Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Anne of Green Gables -- & her author -- were stillbirth mothers

I was in a bookstore during my lunch hour today, & snatched up a fresh-off-the-press copy of "L.M. Montgomery: The Gift of Wings" by Mary Henley Rubio who, over the past 20 years with Elizabeth Waterston, edited five volumes of Montgomery's lifelong journals. (When I actually get to read the thing is the question... so many great books, so little time...!!)

Like so many other girls in Canada -- and around the world -- I read "Anne of Green Gables" when I was in Grade 3 -- and found a "kindred spirit." I quickly devoured all the sequels, as well as the other books Montgomery wrote, and books about her and her writing. I've seen the musical (although, sadly, never in Charlottetown, where it plays every summer) and the movies based on the books, as well as TV shows like "Road to Avonlea" & "Emily of New Moon." My favourite Montgomery books are "Rilla of Ingleside" (about Anne's daughter during World War One) and "The Blue Castle." And "Pat of Silver Bush" and its sequel, "Mistress Pat." And "Jane of Lantern Hill." : )

I read biographies of Montgomery that talked about her lonely childhood... but it wasn't until her journals were released that people began to realize what a double life she led: the fantasy world of her books, with high-spirited heroines and happy endings (although, in retrospect, one can see the dark currents that run through many of her books) versus her constricted life as an upstanding minister's wife, hiding the deep, dark secret of her husband's severe mental illness from his parishoners.

The Globe & Mail recently published an article by her granddaughter, Kate Macdonald Butler, posing the theory that her death in 1942 at age 67 was a suicide. (In a followup article, Rubio was interviewed in a followup article, saying she doesn't necessarily believe suicide was the cause of Montgomery's death.)

I don't think I realized, until her journals were published, that the second of her three sons, a boy named Hugh Alexander, was stillborn in August 1914, when she was almost 40. And not until years later, after my own stillbirth, did I realize that she relived this experience through Anne -- whose first child, a girl named Joyce, dies at or shortly after birth, in "Anne's House of Dreams."

Another book I can't wait to get into...!

Have you read any Montgomery books? Which one(s) are your favourites?


  1. Of course - LM Montgomery has a prized place on my bookshelf! The Blue Castle, Jane of Lantern Hill, and the Emily books are my favourites. I will have to look into this book once the library might have it!

    I haven't reread the series in years, but now that you mention it I do recall Joyce's death, and how impactful that was in the book.

  2. Oh yes, one of my favourite author's. But I thought Anne and Gilbert's baby was Joy?

    I can't check, the copy is buried in the rubble. Oh, for bookshelves.

  3. I've read many of them but it has been so long since I've read any but Anne of Green Gables that I don't remember if I have another favorite. But AoGG is such a brilliant book and she is such a wonderful character, with her amazing inner life and fantastic language.

    Mmm, sigh. I feel like curling up with all of those books I read as a little girl right now. And it's an interesting point about the connection with stillbirth - definitely worth revisiting. Perhaps you should suggest one of these books for the book tour's next picks!

  4. Oh it's been too many years. I think I will have to get the AoGG series and read it again.

  5. Love!!!!

    Have you read the critical essays, "The Fragrance of Sweetgrass"? They discuss how Montgomery's state of mind (including the stillbirth, and WWI), as well as popular/publisher demand, affected the tone and style of each book. Anne seems to fade in and out of some books, and almost disappears altogether in motherhood.

    My favorite Anne book is probably Anne of the Island, because I like seeing her with such strong, witty female friends like Phil Gordon. My least favorite would be Anne of Windy Poplars, because Anne doesn't seem very Anne-ish there (and the Sweetgrass book talks about this).

    I really need to re-read the non-Anne books. Those are all discussed in the Sweetgrass book too.

  6. I love Anne of Green Gables. And you're right: there is an undercurrent of sorrow and loss and doubt, even with all of Anne's strength and smarts. Which is what makes them such good reads.

  7. Whew -- we've been having systems problems all morning & I thought Blogger just ate all your comments without publishing them!

    Mrs. Spit -- would have to check my copy too (& I think it's still at Mom & Dad's...!) but I think her name was Joyce, but Joy for short.

    Ellen, I do have "The Fragrance of Sweetgrass" -- read it some years ago. You make me want to pull it out again! (Another book to read...!) I loved Phil in "Anne of the Island" too. And I think Anne of Windy Poplars was one of her later books (written in the late 1930s), which is perhaps why it has a different tone from some of the others.

  8. I have not but my sister loves Anne of Green Gables. I was never that interested before but you have piqued my interest!

  9. I loved Anne of Green Gables when I was younger and for some strange reason had completely forgotten about them - not like me at all.

    Then on cable a couple of months ago they were airing the TV adaptations and I was thrilled to 'get to know' Anne again.

    I didn't know about this book - I look forward to reading it!

  10. My mom LOVES AOGG!!! You've inspired me to check it out!

  11. I LOVE Anne of Green Gables...rereading it (meaning all of them) sometime in the last 2-3 years, I also was touched by the story of their first baby in a different way than it had touched me in all my previous readings...

    Rilla of Ingleside is my favorite of the series too. :) I'm glad you recommended some non-Anne series books too, I stayed away from them, just because I wasn't sure if I'd like them or not, and I didn't want to be disappointed. :)