L.M. Montgomery by Jane Urquhart

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I had no idea that the author of Anne of Green Gables led such a sad life. You would certainly never suspect it from L.M. Montgomery’s bright and optimistic novels that include sentences like this one from Anne of Avonlea: “After all…I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”  I’m sure there were a few sweet days in Montgomery’s life, but after reading Jane Urquhart’s biography, L.M. Montgomery, it doesn’t sound like there were too many.

It seems like I should have read something about Montgomery’s life before now, but recently, looking through an embarrassing number of books I own, but have never read, I found Urquhart’s biography of the creator of Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon and many others. Because I watched the television series starring Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla Cuthbert, I wrongly assumed Montgomery lived a happy life complete with red braids and “bosom friends,” but that image could not be further from the truth. Montgomery did have one “kindred spirit and bosom friend,” her cousin Frederica. Frede and Maud shared a deep and joyous friendship, but even that happiness was cut short when Frede died from Spanish influenza.

The basic facts are these: Maud Montgomery’s mother died when she was not yet two-years-old. She was sent to live with her grandparents who Urquhart describes this way: “Grim-countenanced, short on humour, drained by the effort of already having raised six children of their own…”  Things didn’t improve when she married. Maud’s husband was a clergyman who was mentally ill. “He was given to staring in a fixed, unblinking way at nothing in particular and would not speak unless he was spoken to, and sometimes not even then,” Urquhart writes. By the time I finished reading this biography, I admired Montgomery’s imaginative and spirited novels even more.

Besides learning about Maud Montgomery’s life, there was one unexpected benefit of reading this book – it made me want to read more by its author, Jane Urquhart. Her name was familiar to me, but I had never sought out any of her novels. Urquhart’s story of a fellow Canadian is beautifully written; I liked some of her sentences so much that I want to read one of her novels. A quick web search points me toward The Stone Carvers or A Map of Glass.  My reading list keeps growing!

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