fame brought her moments of glory and tribulation, but her daily routine was humdrum. The editors suggest that the journals are important because of the social history they contain, and indeed they open unique windows on 52 years of middle-class Presbyterian life in rural Prince Edward Island and Ontario. However, the main reason why this particular social history is of interest is that we see it through Montgomery's eyes. The woman who emerges from the journals is like a fictional character in the sense that we know her more deeply than we know our most intimate friends, and yet sheis more complex, paradoxical, and incomplete than either a character in fiction or the persona of an autobiography. Montgomery's reflections on her world and the world at large, like the best fiction, lead the reader to an understanding of human nature that extends beyond the time, place, and characters at hand.
Montgomery's record of her agony during the Great War is important, too. It shows something of how the psyche of a fiction writer operates. Although her only relative at the front was a halfbrother whom she had never met, and few men of her acquaintance were overseas, she took a passionate personal interest in newspaper accounts of the war. Montgomery had what she called "the gift of wings" - she could imagine herself in any situation and, as it were, live through it. On the whole, she was grateful for her gift, but experiencing the war vicariously' filled her agitated days and sleepless nights with horror over the threatened destruction of civilization. From these terrible years grew her novel Rilla of Ingleside,
Despite her suffering, Montgomery felt compelled to maintain a veneer of decorous calm, and the journals make clear that the central feature of her life was hidden conflict. In her books, "everything turns out all right," no matter what vicissitudes her characters suffer; but in her own life everything did not turn out all right. She admits from time to time that she does not "tell all" in her journals, and the editors explain how she revised certain passages after she decided that the journals would one day become public. Still, she tells enough that we now know the nature and extent of her hardships. And we see clearly that the motivating force behind her writing fiction: and journals alike - was her urgent need to spread the wings her society had pinioned. These journals are an important contribution, not just to literary and social history, but to the body of Canadian literature.