Regular readers know that I have read a lot by L. M. Montgomery—in fact, every novel, short story, journal and letter available! One of her last books, Jane of Lantern Hill, was also the very last novel of hers I read. I only read it once, and that was several years ago, so it seemed like time for a revisit.
The book opens in Toronto, where Jane lives on the very bleak Gay Street with her domineering grandmother and lively but dominated mother. Under her grandmother’s critical eye, Jane is awkward, unsure and lonely. Jane always believed her father was dead…but in fact her parents simply live apart (not divorced, mind you!) and one day a letter arrives from her father. He wants Jane to come live with him for the summer on Prince Edward Island. And there, of course, Jane finds her true home and her true self.
This book has all of Montgomery’s charm and beautiful descriptions, painting a world that invites the reader in. Jane is another plucky Montgomery heroine, one with more challenges and more character growth to go through than many of the more fortunate ones—who began life on Prince Edward Island! Jane is less of a dreamer and very much a homemaker, delighting in cooking and tidying her house and planting her garden. Somehow Montgomery makes it sound so charming that of course Jane loves doing it all (and I say that as someone who wants to shake Wendy for doing very similar things in Neverland!)
On the surface, this is a charming story about a girl finding her self-confidence and bringing her broken family together…but I’ve read enough about Montgomery’s life that it became especially fascinating to me on a deeper level. As I mentioned, this was one of Montgomery’s latest books, and she wrote it while she lived in Toronto…which makes one wonder about the horrible, bleak picture she presents of Toronto, contrasted with her beloved Prince Edward Island. She grew up on PEI, and always considered it her true home—and that comes through so clearly in Jane. To be fair, Jane eventually finds a better home in Toronto that more closely resembles Montgomery’s own home there, but it’s still an intriguing parallel.
In PEI, Jane makes friends with a whole community of kids, and they feel different from the children in Montgomery’s other books. Less refined, certainly, probably from families without money, and probably less educated. It’s all a little vague because it’s an idealized world, but those impressions still come through. And that’s surprising, because Montgomery, much as I love her, was a snob, especially about education. Which leads me to feel the message is, even PEI riff-raff are superior to people anywhere else! Although it’s also interesting that none of the kids here really emerge as major characters the way Anne’s or Emily’s dearest friends do…which may be the snobbery again.
Jane’s grandmother is more interesting with some knowledge of Montgomery too. There’s no question the grandmother is a mean and manipulative woman, and not the only Montgomery mother who loves her child with a possessive love that threatens to destroy that child’s life. But there is one note of sympathy I recognized for the grandmother—she passionately loves her home. Jane hates the big old house on Gay Street, but her grandmother came there as a bride and refuses to leave, or to admit that it’s old and out-dated and no longer a grand showpiece. Montgomery always had a passionate love for her own homes, and giving that quality to the grandmother makes me wonder if Montgomery had mixed feelings towards her…and not only because (much as I love her!) Montgomery could be fairly manipulative of her children’s lives too.
So, secret messages and metaphors and symbolism aside, this is still a lovely Montgomery book. It has more of an overarching plot than many of her others, a likable heroine and, of course, a beautiful setting. I’ve never been to Prince Edward Island, but it’s definitely worth visiting in Jane, and all Montgomery’s other books too.
Buy it here: Jane Of Lantern Hill