It occurred to me that I have not actually reviewed L. M. Montgomery. She’s been woven throughout this blog, referenced here and there, but somehow I have not actually reviewed her yet. Even though she’s among my top two favorite authors!
Maybe the problem has been that I don’t know where to begin. I’ve read 20 novels, 199 short stories (believe me, I’m searching for a way to get my hands on a 200th one!), her autobiography, three books of letters, and her five volume journal. If it’s in prose, I’ve read it. And now, where to start?
I suppose I could take the obvious route. Anne of Green Gables was her first novel, and the one I name when people look blank after I say L. M. Montgomery is my favorite author. It’s a good place to start reading if you’re not familiar with her books. Anne is a red-headed orphan who is adopted by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert by mistake–their friend was supposed to bring them a boy from the orphanage, who could help Matthew on the farm. The story follows how Anne found her place in Green Gables. Anne is precocious, whimsical, imaginative, deeply in love with nature, and, though always well-meaning, apt to get into scrapes. Once she dyes her hair green–another time she breaks her leg after walking on a roof on a dare. Anne is a wonderful character and her adventures are funny and endearing.
That’s a good place to begin. But I don’t want to stop there. Because there’s also Emily, a dreamy writer, and Pat, who fiercely loves her home, and Valancy, who only starts to live her life when she thinks she’s dying. And beautiful, tragic Kilmeny; Marigold with her imaginary and magical friend; capable and confident Jane.
I don’t know why Anne of Green Gables is Montgomery’s most famous book, because she wrote so many others that were at least as good. The great gift of Montgomery is her ability to create appealing characters and place them in a beautiful world. With very few exceptions, her books are all set in small towns in Prince Edward Island. She herself grew up in Cavendish, a small town in PEI, and her books very much harken back nostalgically to the Cavendish she remembers in her childhood–a close-knit community where everyone knew everyone, and the chief social events were quilting circles, lectures and small dances–and weddings and funerals, of course.
Her books are also filled with nature. Like Anne, Montgomery had a passionate love for the beauties of nature. Pine trees, flowers, a range of hills against the sunset–from her journal you learn first-hand how deeply these affected her, and that carries into her books. I once read a book that combined quotes from Montgomery about nature, with pictures that were meant to correspond. I was amazed to find that none of the pictures were as beautiful as what she was describing. She felt beauty so intensely–she was able to see it and then convey it in words, where someone else wouldn’t have seen the same thing at all. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but not when the words were written by L. M. Montgomery. She has a very unique writing style, which I obviously love–it may not appeal to everyone though, which is why I sometimes recommend starting with her short stories to see if it’s a style that works for you. The Road to Yesterday or Chronicles of Avonlea are good collections.
Don’t get the impression, though, that her books are long treatises on nature. The beautiful surroundings are the backdrop to human adventures. They’re funny, exciting, romantic, sometimes tragic. She had a gift for drawing out the emotions in events small and large–from the pettiness of carping relatives to the deep betrayal of a disloyal suitor to the fun of a picnic in the woods to the humor of an awkward dinner party.
There are some books I feel I’d love to live inside, and L. M. Montgomery’s certainly sit high on the list. After reading her journals, I think she felt the same way. Her life was not always happy, and the sunny world of her writing was sometimes an escape. Fortunately, she’s made that world available to the rest of us too.