The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Vol. V: 1935-1942

by L.M. Montgomery, Mary Henley Rubio
ISBN: 0195421167

Post Your Opinion
A Review of: The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Volume V: 1935-1942
by Clara Thomas

Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterson, the editors of the five volumes of Montgomery's journals, deserve Medals of Valour, not only for the impeccable editing that we have come to expect of them, but also for their endurance in completing their task to its bitter end. Montgomery died shortly after her final entry on March 23, 1942. From 1937 to 1942 the entries covered by this fifth volume are a final litany of almost unrelieved misery, painful to read and surely painful for the editors to work on. From the first volume's publication, in 1985, we have been led to expect faultless editing, and, in the introductions to each volume, sensitive and keenly knowledgeable commentary. Taken altogether, the series has provided far more than information on Montgomery's life; it has given us an invaluable record of her times, a social history of small town Ontario, a source of data for Women's Studies research and an in-depth study of the dynamic of one particular family, the Ewan Macdonalds of Leaskdale, Norval and, finally, Toronto.
Volume I covers the years from 1889, when Montgomery at fifteen began the diaries which developed into this series, to 1910, soon after the publication of Anne of Green Gables, the book which has spread its endearing and important message of feisty girlhood all over the world for every generation since. Anne's troubles and triumphs haven't dated; recently a friend and I were remembering her effect on us as girls, agreeing that her most important message then and, we speculated, now, was the ideal of female friendship exemplified by the devotion and loyalty of Anne and her "kindred spirit" Diana. There is much more than that in Anne of course: she was an orphan; all girls, orphaned or not, know what it is to sometimes feel rejected and unloved, and all girls sometimes long to break away from the binding constrictions of family and community. Montgomery caught the dilemmas of young girls perfectly and was deservedly rewarded in her time and ever since.
Volume II, 1910-1921, covers the early years of her marriage to Ewan Macdonald, a Presbyterian minister, her move from Cavendish, P.E.I. to Leaskdale, Ontario, and the birth of her sons, Chester and Stuart as well as the death of a third baby, Hugh. The early years of her marriage and her sons' childhood were certainly the happiest of her married life. She was fully occupied by the writing of the various Anne books, which were always in demand, as well as by homemaking with its daily challenges and rewards. She had grown up in the home of her grandparents, and being mistress of her own household was very precious. She was also "the Minister's wife", in that day a fulltime job in itself. The demands on her time and energy were endless, though there was a compensating prestige to her position, both personally and professionally. The personal world that she inhabited was invaded, however, by the horror of WWI, the death in the 1918-9 flu epidemic of her dearest friend, Frede Campbell, and the periodic bouts of depression accompanied by an overwhelming conviction of damnation suffered by Ewan, her husband. It is painful to read of the intensity of her anxiety about the progress of the war: hours of walking the floor in misery and sleepless nights signal a frightening instability of temperament. The agonizing grief about Frede and the personal anxiety about Ewan only serve to emphasize the ominous evidence of her own vulnerability.
Still, there was much compensating satisfaction and achievement and the energy and efficiency of her response to her various obligations was remarkable. Writing out her worries and frustrations was obviously a safety valve for her, one that served her well. She had always been totally frank about her marriage: she had wanted marriage, a household and a family; she did not love Ewan, but she respected him and his calling. Looking after her grandmother had been her major responsibility and when she and Ewan were finally able to marry she contemplated a whole new life in Leaskdale, Ontario, and set about enthusiastically to make it work. Anne had made her famous before her marriage and Anne's royalties had made possible her glamorous wedding trip abroad as well as the constant presence of a maid in the Macdonald manse. No usual minister's household this-in fact so out of the ordinary for its time and place that the situation must have taken its toll on Ewan's patience and pride from the start. As time passed, the encroachments of reality, both historical and personal, became more and more troubling, and in volumes II, III and IV pushed their way more and more to the forefront of her life. In volume IV, with Chester's secret marriage while still in the early stages of his lengthy and troubled law course, they completely overpowered her responses; from then on all through volumes IV and V, the journals record her devastating sense of disaster in her marriage and her sons' lives.
Rubio and Waterston have written excellent introductions to all the volumes, but their treatment of volume V is particularly important and mandatory for the reader. Here they are able to assess the complete project. As early as 1919, realizing that her diary material was publishable, Montgomery had begun to copy it, at the same time shaping and forming it into ledger sized books, finally ten in all. She selected and transcribed as the writer she was, always conscious of the continuity of the whole. Looking back, when she came to write the last volumes, she had already begun a portrait of herself as one whose life has a tragic curve. Ewan's recurring bouts of depression and the failures, both academic and personal in the early adulthood of her sons, encouraged her to continue in the tragic vein. This she does with a vengeance. The catalog of disappointments and despair and, one is bound to feel, self-absorption and damaged pride, seem endless. She had run, and in great measure, subsidized the household; in return she expected to control her sons' lives as she saw fit. Any deviation from the paths for them that she had planned was intolerable. She required infallibility from them as, all too often, she claimed it for herself.
In these final years, 1935-1942, Montgomery reaped many of the benefits of her career: she was in Toronto where she could attend meetings of the flourishing Canadian Authors' Society and the Canadian Women's Press Club, enjoying the admiration and homage of her associates; she was in demand for a variety of public occasions and speaking engagements which both challenged and satisfied her need for recognition; she could and did enjoy thoroughly a new enthusiasm, the movies, which were in their heyday of popularity; she received and treasured two public honours, Membership in The Royal Society of Literature and in the Order of The British Empire (OBE). Invariably, however, the pleasures take a minor place compared to the records of her unhappiness and disenchantment. In the past, the conventions of biography would have forbidden the publication of such tirades of sorrow. Now, the honest biographer is required above all to be truthful. We are indebted to Rubio and Waterston that they accepted this assignment whole-heartedly, giving us the complete picture of this woman, so gifted and at the same time so self-tormented. Reading Volume V is not an easy or a totally pleasurable experience, but its completion enables us to go back to Anne, Emily, Pat, Jane and all the rest with a new respect for Montgomery's transcendent talent and the timeless light it sheds.

Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us