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Archive for the ‘Jane Urquhart’ Category

L.M. Montgomery was the first author with whose works I truly fell in love.  In Grade 3, my best friend and I started a mini, two-person book club, devoted to her novels.  We devoured the Anne books, likening ourselves to Anne and Diana and wishing there were a boy like Gilbert in our class (well, ideally, two).  By Grade 5, I’d worked through all of her works and when our teacher announced that we would be giving presentations to the class on topics of our own choosing, I immediately knew that I was going to give one on L.M. Montgomery.  I signed every biography on her out of the library (defying my censorious librarians to do so), as well as the available volumes of her journals and I obsessively read every single word.

And I was terribly, terribly disappointed.  She did not match at all my idea of what she should be like.  Even reading her journals as a young woman, I was upset by their melodrama.  There was too much emotion, too little restraint, and none of the control I find so admirable in others (I picked up some very strict morals as a child to my non-religious parents’ everlasting amusement).  It was my first encounter of dissonance between a writer’s work and his or her life and I learned then that it wasn’t necessary to like a person in order to love his or her works.

I still remain interested in Montgomery though, which is what drew me to Extraordinary Canadians: L.M. Montgomery by Jane Urquhart.  It’s a brief little biography, with some rather extravagant artistic flourishes by Urquhart: the book begins with a fictional chapter, detailing Montgomery’s thoughts on her deathbed.  The argument has been put forward recently that Montgomery committed suicide and Urquhart acknowledges it but sensibly retorts that we will never actually know what happened.  What we do know is that Montgomery suffered from depression for most of her life.  Though her teen years were social enough, from her mid-twenties onwards she was mostly isolated from the kind of company she craved, stuck at home caring for her ailing grandmother.  This solitude gave her time to concentrate on her writing, allowing her to create the infamous Anne.  Fame was a double-edged sword though – by the time she married and moved to Ontario, gaining more opportunities to interact with others, she was famous enough to make friendships and relationships in new towns awkward.  The solace of her solitude, her writing, isolated her later in life, when she was surrounded by fans rather than friends.

Urquhart points out that Montgomery had the unique ability to shape her legacy, the privilege of authors who attain such meteoric fame in their lifetime.  The editing of her diaries is well-documented: not only did she remove sections, she rewrote others years afterwards, conscious of the image she would present to future generations.  This quest for control was a common facet of Montgomery’s life and Urquhart details multiple instances of it: even her virtual abandonment by her father gave her the control to idealise him and their relationship, turning him into a perfect, supportive figure, the kind that would inspire the compassionate but distant father-figures in her fiction.  Perhaps the best example of control is her relationship as a young woman with Herman Leard, a local farmer.  Montgomery was in love with Leard and was certainly physically attracted to him but was determined to control her feelings for him, to learn to live without him: “he is dearer to me than ever, but I will conquer – I will live it down even if my heart is crushed in the struggle” (p. 36).  This was not a case of star-crossed lovers, torn apart by disapproving families, but of Montgomery herself considering their relationship in contrast with her aspirations.  She felt he would hold her back and so withdrew from him, though it pained her. 

Eventually, Montgomery did marry, to the Rev. Ewan Macdonald.  One can’t help but assume that Montgomery married to ward off the loneliness and isolation that had plagued her up until then but if that were her aim, it failed sadly – Montgomery went from a lonely youth to a lonely adulthood, with a mentally unstable husband and two distant sons, both of whom disappointed her greatly as they matured to adulthood.  

As an introduction to Montgomery’s life, I would probably find this volume lacking.  Having retained a ridiculous amount of useless information about Montgomery, I was mentally filling in details as I went along.  This was a nice reminder for those familiar with her life, but for fans looking to learn more about her, I would recommend one of the more substantial biographies, which are far more satisfying for the uninitiated.

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