- The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery. Volume 5, 1935-1942
Anyone who fondly remembers childhood encounters with Anne (or Emily, or Rilla, or others in the fictional sisterhood) will find this volume difficult to read. Montgomery's final decades saw her in pleasant surroundings in the (then suburban) Swansea district of Toronto, secure in her reputation, still writing, and with family, garden, and friends to occupy the day. Under this surface lay another reality – living in exile from Prince Edward Island and from the Ontario village where she had found a second home; tending a manic-depressive husband and a troubled son; forced by financial circumstances to mimic the fictions that made her initial fame. This is the story Montgomery records in her journals. (And even then, omissions, euphemisms, and codings hint at other secrets or shames.) There is still more, between the lines: Clearly the instabilities of her husband and son enabled Montgomery, and those around her, to neglect her own steadily worsening psychic condition. And having been chained for decades to her creation Anne Shirley, Montgomery now found herself caught in a cruel chiasmus, of art overtaking life, as the provincial government threatened to expropriate the PEI farms of her friends for a 'Green Gables' tourist site. A Fr(anne)kenstein indeed.
As with most journals, this book has a loosely episodic structure, but there is a common, twisting theme of loss. An armchair analyst might diagnose melancholia, in which the loss, because suffusive, finds odd places to fix: Montgomery's dead cat recalled, nightmarishly, over and over again. (Freud theorized melancholia as incomplete mourning or separation, and saw repetition as intrinsic to it, giving the melancholic a sense of control over what cannot otherwise be worked through.) But it would be possible to frame the situation differently. Montgomery's journals were not unmediated effusions of thought and feeling. Notes and diary scraps were shaped and copied at leisure into ledgers, intended for publication, albeit not in her lifetime. She was a canny editor of her own work and a keen judge of the book market. Thus the journals may be less melancholic than (technically speaking) melodramatic, with the [End Page 143] allegorized sufferings and flattened characterizations of that genre. In either case, the journals' misproportions, narrative gaps, and relentless rehearsals mean that they will provide reading for only the most chastened devotee.
The merit of this book is a scholarly one. It is the fifth and final volume of the Montgomery journals to be meticulously edited by the team of Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston, in a project spanning more than twenty years: The first volume appeared in 1985. Recently a critical cottage industry (the term seems appropriate) has taken Montgomery's works as windows onto English-Canadian culture in the first third of the twentieth century, particularly as providing a rural or regional perspective on modernization. Further, Montgomery's prolific pen and international sales make her important to both 'CanLit' and book history scholars. However, with their restricted focus, these final journal entries principally round out our sense of this author's biography while contributing to the understanding of middle-class life in the expanding ex-urban areas. What is lacking in the entries is supplemented by the painstakingly detailed glosses supplied by the editors and by the judicious introduction, which contextualizes these (sometimes cryptic or fragmentary) entries. Noteworthy, as well, are the carefully articulated editorial principles that Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston have used to guide their emendations and arrangements.
In an afterword to a new edition of Anne of Green Gables, Margaret Atwood focuses surprisingly on the character of the aging Marilla, normally in the shadow of the effervescent Anne. With the assistance of these five journal volumes, cultural scholars may now turn to the tough side of Montgomery's fictions, and the emotional and economic realities that their heroically labouring author knew so well.