Tag Archives: Lucy Maud Montgomery

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery (1937) #ReadingLanternHill

I’m grateful to Canadian bloggers Naomi (Consumed by Ink) and Sarah for hosting the readalong: It’s been a pure pleasure to discover this lesser-known work by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

 

{SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING}

Like Anne of Green Gables, this is a cosy novel about finding a home and a family. Fairytale-like in its ultimate optimism, it nevertheless does not avoid negative feelings. It also seemed to me ahead of its time in how it depicts parental separation.

Jane Victoria Stuart lives with her beautiful, flibbertigibbet mother and strict grandmother in a “shabby genteel” mansion on the ironically named Gay Street in Toronto. Grandmother calls her Victoria and makes her read the Bible to the family every night, a ritual Jane hates. Jane is an indifferent student, though she loves writing, and her best friend is Jody, an orphan who is in service next door. Her mother is a socialite breezing out each evening, but she doesn’t seem jolly despite all the parties. Jane has always assumed her father is dead, so it is a shock when a girl at school shares the rumour that her father is alive and living on Prince Edward Island. Apparently, divorce was difficult in Canada at that time and would have required a trip to the USA, so for nearly a decade the couple have been estranged.

It’s not just Jane who feels imprisoned on Gay Street: her mother and Jody are both suffering in their own ways, and long to live unencumbered by others’ strictures. For Jane, freedom comes when her father requests custody of her for the summer. Grandmother is of a mind to ignore the summons, but the wider family advise her to heed it. Initially apprehensive, Jane falls in love with PEI and feels like she’s known her father, a jocular writer, all the time. They’re both romantics and go hunting for a house that will feel like theirs right away. Lantern Hill fits the bill, and Jane delights in playing the housekeeper and teaching herself to cook and garden. Returning to Toronto in the autumn is a wrench, but she knows she’ll be back every summer. It’s an idyll precisely because it’s only part time; it’s a retreat.

Jane is an appealing heroine with her can-do attitude. Her everyday adventures are sweet – sheltering in a barn when the car breaks down, getting a reward and her photo in the paper for containing an escaped circus lion – but I was less enamoured with the depiction of the quirky locals. The names alone point to country bumpkin stereotypes: Shingle Snowbeam, Ding-dong, the Jimmy Johns. I did love Little Aunt Em, however, with her “I smack my lips over life” outlook. Meddlesome Aunt Irene could have been less one-dimensional; Jody’s adoption by the Titus sisters is contrived (and closest in plot to Anne); and Jane’s late illness felt unnecessary. While frequent ellipses threatened to drive me mad, Montgomery has sprightly turns of phrase: “A dog of her acquaintance stopped to speak to her, but Jane ignored him.”

Could this have been one of the earliest stories of a child who shuttles back and forth between separated or divorced parents? I wondered if it was considered edgy subject matter for Montgomery. There is, however, an indulging of the stereotypical broken-home-child fantasy of the parents still being in love and reuniting. If this is a fairytale setup, Grandmother is the evil ogre who keeps the princess(es) locked up in a gloomy castle until the noble prince’s rescue. I’m sure both Toronto and PEI are lovely in their own way – alas, I’ve never been to Canada – and by the end Montgomery offers Jane a bright future in both.

Small qualms aside, I loved reading Jane of Lantern Hill and would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the Anne books. It’s full of the magic of childhood. What struck me most, and will stick with me, is the exploration of how the feeling of being at home (not just having a house to live in) is essential to happiness. (University library)

#ReadingLanternHill

 

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Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

There’s no doubt about it: fans of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne series will throng to read Sarah McCoy’s prequel. McCoy was inspired by the brief moment in Anne of Green Gables when Marilla tells Anne that John Blythe used to be her beau. Just like Anne, she wanted to know the story behind that offhand remark.

So although Marilla of Green Gables begins in 1876 with a short prologue in which Matthew and Marilla decide to ‘get a boy’ to help around the place, most of it is set in 1837–8, with Marilla taking a break from her schooling to assist her parents, Hugh and Clara (it’s no coincidence that these are the names of L.M. Montgomery’s parents), in the months before her new sibling is to arrive. Brother Matthew is 21 and testing out adulthood, but Marilla is just 13 and impressionable. John Blythe offers to bring her the school readings she’s missed out on, and later invites her to the Avonlea May Picnic. It’s clear she’s smitten.

Aunt Izzy, a dressmaker from St. Catharines, arrives in time to cheer her twin sister through the impending birth and ends up being Marilla’s new role model. She’s fanciful, exuberant and spontaneous and believes “A young girl needs as much time to dream as possible,” surely making her a deliberate precursor of Anne Shirley. Indeed, much of the fun of reading this book is in spotting the seeds of the Anne books: Clara and Izzy making their famous redcurrant wine and laughing about the time Clara lost a thumbnail in the mix; meeting Rachel White (Lynde) at a sewing circle; a visit to the orphanage in Hopetown; raspberry cordial at a picnic; the Ladies’ Aid Society; and looking to a mistake-free tomorrow.

Before long, though, personal and political upheaval take their toll at Green Gables and drive a wedge between Marilla and John. I found Part Two significantly less engaging, what with all the talk of Reformers versus Loyalists (though I did enjoy glimpses of escaped slaves’ experiences in Canada). I tend not to read anything approaching a romance novel, so I groaned to find that there’s not one but two Mr. Darcy-esque wet-shirt scenes featuring John.

This is not meant to be a substitute for reading Montgomery’s own work; if anything it’s prompted me to reread the original series as soon as I can. While I wouldn’t call Marilla a must-read for fans, then, if you enjoy women’s historical fiction set in the nineteenth century, you may want to pick up this companion volume anyway.

My rating:

 


Marilla of Green Gables was published by William Morrow on October 23rd. My thanks to publicist Beth Parker for the proof copy for review. Sarah McCoy is the author of four previous works of fiction, including The Mapmaker’s Children and The Baker’s Daughter.