- The Intimate Life of L.M. Montgomery
This collection of twelve essays is drawn from papers presented at the Fifth International Biannual L.M. Montgomery Conference in 2002, which focused on Montgomery and life writing. It follows the publication of essays from the 2000 Montgomery conference, also edited by Irene Gammel, and titled Making Avonlea: L.M. Montgomery and Popular Culture (University of Toronto Press, 2002). The quality of these collections illustrates the depth of scholarly interest that has developed around Montgomery in the last twenty years, initially prodded by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston from the University of Guelph, who have since been joined by many impressive scholars not only in Canada but also in England, Scotland, Finland, the United States, and elsewhere.
Despite the popularity of Montgomery's five published diaries and the increasing interest in her scrapbooks and photographs, relatively little scholarship existed on the author's life writing before the publication of this collection. Divided into four parts, 'Staging the Bad Girl,' 'Confessions and Body Writing,' 'Writing for the Intimate Audience,' and 'Where Life Writing Meets Fiction,' this collection goes a long way toward filling that gap.
Montgomery fans and scholars have almost recovered from the shock of finding out, through Montgomery's published diaries, that the author known for sweet children's books was often depressed, had a very unhappy marriage, hated being a minister's wife, disliked many of her acquaintances, and was quite sarcastic. Now they are in for more surprises in this collection, which includes Gammel's edited version of the diary Montgomery co-authored with Nora Lefurgey for six months in 1903. The lighthearted diary was discovered in the University of Guelph Archives by Jennifer Litster, a University of Edinburgh Ph.D. candidate whose provocative essay on the diary is also included in this collection. In 'The Secret Diary of Maud Montgomery, Aged 28 1/4,' Litster notes, 'The [End Page 141] collaborative diary presents another self: a playful, self-confident young woman and proverbial social animal' (98). The second significant surprise is Gammel's essay, '"I loved Herman Leard madly": L.M. Montgomery's Confession of Desire,' which explores the significance of Montgomery falling in love with farmer Herman Leard in 1897 while still engaged to Edwin Simpson. Gammel explains that Montgomery was boarding with the Leard family while teaching in Bedeque, and notes, 'Although the sex act remains unconsummated, there is a great deal of kissing of lips and faces; on at least one occasion Herman kisses her fingers, wrist, and bare arm' (135–6). Gammel further explains that never again did Montgomery show such sexual passion, a passion that Gammel says grew out of a 'sexual aversion' to her fiancé Edwin Simpson: 'This unresolved conflict explains why this intensely controlled woman would plunge into a mad fling with Herman and record every single kiss and caress in her journal with the meticulousness of an accountant. She had something to prove to herself' (140). Historians may be disappointed with Gammel's sources, however, which include interviews with descendants of the relatives and acquaintances of Montgomery and Leard, who are remembering their second-hand versions of the context of the 'affair' a full century after it happened. On the other hand, Gammel's conclusions are in keeping with the codes of behaviour under which the affair happened.
All of the essays in the collection are strongly grounded in theories of life writing that are applied appropriately to Montgomery's journals, scrapbook, and photos. Historians will find the theory applicable to unpublished diaries and other life writing of other women who never reached the level of fame that Montgomery did. For example, Janice Fiamengo writes of Montgomery's depression 'as a discourse rather than a biological fact,' concluding that 'Montgomery crafted an autobiographical "I" whose record of private pain had the power to shatter and rebuild her public identity' (184). Moreover, all the articles in the collection provide inter-textual analysis, usually between Montgomery's novels or her novels and journals, but also between her...