- After Green Gables: L.M. Montgomery's Letters to Ephraim Weber, 1916–1941
'Mr Weber turned out to be an ideal correspondent. His letters ... sparkle from beginning to end,' L.M. Montgomery noted in her journal on 14 November 1904, just half a year before she would pen her first and most enduringly popular novel, Anne of Green Gables. At first glance the pair may not seem like compatible pen pals. The handsome Mennonite farmer, writer, and pacifist in Didsbury, Alberta, had spoken his first English sentence at the age of twelve. The ambitious Maritime author L.M. Montgomery rose to become an international celebrity, and in 1911 made her home in Ontario as the wife of a Presbyterian minister. Their first face-to-face meeting in 1928, after decades of corresponding, was awkward; yet on paper this trans Canadian friendship flourished.
In 1960 the Ryerson Press published their early correspondence from 1905 to 1909 (reprinted by Borealis in 1981). After Green Gables now makes available the remaining quarter century from 1916 to 1941 of this remarkable Canadian epistolary friendship. Readers of Montgomery's journal will recognize some of the topics such as the war, Red Cross [End Page 329] work, religion, writing, literature, and amateur theatre work, to name but a few, but they will be surprised by new details and nuances. The book's treasures also include Hildi Froese Tiessen and Paul Tiessen's critical introduction and meticulous scholarly annotations. A timely addition to the growing international field of L.M. Montgomery studies, After Green Gables also makes available a crucial piece of Canada's cultural heritage in letters.
The correspondences are a window into the life and personality of a busy, multi-tasking wife, mother, and writer who would sometimes scribble 'paragraph by paragraph in odd five-minute dashes.' With her pen ready to spin personal experiences into anecdotes, the letters make for entertaining reading and are permeated by her sense of humour, intelligence, and generosity. The letters show a writer hurt by jealous and hostile criticism, such as William Arthur Deacon's mean-spirited comment that 'Canadian fiction was to go no lower' than Anne of Green Gables. They also show a prickly Montgomery who gave as well as she got. About suffragist Nellie McClung she noted in her 15 October 1922 letter, 'I liked her. She is very obvious. I would prefer more subtlety in a personality than she possesses,' before dismissing the western author with a snide remark about the absence of any 'real ideas' in her speech. About the American imagist poet Amy Lowell she commented in the same letter, 'Amy, by the way is a perfect giantess, very masculine, smokes, swears. This was told me by a personal friend of hers. I was flabbergasted.'
The letters also reveal her talent for manipulation and secrecy. On 17 October 1923, she confessed to Ephraim not to be an authentic 'mixer' in social gatherings and continued, 'I am only an excellent imitator of one – compelled to play the part by the circumstances of my existence. In reality I detest "good mixers" and despise myself for aping them.' Indeed, she was a woman who liked to pose for her audience, in both private and public, but the burden of pretence would take its toll. In the volume's last letter of 26 December 1941, she revealed to Ephraim and his wife her husband's decades-long mental illness: 'I tried to keep the secret of his melancholic attacks for twenty years as people do not want a minister who is known to have such but the burden broke me at last, as well as other things.' Behind this sad letter lies also the implication that this secret was only one of many she kept and managed over the years.
When she died in April 1942, Weber was keen on writing her biography but '[n]either sons nor husband seemed to take any interest in L.M.M.'s great life-work...