The Tragic Life of L.M. Montgomery


I often find authors’ lives more fascinating than the novels they write. I’ve written posts about Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott; in the process, I discovered there was more to these ladies than happy endings.

To make it as a writer all those years ago, you needed resilience and character—especially if you were female. Women so feared the ill repute of being a writer that they used pen names.

L.M. Montgomery, writer of Anne of Green Gables, is a woman whose life was not what I had expected. Her life was marred by tragedy, yet she pressed on with her books.

Here are five facts about L.M. Montgomery.

She Didn’t Like Her Name

An author is often connected to their character in personal ways. In Anne of Green Gables, Anne begs Marilla to call her Cordelia. She does not like her name, which is actually Ann, to which she added the e at the end.

L.M. Montgomery did not like her name, either. It was Lucy, but she always preferred to be called Maud—without the e, ironically. She combined these names in her pen name. In her journal she wrote, “I never liked Lucy as a name. I always liked Maud—spelled not ‘with an e’ if you please.”

Here we have a woman who took a pen name, not because she was afraid of what society would think, but because she didn’t like her name!

Her Family Wasn’t Supportive

One thing that doesn’t change over time is how writing is seldom considered a ‘productive’ career. I am fortunate to have a supportive family for my work, but I have many friends who don’t. L.M. Montgomery didn’t, either.

Montgomery’s family thought so disdainfully of her writing that she resorted to working at night by the flickering light of a candle. She did not let their opinions dissuade her from pursuing her passion, for which we are all grateful.

This passage from Lantern Hill is telling: “I struggled on alone, in secrecy and silence. I never told my ambitions and efforts and failures to any one. Down, deep down, under all discouragement and rebuff, I knew I would ‘arrive’ some day.”

Anne Was Inspired By An Old Journal

Many authors keep journals in which they store ideas. So did Montgomery. She was paging through one of her old notebooks when she came across a note she made a decade before: “Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy. By mistake a girl is sent them.”

Montgomery breathed life into her old idea. Her intention was to write it as a serial and submit it to a newspaper, but things did not go as she planned, and Anne took on life as a novel.

Her manuscript for Anne of Green Gables was rejected by every publisher she sent it to, so she put it away in a hatbox for a while. In 1908 she gave Anne another chance, and the book was published.

No Stranger To Tragedy

Montgomery was among the hundreds who caught the Spanish Flu in 1918. Though she survived and went on to write novels, she lost her best friend Frederica Campbell MacFarlane to the illness.

The Spanish Flu was one of many dark times she survived. She also lived through the First and Second World Wars. Every writer and artist knows how tragedy affects our stories.

L.M. Montgomery used her writing to cope with the darkness of war. This is evident in Rilla of Ingleside, my personal favorite in the series. We think of Anne’s world as one of comfort and meadows; in this book Anne’s family is torn apart by war.

She Had A Dark End

On April 24, 1942, L.M. Montgomery died in her Toronto home. Her body was laid to rest in her beloved Prince Edward Island, and a wake was had at the Green Gables House. The certificate blamed her death on coronary thrombosis, but that was not the end of the story.

In 2008, Montgomery’s granddaughter revealed a shocking truth. She believed that her grandmother had not died of thrombosis; she had ended her own life with a drug overdose. The beloved author had left a note apologizing to her family for what she was going to do.

The family decided to reveal this in 2008 to open up dialogue about mental health. It’s important to talk about our struggles, because life has no shortage of challenges to throw us. We should never feel alone.


L.M. Montgomery and her character Anne Shirley hold beloved places in our hearts. I did not read her books until last year; her description and storytelling made me believe in magic. If you want to see these stories from a different angle, learn more about the creator of Anne Shirley.

Are you doing Annetober this year? It’s a challenge in which we read the Anne books in the month of October. I did it last year (reviewing each as I finished) and might try again this year.

In my opinion, there is no better time to read about Anne than in the fall, when the leaves make golden carpets on the grass!