Tuesday, October 28, 2008


There are many enthusiastic Lucy Maud fans and scholars across the world, and the recent University of Guelph library's Montgomery conference held last weekend (Oct. 24 - 27) was a great success.

What many people do not know about are the library connections with Montgomery here in Ontario. After she moved to Swansea (now Toronto) in 1935, she became a library trustee on the local library committee, the Swansea Memorial Free Public Library that had been formed after WWI. Unfortunately, this coincided to some extent with Montgomery's later years that often saw her slip into a depressed state for some time (e.g., she really did not make many entries in her famous journal after the start of WWII). She did not write about libraries .... unfortunately for us. As a trustee, Montgomery would have been responsible for attending regular meetings, looking at finances, approving book purchases, etc. in the small Swansea operation.

But there is another connection as well. In 1929, Montgomery was asked to publish a short autobiography in the old Ontario Library Review that ran from 1916-1982. This was part of a series of articles by "famous" Canadian authors, and of course Montgomery easily qualified on that score. It makes for interesting reading, especially her stated love for poetry, her recollection about her father, and her obvious interest in her own book collection.

As this article in OLR (published by the Ontario Dept. of Education) is sometimes difficult to get a hold of, I am reprinting it here in this post as follows:

An Autobiographical Sketch

By L.M. Montgomery

I wish it were permissible to write fiction about oneself when asked for “an autobiographical sketch.” I get so tired of writing the same old facts over and over. As Anne herself said, I could imagine a heap of things about myself far more interesting than what I know! Any one of the “dream lives” I have lived by the score would be really thrilling.

I was born – praise to the gods! – in Prince Edward Island – the colourful little land of ruby and emerald sapphire. I come of Scottish ancestry, with a dash of English and Irish from several “grands” and “greats” and a French origin back in the mists of antiquity. The Montgomery’s emigrated from France in wake of the French Princess who married a Scottish King. But they became so Scotchified eventually that they even had a tartan of their own.

My mother died when I was a baby and I was brought up by my grandparents in the old Macneill homestead at Cavendish – eleven miles from a railway and twenty–four from a town, but only half a mile from one of the finest sea-beaches in the world – the old North Shore.

I went to the “district school” there from six to sixteen. Out of school I lived a simple wholesome happy life on the old farm, ranging through fields and woods, climbing over the rocky “capes” at the shore, picking berries in the “barrens” and apples in big orchards. I am especially thankful my childhood was spent in a spot where there were many trees – trees with personalities of their own, planted and tended by hands long dead, bound up with everything of joy and sorrow that visited my life. The old King orchard in my books, “The Story Girl,” and “The Golden Road,” was drawn from life.

My little existence was very simple and quiet. But it never held a dull moment for me. I had in my imagination a passport to fairyland. In a twinkling I could whisk myself into regions of wonderful adventure, unhampered by any restrictions of reality.

For anything I know I might have been born reading and writing. I have no recollection of learning to do either. I devoured every book I could lay my hands on and new most of “Paradise Lost” and “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by heart when I was eight. Novels were taboo, but fortunately there was no ban on poetry. I could revel it will in “the music of the immortals” – Tennyson, Byron, Scott, Milton, Burns. And one wonderful day when I was nine years old I discovered that I could write “poetry” myself!

It was called “Autumn,” and I wrote it on the back of an old post-office, “letter bill” – for writing paper was not too plentiful in that old farmhouse, where nothing was ever written save an occasional letter. I read it aloud to father. Father said it didn’t sound much like poetry. “It’s blank verse,” I cried. “Very blank,” said father.

I determined that my next poem should rhyme. And I wrote yards of verses about flowers and months and trees and stars and sunsets and addressed “Lines” to my friends. When I was thirteen I began sending verses to the Island weekly paper – and never heard either of or from them. Perhaps this is because I did not send any return stamps – being then in blissful ignorance of such a requirement.

Before this, however, when I was eleven years old, I had begun writing stories. I had a boxful of them – many tragic creations in which nearly everybody died. The “happy ending” was a thing unknown to me then. In those tales, “battle, murder and sudden death” were the order of the day.

When I was fifteen I had my first ride on a railway train, and it was a long one. I went out to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and spent a year with father who was living there. During that winter I sent a “poem,” written around one of the dramatic legends of the old North Shore, down to Charlottetown Patriot – and the Patriot printed it –thereby giving me the greatest moment of my life!

Being now, as I thought, fairly launched on a career, I kept sending verses to various papers and began to plume myself on being quite the literary person. I returned to Prince Edward Island the next summer, attended school for another year, then went to Prince of Wales College, Charlottetown, to qualify for a teacher’s licence. After that I taught a year. During these years I was writing all sorts of stuff, mainly verses and short stories, but had never succeeded in getting into any periodical that paid anything. All the stuff I sent to other magazines came promptly back. I used to feel woefully discouraged at times over those icy rejection slips. But I kept on. Whatever gifts the gods had denied me they had at least dowered me with stick-to-it-iveness!

After teaching a year I went to Halifax and spent a winter taking a selected course in English literature at Dalhousie College. One day in that winter I got a letter from the editor of an American juvenile magazine accepting a short story I had sent him and enclosing a check for five whole dollars. Never in all my life have I felt so rich as I did then! Did I spend it for needed boots and gloves? I did not. I wanted to get something I could keep forever in memory of having “arrived.” I hied me down town and purchased leather-bound dollar editions of Milton, Byron, Wordsworth, Longfellow, and Tennyson. I have repented me of many things rashly bought in my life, but never of those. I have them yet – dingy and shabby now – but with the springs of eternal life still bubbling freshly in them. Not that I do not love many modern poets. I do. But the old magic was good and remains good.

I taught two more years. Then grandfather died and I went home to stay with grandmother. She and I lived there alone together in the old farmhouse for thirteen years, with the exception of one winter which I spent in Halifax working as proof-reader and general handy-man on the staff of the Daily Echo. In those years I wrote literally thousands of poems and stories – most of the latter being juveniles for the United States periodicals, the Canadian magazine market at that time being practically non-existent.

I had always hoped to write a book – but I never seemed able to make a beginning. I have always hated beginning a story. When I get the first paragraph written I always feel as if it were half done. To begin a book seemed quite a stupendous task. Besides, I did not see how I could get time from my regular writing hours. In the end I never deliberately set out to write a book. It just “happened.”

In the spring of 1904 I was looking over my note book of plots for an idea for a short serial I had been asked to write for a certain Sunday School paper. I found a faded entry, written many years before, “Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for boy. By mistake girl is sent them.” I thought this would do. I began to “block out” the chapters, devise incidents, and “brood up” my heroine. Anne began to expand in such a fashion that she soon seemed very real to me. I thought it rather a shame to waste her on an ephemeral seven-chapter serial. Then the thought came, “Make a book of it. You have the central idea and the heroine. All you need do is to spread it over enough chapters to amount a book.”

The result was “Anne of Green Gables.” I wrote it in the evenings after my regular day’s work was done. The next thing was to find a publisher. I typed it myself on my old second-hand typewriter that never made the capitals plain and wouldn’t print “w” at all. Then I began sending it out – and kept on, because the publishers did not jump at it. It came back to me five times. The sixth time it was accepted. “Anne of Green Gables” was published in 1908. I did not dream it would be the success it has been. I thought girls in their teens might like it but that was the only audience I hoped to reach. Yet men and women who are grandparents, boys at school and college, statesmen at the helm of empires, soldiers in the trenches, old pioneers in the Australian bush, missionaries in China, monks in remote monasteries, Mohammedans in Java and red-headed girls all over the world have written to me of the delight they found in Anne.

With the publication of Green Gables a long struggle was over. Since then I have published thirteen novels and a volume of poems. Poetry was my first love and I have always regretted being false to it. But one must live.

Seventeen years ago I married a Presbyterian minister and came to Ontario to live. I like Ontario muchly but anyone who had once loved “the only Island there is” never really loves any other place. And so the scene of all my books, except the “Blue Castle” has been laid there.

The “Blue Castle” is in Muskoka. Muskoka is the only place I’ve ever been in that could be my Island’s rival in my heart. So I wanted to write a story about it.

My new book, “Magic for Marigold,” will be out next summer. I’ve gone back to “The Island” in it. For there the fairies still abide despite the raucous shrieks of motor cars. There are still a few spots where one who knows may find them.

Ontario Library Review, February 1929