By Byron Thomas
The year 2008 marked the 100th anniversary of the legendary novel, Anne of Green Gables, which has been translated into more than 15 languages and adapted to television, film and play. The author once said, “I never told my ambitions and efforts and failures to anyone. I listened unmoved to the sneers and ridicule of various relatives who thought my scribbling rank folly and waste of time. That never disturbed me at all. Down, deep down, under all discouragement and rebuff I knew I would arrive someday.”
“In this world you’ve just got to hope for the best and prepare for the worst and take whatever God sends.” – Lucy Maud Montgomery
Mention the name Lucy Maud Montgomery to the average person and you may hear the unexpected question of “whom?” in return. If you answer only by stating she was the author of Anne of Green Gables, you might receive more than a few nods of recognition. Most responses, accompanied by a fond smile, would be, “I read that book,” or “I visited Green Gables on Prince Edward Island with my parents when I was a child.”
Birth place of Lucy Maud Montgomery
The recollection of Anne of Green Gables might initiate memories of our own age of innocence. We’ll soon recall, from the world famous book, or the hit movie, the billowing fields of grass, the house with the green shutters, and the straw hat on Anne’s head of red hair. Most of us fell in love with Anne and her tremendous life, not knowing that her character was inspired by the life of a real person. That real person, of course, was Lucy Maud Montgomery.
Lucy Maud Montgomery was born to Hugh John Montgomery and Clara Woolner Macneill in Clifton, Prince Edward Island, on November 30, 1874. Less than two years into her short life, tragically, her mother died of tuberculosis, a disease that attacks the lungs. Shortly after her mother’s death, her father relocated to Western Canada. He left Montgomery behind to live with her mother’s parents and her maternal grandparents, Alexander Marquis Macneill and Lucy Woolner Macneill, in the nearby town of Cavendish.
Being a family of rich Scottish decent and political authority and power, the custom of story telling and a respect for knowledge, as well as her grandfather’s love for poetry, were all influential persuasions on Montgomery. With a creative and inventive mind, Montgomery developed a passion for the craft of writing at a very early age. In 1890, at the age of 15, Montgomery published her first works – a poem, On Cape LeForce, in the Charlottetown Patriot. It would be another 18 years before Montgomery published her first novel, Anne of Green Gables, breaking into the world of mainstream fiction.
In the early 1890’s, Montgomery applied for admittance to the Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown. She enrolled in the teacher’s course, having done so by achieving the fifth highest score in the province on the entrance exam. Montgomery moved on to teach at several schools across the province of Prince Edward Island from 1894 – 1898, publishing numerous short stories and poems while doing so. Montgomery published her work in various papers and magazines, including, but not limited to, Ladies’ Journal, Philadelphia Times, American Agriculturalist, and Good Housekeeping. In some cases, Montgomery published her earlier work under pseudonyms such as “Maud Cavendish” or “Maud Eglinton.”
During her teaching years, Montgomery also attended Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for a while, financing and funding the cost of tuition from her earnings as a published writer. Later in her life, she would return to Halifax, for a short period of time, to work as a copy-editor for the Daily Echo. Eventually she was publishing enough work and making enough money to leave teaching behind for good and focus on her writing career on a full time basis.
In 1898, in the event of her grandfather’s death, Montgomery returned home. Throughout the next decade she cared for her grandmother. She ran her grandmother’s chores, took care of the gardening, read, wrote and sold 103 stories and 92 poems. In 1908, Montgomery published her highly recognized and world-renowned Anne of Green Gables.
Anne of Green Gables is a fascinating tale of an orphaned, red-haired, mishap named Anne Shirley who is adopted by an elderly brother and sister. Montgomery once said many of Anne’s unfortunate, yet humorous, adventures in the book were loosely based on her own childhood. Montgomery successfully summarized the contentment of youth and permitted her readers to find similarities between themselves and the main character, Anne. Author, Mark Twain, once referred to Anne as “the dearest and most loveable child in fiction.”
The story of Anne and the sequels that followed plummeted Montgomery onto the world’s bestseller lists. Lucy Maud Montgomery had now become a domestic name.
Leaskdale manse, Ontario home of Lucy Maud Montgomery from 1911 to 1926
Lucy Woolner Macneill died in 1911. That same year, on July 5, Montgomery married Ewan Macdonald. Macdonald was a Protestant minister. The couple honeymooned in Scotland and England before he began leading a congregation in Leaskdale, Ontario and relocated there. Montgomery followed him, changing the course of her life forever.
Montgomery would give birth to three sons for Macdonald. Chester Cameron was born in 1912 followed by Hugh Alexander, who was stillborn, in 1914. In 1915, Montgomery welcomed to the world, her third son, Ewan Stuart.
Her husband, Rev. Macdonald suffered from a mental illness and spent time in a mental institution in 1934. Montgomery continued supporting her two sons through her writing. She tried her best to hide her husband’s illness, making certain his ministerial position within the church was reserved.
The pressure of having to support her family has been blamed for the poorer quality of Montgomery’s later works. According to critics, and her devoted, constant readers, none of her other written works came close to the success or grandeur of Anne of Green Gables.
Montgomery settled into a state of personal illness and depression during the approach of World War II and died of congestive heart failure on April 24, 1942 in Toronto, Ontario. Her body now rests in Cavendish Cemetery. Her husband, Macdonald, died a year later and rests by her side.
Prince Edward Island’s tourism industry has benefited greatly from Montgomery and her works, becoming one of Canada’s most attractive tourist destinations. She is an author of national historical significance. Montgomery is credited with penning more than 20 novels, 450 poems and 500 short stories.
Montgomery’s most popular works include: Anne of Green Gables; Anne of Avonlea; Kilmeny of the Orchard; The Story Girl; The Golden Road; Anne of the Island; Anne’s House of Dreams; Rainbow Valley; Rilla of Ingleside; Emily of New Moon; Emily Climbs; The Blue Castle; Emily’s Quest; Magic for Marigold; A Tangled Web; Pat of Silver Bush; Mistress Pat; Anne of Windy Poplars; Jane of Lantern Hill; Anne of Ingleside.
By Byron Thomas