6 & 7: Anne of Green Gables & The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables

Hey! A children’s—and Canadian—classic I actually read as a child. Quel shock!

[Note: If you want to read Anne for pleasure, I don’t recommend this (the Norton) version. It’s great if you’re analyzing the text for an English class (there are lots of assorted extras—essays and such—included), but the footnotes were really weird and distracting. There were all these definitions of common words (e.g. “dinner-time” and “bewitched” !!!) and expressions. I couldn’t figure out who they were targeted at. Surely the target audience of the Norton version (university students) of a book written for 10-year-olds has the sophistication to figure out the gist of words/expressions they’re not familiar with from the context. The only thing I could think of that made sense was perhaps it was aimed at an ESL audience who wouldn’t be familiar with English idioms. But that didn’t really explain including the definitions of words that could be looked up in a dictionary.]

Re-reading a book is often as much about the memories of past readings it’s tied up with as the contents of the book itself. My first encounter with L.M. Montgomery was via a boxed set of the first three Anne books that I received as a 10th birthday gift. Because I actually owned them, I re-read those three books over and over, but my most distinct memory of reading them is the first time: in August heat on the upper bunk of our camper as we made our way home from Ontario where I’d spent the summer.

One odd thing I remember is that whenever I re-read AoGG, I always started with chapter 4. Re-reading the book now I’m not sure why I did that. Maybe I found them too slow-paced or perhaps too focused on the grown-ups (chapter 1 starts with Rachel Lynde!). Another uber-geeky memory: the public library didn’t have the other books in the Anne series so I ordered them through inter-library loan. Don’t ask me how I knew to do this. I must’ve asked about them and the librarian suggested it.

Because they were all library books, I never re-read any of the other Montgomery books until one summer in undergrad when I decided to work my way through her entire oeuvre (holy geek summer project, batman!). So the remainder of the Montgomery books I have date from that summer.

Another weird thing: though once I read the Emily books, I preferred her to Anne (because Emily was the real writer), I don’t have a distinct memory of reading Emily of New Moon for the first time, the way I do with Anne of Green Gables. Probably because I just read it in the usual places (you know: in bed when I was supposed to be asleep, under my desk when I was supposed to be doing schoolwork, on the way home from school when I was supposed to be paying attention to where I was walking…) I do know when it was, though, because I wrote it down in my journal. In the same entry I wrote that was going to be a writer when I grew up. I was 12.

Which leads me to…

The Selected Journals of LM Montgomery, Volume I: 1889 – 1910, edited by Mary Rubio & Elizabeth Waterston

The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery

I was enthusiastic about reading this, the first volume of Montgomery’s journals. I like reading artists’ and writers’ journals/memoirs/biographies just in general, but having read most of Montgomery’s fiction, I was curious to see “behind the scenes” in her writing process and in particular, how her self-representation matched her fictional representation, particularly in the Emily books.

To be clear: Emily writes about writing: her process, her failures, her successes. So, I guess I went into this expecting a real-life version of Emily’s journal (not the same events/people, obviously, but the same style). What I got was cognitive dissonance, because Maud hardly writes about writing at all. Mostly she writes about her friends and relatives, school and work—the everyday stuff that anyone who’s kept a journal has written about. She doesn’t even mention AoGG until she announces that it is going to be published!

While it’s fun to guess at who she modeled various characters after and to recognize stories and anecdotes that she recycled into her fiction, the fact that she doesn’t write more about writing is perplexing. From the beginning, she intended for the journals to be published after her death (because she anticipated that she would by then be a famous writer), and clearly, as the Emily books demonstrate, she knew people are interested in a writer’s writing process. So why isn’t it there?

My theory is this: a few years before she wrote the Emily books, Maud apparently took all her old journals and transcribed them into new notebooks, ostensibly so all her journals would be in books of a uniform size. There is speculation, however, that she didn’t just copy her old journals word for word (as she claimed), but that in fact, she edited them at this time (she was famous by then and knew for sure that her journals would be published). Thus, my (completely unprovable!) theory is that when she did this she excised all the writing-about-writing parts and then used those in the Emily books. I think that she did this because then she could use those experiences as Emily’s without having to deal with Emily = Maud speculation. Of course, that happened anyway ;-).

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