Exactly one year ago today, I got to visit Green Gables, Prince Edward Island. We went with a group of more than 30 on Lightrider, a double-decker bus, and what an experience this was! I have to include a couple of photos, of course, and I will also follow with a post about Anne from my former blog. There is a lot I can learn from the life of fictional Anne and her very real author, Lucy Maud Montgomery.
The entry below was first published on January 10, 2008.
100 years later, and still sparkling
Prince Edward Island will host centennial celebrations this year for Anne‘s publication. I’m not sure why, but the authors I’ve grown to love are all people with “invisible issues” of their own. As I wrote a few months ago, Madeleine L’Engle’s most well-known and awarded book, A Wrinkle in Time, was rejected by publishers eight times before it was put aside to collect dust (until it was resurrected by another interested publisher). It is hard to believe that one of the most celebrated and well-known books of a century ago had a similar history. Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, was handwritten then typed on her “old second-hand typewriter that never makes the capitals plain and won’t print ‘w’ at all” (from volume 1 of Montgomery’s selected journals). Ms. Montgomery had several short stories and poems published before that time, but this was her first full-length book, so Maud, as she went by, decided the manuscript must not be worthwhile. And she put it aside.
What would lead her to do this? And why was such a bright young lady using a secondhand typewriter with some letters that wouldn’t work? Despite the cheery disposition of many of her characters, Maud did not live a charmed life by any means. Much like her beloved character, her mother died when Maud was very young. Unlike Anne, Maud did have a father still living, a father who went across the country to make a new life and later settle in Saskatchewan. Lucy Maud stayed on Prince Edward Island, where she lived with her mother’s parents, her Grandma Lucy and Grandfather Alexander Macneill. She lived near and grew to love her cousins, one of the families living at a house called “Green Gables,” but L. M. Montgomery is described on page 17 of Annotated Anne of Green Gables as fine physically, but “emotionally starved.” And a century ago, Maud’s relatives’ views were not unusual. She was a female, her parents weren’t here, and a girl – or young lady – was not expected to need, accomplish or become much of anything. So it was that her grandfather, who passed away when Maud was in her early 20’s, left nothing in his will to his wife or granddaughter, but to the males of the family. Then ten years later, in 1908, something happened that would have surprised her grandfather: her first book was published. In fact, Anne of Green Gables was so popular that it went through thirty-two printings in the first five years. Unlike many other books, it has not gone out of print after a hundred years.
The character Anne herself lived the first part of her life filled with issues that weren’t even “invisible.” Orphaned as an infant, Anne spent her growing years either in an orphanage or in homes as a servant of sorts. She went to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert when the brother and sister had sent for a boy orphan, one who could help on the farm. Then came Anne. She wasn’t a boy, and thus wasn’t really wanted, much like Maud felt through her growing years. It became apparent, though, that Anne, much like her author, had much to offer the world. Some of those special gifts were ones she had cultivated during life’s struggles.
So a hundred years have passed… and who would have thought that little dreamer Maud would bring to the printed page one of literature’s most beloved heroines? Anne is known and loved in Canada, America, and in nations around the world. If you go to Prince Edward Island, you’ll likely see as many tourists from Japan as America. This book has been translated into 36 languages, and people are just as enthusiastic about is as they were when it was first published, if not more so. In fact, one exciting thing about 2008 is that there will be special celebrations this summer, marking the centennial of Anne’s publication. (In fact, a bus tour with Lightrider will embark to PEI for eight days in June. There are a few spaces left, and I can get information for you if you’re interested!)
As she read reviews of her work in 1908, Maud wrote, as can be seen in her first volume of published journals, “…Thank God, I can keep the shadows of my life out of my work. I would not wish to darken any other life—I want instead to be a messenger of optimism….” Though her life held further shadows, I am thankful that Lucy Maud Montgomery was able to rise above those to share this message of optimism. Both through her life and her writing, Lucy Maud Montgomery left a sparkle in this world that is well worth celebrating!
So we did return from my “dream trip” to PEI, and it is fun to reflect back on that special time we had. It was neat to see Maud’s community, to see the legacy that remains in the spirit of the island. I will share other thoughts in days to come – and if you have any questions about our trip, I will warn you that once I start sharing about something dear to my heart, it can be hard to put on the brakes. 😉