The Depths of Despair go Two Feet Deep: A Letter to Lucy Maud Montgomery

 

Dear Maud,
When I was thirteen, a miracle happened.

My parents gave me permission to go to Prince Edward Island for a whole month with my very most bosom friend Abby. This was a very big deal, because when I was thirteen P.E.I. was the Holy Land. It was the land of Anne.

Abby and I sort of knew each other from school, but bonded over a small misunderstanding when she absolutely stole the table I had been frequenting at the public library for about seven years. After enough silent treatment for her to get the message, we bonded over our love of musical theatre, our disdain for grade seven boys, and, of course, all things Anne of Green Gables. We were very fast friends. What a gift, what a joy, then, that our parents were going to let us stay with family friends in their house by the sea. We would frolic in meadows of wildflowers! We would have deep poetic realizations while tumbling gracefully across sand dunes! We would visit Green Gables.

Then tragedy struck.

Only a few months before we were to fly out, this headline shattered every dream I’d ever had:

Fire Damages ‘Green Gables’ Farmhouse – Tourist Attraction May Be Closed for the Season

Obviously, our trip was ruined. We couldn’t go. We could barely deign to live.

I did what any normal person would do, Maud. I gathered every book you’d ever written, because, of course, I owned them all. I packed up my Anne paper dollhouse, my Anne mug, my VHSs of the TV film series. All of it. I wrapped them in garbage bags, sealed them with packing tape, put them in a box, and I dug a grave.

After directing me to the shovel, my mother stood in the window and took pictures of me. She figured that it was more important to document this insanity than to protect the front yard. She was right. She is often right.

So, somewhere in a blurry photo, there I am: brown braids and overalls, ball cap, tears blending with dirt and rain (of course I chose to do this in the rain. It was a funeral after all.) I looked ridiculous, but I tend to commit most when I know I am being ridiculous, so I did indeed dig a two foot hole, and buried Anne, and you, along with my very heart.
A few weeks later, another miracle:

Green Gables House To Reopen For Summer Season

HURRAH!

I got my shovel, ran out and dug up my destiny. It was all intact, despite the rain. Even my melodrama is thorough.

Abby and I had a beautiful trip, wildflowers and sand dunes and all. We visited the house, which was your cousin’s home, merely the rough inspiration for Green Gables, and we soaked in the idea that you had been here. The idea that a place in a book actually existed. It was so romantic. You were so romantic.

Maud 3
It was my mum who first told me about Anne. I was almost four when my brother was born, and as you can glean from the above, I did not respond well to change. I acted out. One night, my sweet, tired mother wrote me a love letter. It is one of my most treasured possessions (since she really only ever wrote me the ONE, Mum!). There is this line:

‘..if you ever feel you don’t know yourself, read Anne of Green Gables. She is very much like you – dramatic, imaginative, talkative and utterly charming!’

When the incredible mini series by Kevin Sullivan came out, and I was absolutely enchanted, most of all by the idea that I was anything like this dramatic, passionate girl. When I was older, I read the book annually. So much of who I have become is because I felt that I had permission to let my imagination, my wildness, drive me. So much of how closely I hold place, and words, and magic is because of how your writing shaped it in me. We are romantics, you and I. I have returned to you and Anne many times, and you are always anchors to draw me down into myself.

 

Maud 2

 

 

We grow up. It becomes harder to hold onto magic, and dusky twilights. Life creeps in, responsibilities, grief. When I was a child I assumed a writer was only a conduit, as though Anne was always alive and blasting through the universe and you just happened to be the one who harnessed her (and, in many ways, this is probably true). But the more I have gotten to know you, lately, the more I learn that you were not happy. You were not well. Writing Anne gave you such joy, and the sad truth is that would be the purest experience you would have of writing, as your publisher swindled you while still demanding more. You had an unhappy childhood. You were as good as orphaned. You healed in your work, and the more I know, the more I see how it was your escape. You married a man with poor mental health, which caused you much distress over the years. Your life became very dark. In her wonderful biography of you, Jane Urquhart writes:

“…it was shadow, not radiance, that often claimed her once the sun had set. Her seeming addiction to sunsets and twilights in her writing, if it sprang from anything at all beyond poetic convention, may have come from a desire to hold on to the fading light.”

Dear Maud, I am so sorry things were so hard for you. It would have made writing bittersweet, I imagine. Even your journals, which you worked on with such dedication (editing, re-writing them, knowing they would be published) tapered off towards the end of your life, adding to the ambiguity of your death.

I understand what it is like to write to stave off the darkness. And yet – whether you did it or not, your final scribblings were so desperately sad, so spent, so broken. Whether it was your own hand or your own heart that ended you, you must have used up all of your enchantment.

And years later, when little girls grow up and learn that you were human after all, flawed and complicated , what do you owe us? Nothing. Nothing at all. And what do we owe you? A writer’s work never really belongs to them, once it is released into the world. I hope that you didn’t feel that you had surrendered all of your light.  Because oh, what life it brought us.

Maud 4

 

Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942) was a Canadian author who wrote the wonderful Anne of Green Gables series, as well as Emily of New Moon and many others. Her work largely features the rich landscape of Prince Edward Island, where she grew up. Anne of Green Gables is one of the most famous children’s books of all time.

 

 

Recommended Reading:

Anne of Green Gables

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/anne-of-green-gables/9780147514004-item.html?ikwid=lm+montgomery&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=2

L.M Montgomery by Jane Urquhart

Extraordinary Canadians Series: Penguin

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/extraordinary-canadians-lucy-maud-montgomery/9780670066759-item.html?ikwid=lm+montgomery+jane&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0

L.M Montgomery: The Gift of Wings by Mary Rubio

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/lucy-maud-montgomery-the-gift/9780385667609-item.html?ikwid=lm+montgomery&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=87

 

 

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4 thoughts on “The Depths of Despair go Two Feet Deep: A Letter to Lucy Maud Montgomery

  1. I, too, have read all of Lucy Maude Montgomery’s books as a child and reread most of them several times as an adult. I loved them all but really connected with Anne. Lucy is one of the people I’d always wished that I could sit down and chat with. I’ve been meaning to read her biography.

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    1. Isn’t Anne wonderful? We went to see the musical this weekend for the first time since my PEI trip and I bawled my face off! You should read the Jane Urquhart bio, it’s beautiful.

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  2. Simply beautiful. As an author myself, I’ve always connected deeply with L.M. Montgomery. Her struggle for success, her perseverance, are lessons as valid to writers today as they were in her generation. I loved Anne, but Emily gave a voice to an aspiring young girl already in love with words. I’ve read all of Montgomery’s novels and her journals. Her life ended with illness and heartbreak, but the joy she left behind in her books still lives on.

    I’ve visited her grave, the house where she was born, and the farm at Park Corner that was so dear to her. Montgomery’s presence is palpable there. It’s always heartwarming to discover others who have been touched by her as I have.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Jennie! I loved Emily too (between you and me and the internet, I identified with her more than Anne as I got older). It’s amazing how far-reaching her legacy is. I’ve had more personal responses to this post than any others. Her work was – is – so loved.

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