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!

Lament


Leaves will change
From green to gold,
Like they do every year—

But I cannot
Watch them crisp
Without shedding a tear.

The cricket-chorus
Will be gone,
Our bushes will be still.

When frost sets in,
Ice-cold like death,
I will absorb the chill.

Even lovely things
Need sleep
To flourish in the day.

Flowers bow
Their graceful heads,
And I wish they would stay.

Unraveled


Two broken souls met
On the road less traveled.
One longed to forget
That he’d come unraveled.

The other soul, aching,
Cursed up at the sky.
Her every step shaking,
She cried out, “Why?”

Their paths met at last,
And the silence was loud.
Their breath came out fast
In the frost, forming cloud.

Walk alone in your pain,
And you might think it fair.
Meet a soul, and it’s plain:
You were going nowhere.

Wood of Unrest


Stars above flash in their envy;
The Stream below’s crying out loud.
Even the Lady Moon turns away,
Concealing her face in a shroud.

A body of crimson Trees shiver.
Cricket-song rises, protest!
An ancient Wood full of enchantment
Knows no spell to give it rest.

Are these the days of Beginning–
Or is it the start of the End?
We could not comprehend the green,
But let us now pretend.

Why would a Firefly flicker,
Or a Vining-plant tangle in plight?
Were they not made in perfection?
Wouldn’t their burden be light?

What has a Flower to pine for?
What makes Stars fall from above?
Perhaps the answer is simple:
In their beauty, they want Love.

The Grudge


What am I going to do when the season ends and my flowers begin to die?

How will I cope when I go outside in the morning and, instead of seeing a new darling has bloomed, I find the stalks becoming dry and crinkly—these gentle plants that brought butterflies and bees and joy to my days?

I have a grudge against death and its habit of taking things. I know it’s unreasonable and part of me believes death is not the end. But usually all I feel is fear that the end will come.

Now it’s a flower, later a loved one. Eventually, it will be all of us. Let’s hope we inspire people to plant new flowers in the years to come.

A Whisper in a Daydream on a Hill


Recently I learned that a friend with whom I had been very close a few years ago died suddenly. I don’t know the details and don’t think I could handle getting into them. It has unearthed a whole new set of emotions in me, things I had only read about before in books.

There’s the personal shame, the wish that I had been a better friend and not lost contact. It storms with the logical bit of me which says there is no way I can keep in touch with everyone all the time, that sometimes friends drift apart because life works that way.

There are the echoes. In the days since learning of her passing, I’ve found myself remembering almost every conversation we ever had—vividly. Scraps of advice about hair care and whether a certain artist could sing. Memories of that time we bonded over an online game. And when we agreed that a book we had both read wasn’t so great after all.

I remember music she had recommended to me and know that those songs will never be the same again. At this moment, Whisper by A Fine Frenzy comes to mind—with the haunting lyrics I’m down to a whisper / In a daydream / On a hill… It has always been a beautiful song but now it takes on new significance.

Every soul matters. Every friend does, too. It doesn’t matter if you only ever met them online—now I know that, when you learn they are gone, it hurts all the same. It’s confusing at first, and then emotions come flooding in, and you find yourself wishing to go back to that summer a few years ago…just for a while.

Take care of your friends. If ever you feel the nagging sense to say hello, or suddenly remember their birthday, don’t waste a chance. Take care of yourself because people do care about you. And—I would do well to learn this—if you lose someone, it fixes nothing to blame yourself.

I don’t know the details, but I do know we will never chat again, and that song will most certainly make me tear up for the rest of my life. Take care of your friends, even if they seem fine—and take care of yourself.