Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Summer With L.M. Montgomery

A couple of weeks ago, Persis wrote about her L.M. Montgomery summer. Quite serendipitously, I was reading L.M. Montgomery myself. I have spent a lot of time with Montgomery.

Montgomery was part of my childhood the way that Laura Ingalls Wilder was in the lives of other girls. Montgomery died in 1942, and after that, publishers began re-printing her books. My grandmother bought them, and gave them to my mother. I bought a cheap set of paperbacks for my daughter to read.  When I purchased Montgomery's biography a few years ago, I began a reading project, not only re-reading her books (and not just the "Anne" books), but reading critical works of her material and reading her Selected Journals, which were edited by Elilzabeth Waterson, and Mary Rubio; Rubio is the author of The Gift of Wings, the biography of Montgomery. This summer, I read the fourth volume of her journals.

The journals provide fascinating reading. Maud didn't hold back in her journals, and she took the project seriously. In fact, she re-copied them years after writing them, expecting people to read them after her death. The same lavish descriptions of P.E.I. which are in her books are within her journals. Many phrases in her journals are used verbatim in her books. These aren't just "what I did today" journals. She used her journals to process things, and to unburden her heart.

The volume I finished this summer covered the years 1929-1935. In these years, she begins to experience a loss of influence in the literary world, her husband takes a new church, and she struggles with anxiety and depression due to tight finances and a rebellious son. Health matters such as insomnia, headaches, and dizziness plague her. However, she still manages to soldier on with her duties as a minister's wife (duties which she loathes for the most part), and participate at speaking engagements.

If it is one thing Maud was good at, it was hiding her feelings. She managed to pull off Sunday school programs, hostess duties, and missionary society meetings as if nothing was wrong, when in reality, she was in despair. She did not want anyone knowing the truth. Her grandmother instilled in her a very healthy fear of "what will people say?" When one of her boys fails college courses, her cry is is, "How could he do this to me?" because she is afraid of the public disgrace. The previous volumes of her journals have their share of angst, especially when her husband's mental illness is at its worst, but this volume contains much more, and is not punctuated as often with good times.

Maud Montgomery was not generally a happy woman. At times, she reveals unflattering qualities, most notably intellectual snobbery. The comments she makes about her husband's congregants are often unkind and impatient, because she does not find them intellectually stimulating. I got the feeling that Montgomery valued intellect above godliness.

Two things really stood out to me as I read this volume. First, the ability of such an unhappy woman to write happy stories is a testimony to the creative abilities God gives. I have no idea of Montgomery's standing before God, but I know she was created in his image and he gave her those literary abilities, and I'm thankful for that. Second, I was left wondering if we can really know someone. How many people who were Montgomery's contemporaries knew her dark, despairing thoughts? When the journals were published beginning in 1985, were those who were still alive shocked? We can really only know what others will let us see, and even then, we may interpret it wrongly. God does know us intimately, though, and I wish I could have the sense that Montgomery knew some sort of peace with God.

Montgomery will always feel like a companion to me. I've enjoyed her stories and I've felt sad for the lack of love she had in her life. She truly was a fascinating woman.

1 comment:

  1. People are much more complex than we realize. I would never have guessed the depths of Maud's sorrow until I read her bio.

    Now you've got me interested in reading her journals. :)