Contributed by Allison Hudson
When I began my PhD on the novels of Lucy Maud Montgomery in 2019, I soon learned that an important step in the process would be a trip to the Archival and Special Collections at the University of Guelph’s McLaughlin Library. This impressive collection includes Montgomery’s journals, scrapbooks and personal library: in other words, an invaluable insight into the life and work of one of Canada’s, and the world’s, most treasured children’s authors. The IBBY Canada Frances E. Russell Grant provided me with the necessary resources to undertake this trip in October 2021.
L.M. Montgomery (1874-1942) is, of course, the creator of Anne of Green Gables (1908) as well as 19 other novels, hundreds of poems and short stories, and an extensive collection of life writing. I have the great pleasure of studying the role of objects in her novels, particularly the Emily trilogy (1923-27). This semi-autobiographical series was clearly inspired by Montgomery’s experiences of growing up on Prince Edward Island and forging a writing career despite various obstacles. A two-day deep dive into the materials at the University of Guelph was exactly what I needed to see the connections between Montgomery’s life and those of her fictional characters.
Studying objects in fiction has made me acutely aware of the value of objects in “real life”: the emotional, relational, and even spiritual value of things. The objects that appear in Montgomery’s novels often have a real-world counterpart that can provide a deeper sense of “realness” and significance; for example, Emily’s “blank books” in which she honed her writing skills are clearly inspired by, and often include direct quotes from, Montgomery’s own journals. Real life inspires fiction, and the preservation of these objects like the journals provide rich connections between past and present, author and reader, and fiction and reality.
I began my research at the archives with the first volume of Montgomery’s journals, which she had painstakingly copied from notebooks into large, leather-covered “minute books.” I have read these same words in the Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery (edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston), but not in Montgomery’s own handwriting, with her own photographs often illuminating the text. I experienced a strong sense of connection, knowing that Montgomery intended these words to be read one day (despite the line “I am going to keep this book locked up!” appearing on the first page!), as though time had lost its power to separate the author from generations of readers. Throughout these journals, I found many clear examples of inspiration for her fiction, such as the description of her geraniums including “the ‘Mother’ of them all…a matronly red geranium called ‘Bonny’!”—remember Anne naming Marilla’s geranium “Bonny” in Green Gables?
Montgomery’s fascinating scrapbooks contain all sorts of ephemera: everything from photographs of people and places to bits of fabric, newspaper clippings, wedding invitations, pressed flowers, postcards, train tickets, a lock of hair, and a note written on birch bark—all items that provide an insight into both Montgomery’s life and the social history of the time.
Studying the voluminous scrapbooks, journals and books that Montgomery held, read, wrote and treasured has provided a vital connection to the author that will inspire and inform my PhD thesis and other future projects.
When I planned this trip, I made sure that the timing allowed me to attend the one-day mini conference known as LMM Day in Leaskdale, Ontario, where Montgomery lived from 1911 to 1926 and where she wrote many of her novels. This conference, held in the church where her husband was the minister, started with three excellent presentations and included a tour of the beautifully restored manse, all thanks to the hard work of the L.M. Montgomery Society of Ontario. To be able to stand on the same floors, walk through the same doors, and look out the same windows as one’s favourite author is a special enough experience—making her life and writing seem that much more real—but the experience was topped off by the performance of Maud of Leaskdale. This play, written by Conrad Boyce and performed by Jennifer Carroll, artfully compiles Montgomery’s own journal entries from her time in Leaskdale to powerfully portray the author’s joys, sorrows, humour and pathos in the very place she experienced them. With Montgomery’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren in attendance, time seemed to contract until the century that has passed between her life in Leaskdale and the present all but disappeared. It was the perfect ending to a rich and memorable trip.
Photographs by Allison Hudson; archive photographs shared with permission from the University of Guelph McLaughlin Library Archival and Special Collection