Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Sad True Story

I just finished reading a short biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery, written by Jane Urquhart, as part of the "Extraordinary Canadians" series. When I turned the final page I was heartbroken. This woman who possessed such an amazing imagination and talent as to be able to create such fascinating characters and stories was miserable most of her life. She spent her childhood as an orphan starved for love. Her professional career was overtaken by law suits against her publisher (which, after many agonizing years, she won in the end). She married a mentally ill man whom she did not love, and gave birth to two sons whose adolescent and young adult behaviour provided her with nothing but heartache. How did someone whose life was characterized by such misery invent the luminescent Anne Shirley? How did she dream up all her happy endings, when they consistently eluded her in her own life?

As an 11-year-old girl living in PEI, I considered myself quite an authority on all things Anne Shirley. I read all the books in a span of a couple of years. I lived for visits to Cavendish, where I could visit her home and play in her "Rainbow Valley". When Anne cried, I cried. When she rejoiced, I rejoiced. When I was lonely, she became my kindred spirit. In all the hundreds (thousands?) of books I've read, I can't think of a character whom I've loved more than Anne. To this day, there has never been a theatre production that I have loved more than "Anne of Green Gables: The Musical". I could watch it a thousand times! I can't wait until the day when I take my own children to see it. I watched the premier of the "Anne of Green Gables Miniseries" in awe, loving every minute. And I picked out all the "editorial changes" in the sequels, and declared them "not really Anne stories". I knew Anne thoroughly. But it seems I did not know Maud at all.

As an avid fan and amateur writer, I think I've always believed that Montgomery's crowning achievement was to write a book, to create a character, who is so loved around the world that people flock by the thousands to see "Avonlea" every year. And such success must lead to endless happiness, right? Not true. I'm sure that Maud rejoiced when she held in her hands each precious published work, but they did not make up for what was lacking in her personal life. Anne must be a part of Maud, to a certain extent, but she must have been the very happiest part of her. I think Anne was the hope in Maud. Anne and Emily and Sarah and Pat and Kilmeny and all her other much loved characters. It would seem that she left us with the very best part of her life. And I am grateful.

And I'm adding all the L. M. Montgomery books that I haven't read to my reading list for this fall. So I can learn a little bit more about the very best parts of my favourite author.

1 comment:

  1. I did not know any or thay either. How sad. I bought every book I could find of hers while we lived on the island that summer. I had nothing to do but read and clean a travel trailor!