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Posts Tagged ‘Lucy Maud Montgomery’

English: Actors at the Anne of Green Gables mu...

I was watching Bomb Girls last night when I saw a clip of a news piece. I wasn’t paying attention, so I only heard a brief snippet of the anchorman saying something about a “controversial new Anne of Green Gables cover.” I haven’t been feeling well, and I could tell from the thumbnail that I was unlikely to like the new cover, so I turned off the TV and went to bed and continued reading another LM Montgomery book. I had every intention of ignoring the story, but I just couldn’t help myself from searching it out this morning, and now I can’t stop looking at it.

If you’ve ever read this blog before you know that I love Anne. I’ve loved Anne since I first read the book and saw the movie. I can’t bare to see her desecrated in this way. Turned into a sexpot, this blond, lounging creature with the confident, provocative smile can’t possibly be my friend Anne. It’s such a train wreck that I can’t take my eyes off it, much as I’d like to.

The publisher has shown complete disregard for the details presented in the novel, and the time period in which the novel was set. (Are we supposed to believe that Marilla would allow Anne to lounge like that in a small town in Edwardian PEI?) But this cover has done something worse than just disregard the content; it undermines the spirit of the story.

Anne of Green Gables is a coming of age story; it’s about growing up, learning how to behave, how to do things for yourself, how to fail, and how to succeed. The genius of the novel is that Anne is a hilariously imperfect main character who is relatable outside of her own community. She grows into her looks, learns to love and accept herself, learns to live in a family, to manage house work and school work, and to trust her peers, first Diana, then Gilbert.

This is story of a young woman finding herself and finding her way. However, this lurid cover  isn’t a cover about a young woman’s story, it’s the cover of a story about a young woman who is being used. It’s creepy, to say the least, to sexualize a 13-year-old girl in any medium, but all the more unsettling to do it in a novel geared to 13-year-old girls. The story is a classic because it speaks to the fundamental struggles about growing up, and it gives girls a space where they can figure themselves out, and where they can see themselves in someone else, and in the other girls in the story. This is a space where girls don’t need to be “on.” They don’t need to worry if they’re pretty enough, or attractive enough to boys, or (shudder) sexy enough. This cover undoes all of the things that the narrative sets out to accomplish. For that reason, I don’t thinks that this cover is controversial, it’s an epic fail!

What do you think? Do we, as a society, need to create space for young men and young women to think about and talk about the expectations they will face as adults? Can literature play this role or is it too prescriptive?

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Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1884 (age 10)

Image via Wikipedia

When I try to unravel the chronology of my interaction with Lucy Maude Montgomery I start to get a confused. I know when it started; Christmas 1989, when my cousin gave me the boxed set of the television miniseries. My cousin was very proud of this gift, as she should have been–it was a very generous and thoughtful gift for a teenager–but I honestly knew nothing about it. So we popped in the movies and started to watch, and the seed was definitely sown: I was now obsessed with Anne of Green Gables.

I watched the movie every weekend, once on Saturday, and again on Sunday, while my mother was working and my brothers were playing Nintendo. I took many trips to the library, and brought home armloads of Montgomery’s books. I read most of them, and cried often because she can be very sappy, and as a pre-teen I was vulnerable to the sappiness. When I wasn’t reading her books I was re-watching the movie. This went on for a couple of years.

Time changes our priorities, and soon I had essays to write and friends to keep up with, so Lucy and I took a break. But we are kindred spirits, and we soon reconnected. During my third year of university, I was in the rare book room, working quietly (there is absolutely no talking in the rare book room), when I heard the librarian come over to the only other person in the room and ask him if she had brought him the LM Montgomery manuscript he was looking for. He made some reply and took the hand-written document and started flipping through it. I stared; all thoughts of the suffragist movement were temporary forgotten as I stared at those hand-written pages. The only thought my star-struck mind could process was: “that’s her writing…she wrote that!” The gentleman noticed my staring and asked if I had read Anne of Green Gables. I replied yes (I was only able to pronounce single-syllable words at this point) and he invited me over to have a look at LM Montgomery’s first draft of Rilla of Ingleside. Even now my heart is beating, and I feel breathless remembering it. I went home that night and started rereading The Blue Castle, the only one of Montgomery’s books short enough for me to handle while I juggled my school assignments.

Montgomery and I were reunited at last, and we have never parted since for any real length of time. Though I was focused on Canadian literature, and one of the foremost scholars in the country works out of my university, I did not study Montgomery’s work formally, and I have no explanation for that. Instead I did my own research, watching and reading every biography I could find.

Montgomery’s life is often described as lonely and isolated. As a small child her mother died of tuberculosis. Not long after, her father left her in the care of her grandparents in Prince Edward Island, so that he could move across the country to Saskatchewan. Montgomery’s father never returned to PEI, though LM did spend a year living with her father on the Prairie. Montgomery’s childhood was strict and lonely, and it was during this time that she developed her keen imagination that would allow her to develop into a writer. As the years went on Montgomery became her grandparents’ caregiver, a position that required more time as they aged. She also excelled at school. She decided to pursue her teaching certificate, and studied literature at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

After university Montgomery held down a couple of different teaching posts; she also wrote and published a large number of short stories. Montgomery’s writing was profitable, and though she had established a comfortable life for herself she was aware that “marriage was a necessary choice for women in Canada” at that time. Following the death of her grandmother Montgomery married a Presbyterian minister named Ewan MacDonald, a man she’d been secretly engaged to for almost 10 years. They then moved to Ontario where she spent the remainder of her life. It was not a happy marriage, and Montgomery was lonely and isolated. She was also attempting to deal with the stresses of motherhood and being a minister’s wife, and she again found herself in the position of caregiver, this time to her husband, who suffered from mental health illnesses for most of their marriage. Montgomery died in 1943 in Toronto.

Montgomery wrote 20 books, 500 short stories, and a book of poetry, and edited her journals so that they could serve as an autobiography. Her best known novel is Anne of Green Gables, though some of Montgomery’s lesser known works include the beautifully written Emily of New Moon trilogy, The Story Girl and, if you’ve read Jenna’s blog this morning, you know she also wrote The Blue Castle, a more mature endeavor, and the only one of her novels set outside of  PEI.

Montgomery’s writing is considered children’s or young adult literature. While I see the appeal for the young, particularly as instructive novels and stories, I think Montgomery’s real appeal is that her writing is so emotionally evocative. Her paragraphs ooze hopefulness and love, and emphasize the important of togetherness and happy social circles. Most of her heroines are women and girls who are looking to feel like they are part of a group. This, I think, is Montgomery’s true genius, to create stories that acknowledge the loneliness and despair that some readers might be feeling, and give them hope that happier times lie ahead.

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