Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Selected Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery

The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Vol. 1: 1889-1910 is probably the best thing I decided to read during my L.M. Montgomery Challenge and the thing I'm most thankful to have spent time on.

Prior to the Montgomery Challenge I had never spent time learning much about the author of my favorite book in the whole wide world (Anne of Green Gables). Instead I chose to spend my time reading the things that she wrote. I assumed that if I started to find out about the woman behind Anne, I might stop liking Anne. It's true that I've had a bit of an adjustment period after learning about Montgomery's suicide. (Ha! I seemed to have surprised some of you by the fact that I didn't already know about that. I tell you I have always avoided finding out anything about Montgomery!) But that has changed and I've thought a lot about Montgomery's death as well as her life. I feel like I'm now in a position to better understand not only her work, but her person. And I feel like I can love Anne honestly, with the blindfold off. It's a good way to love, really.

Vol. 1 of Montgomery's Journals document her life from the age of fifteen to thirty-six. It carries on after Anne was published but before she married Ewan Macdonald.

Within these pages of Montgomery's journal (which, btw, were not authorized to be released until 1992) we find a bright and sparkly girl full of optimism and hope for her future. Although some have described the grandparents who raised Montgomery to be hermits, if you will, refusing to allow Montgomery a social life under their roof, I didn't actually find them to be at all abnormal. Montgomery herself seemed to attend a great deal of social functions outside of the home in her early years. She had all of the friends, parties and boys to flirt with as a fifteen year old could possibly want. It is true that when Montgomery was in her thirties, tending to a grandmother who didn't like social calls (in her late 80's!) well, can you blame the woman? At this point in time, most of Montgomery's childhood girlfriends were married and living their own lives. Montgomery chose a different path and therefore was sort of thrust into a position of being alone without people to "hang" with. I really don't see this as being a fault of her grandmother so much as a fault of Montgomery and/or her time and/or her situation of living in a place where the snow really could keep you home bound! It's also a natural thing in life for married people with kids to lose touch of their single friends. It's regrettable but natural. If such friendships are going to last, it's going to take a lot of effort on both sides and it doesn't appear that Montgomery OR her friends put forth the effort. (The internet would have been a handy thing for them!)

Also, a lot of people seem to note that Montgomery lived a very depressed life. It IS true that she seemed to let her blue mood take over more often than not the older she got. I noticed her foul mood seemed to set in during the winter months, when snow would force her to stay home and indoors. She wrote less in the summer when she had more freedom to be out and about and she was also happier when it was warmer. In some ways, she was very much a victim of the time in which she lived in that no one seemed to be pointing out to her that she might be suffering from seasonal affect disorder. If Montgomery had traveled south in the winter, I bet she'd have been a much happier camper.

However, that's purely speculative. It is clear from Montgomery's journal that she was not a Christian, instead favoring the idea of being able to explore a wide variety of religions and gathering up whatever truths she found along the way. This makes me wonder why she thought it would be a good idea to marry a minister and why her minister husband thought it was a good idea to marry her. Red flags should have been waving all over the place but apparently they were not. I've always assumed that Montgomery attended church but didn't really believe what she outwardly stated on a weekly basis. My suspicions were confirmed in reading her journals.

Next, you have to examine the fact that she kept all of her joys and sorrows inside of herself. She 'kept her cards close' if you will. I do recognize that in the society which Montgomery lived it was inappropriate to "air one's dirty laundry" and she commented often that she would rather die (literally) than have anyone know of her personal mortifications, fears and anxieties. This is the most tragic part of Montgomery - she felt alone.

Who out there has ever felt alone? Raise your hand. And in the middle of all of those raised hands you'll find mine. It's not only raised by I'm waving it about madly!

Of course, we've all had our moments where we feel alone, lonely and are convinced that we are quite different than every other single, solitary person within a 1,000 mile radius. While it is true that we are all different, possessing different skills and gifts, we are also created to fellowship with one another. We weren't made to walk through life alone. God knew that it would be bad for man to be alone so he created him a helper -- and a friend. God created a companion so that man would not have to be all alone, different from everyone else. God created man (AND woman!) with a desire to be in communion and fellowship with other people and to shut yourself away is unnatural. Sometimes it's justified and frequently it's in everyone's best interest to remove each other from direct fellowship but solitary confinement in reality or mental confinement should never be the rule.

It IS painful to open one's self up for the inspection and possible ridicule of another. At the same time, it's a risk worth taking if you ever want to give love or feel it in return. The sad (and pathetic, really!) part of Montgomery's life is that she thought that she was above other people in needing to open up and share her heart and mind with others. Either it was a case of her feeling superior in a social circle or her feeling above people mentally. I confess I too look for companionship with people who are like minded and have the same sense of humor. Wouldn't we all find it easier to be around people who are LIKE us?! It is then humorous to realize that God doesn't work that way. He made us to interact corporately as a body. (Read 1 Cor. 12) If all the "hands" got together and tried to serve a dinner they wouldn't get very far without the "mind" organizing the meal and the "feet" providing transportation from the kitchen to the dining room table. No, we are all necessary to one another and the sooner we realize that the better off we shall be!

I feel sorry for Montgomery because the older she got the easier she found it to remove herself from society. This could be depressing to anyone and so I'm not really surprised that she was depressed. I think weather had something to do with it, as well as her living situation. (That said, I do not fault her grandmother for living a long life and having preferences as to company when she was older.)

These journals ARE helpful to examine not only Montgomery's life but my own. I found a lot of similarities between us. We are much the same. But in some ways we're different and I'm glad of that. In other ways I WANT to be different and will work on becoming so. It's always enlightening reading someone else's journals because you can imagine yourself writing, saying and doing the same thing. Montgomery's journals hit close to home in the best way they possibly could and I'm happy to read of her later years. But not now. I think I need a little break from Montgomery for awhile.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Carrie! I read this journal I was in college. Believe me when I say that I was a VERY devoted fan of LMM as a teen and young adult. However, I was always a little uncomfortable (for lack of a better word) with her portrayal of Christianity and spirituality. Her (lack of?) faith contributed, I'm sure, to her isolation even while being married. It would be difficult to share a close relationship with a minister husband if you didn't share his faith, I would think. Of course, I'm really reading into her life. Interesting post.

Alyce said...

Thank you for this review! I had wondered what the journals were like, and I was disappointed to see that most of them are not available on amazon because they are out of print (in the US).

I was excited to see that my library system has them though, so I will have to plan on reading these sometime soon.

Stephanie said...

Okay, so now I really want to read the journals. I guess it surprises me that she wasn't a Christian, but just because her books come across that way doesn't mean that she is one. Thanks for all the insight!

Anonymous said...

I too was surprised that she wasn't a Christian, I thought I could read it in the pages of Anne...but to read a work of fiction doesn't necessarily mean we read the author.

Neither did I know she committed suicide, how sad.

The Anne books have a real magic and perhaps reflect her true 'soul' more during those happier summer months...maybe if she'd found that Body of Christ to nurture and love her through the sad times maybe she would have been a Christian, maybe she wouldn't have died in such a way.

But this is all conjecture...I suppose I want the writer of the Anne books to have been all I imagined her to be - a sort of older Anne.

Very interesting post, thanks.

Noël De Vries said...

I know what you mean about needing a break from Montgomery. I felt that way, too, after reading her journals. But thankfully, the time does come when you can enjoy her writings again. And when it does, they are once more a delight.

Stephanie Kay said...

I'm intrigued. Now I want to read the journals. {sigh} So many books, so little time to read!

Lori said...

Thanks for this insightful, balanced post.

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