- The L.M. Montgomery Reader. Vol. 2: A Critical Heritage ed. by Benjamin Lefebvre
In the afterword to Across the Miles: Tales of Correspondence (1995), Rea Wilmshurst concludes, “There are depths to Montgomery … [that] scholars, critics, and readers are increasingly coming to discover.” Wilmshurst’s assertion, reprinted in the second volume of Benjamin Lefebvre’s ambitious L.M. Montgomery Reader project, is no less true now as readers continue to discuss and (re)discover Montgomery and her work. While the first volume of the Reader collects essays and interviews written in Montgomery’s lifetime, the second volume, A Critical Heritage, assembles twenty essays by writers from a variety of traditions and perspectives, each responding to a different critical moment between 1966 and 2012. Enhanced by Lefebvre’s incredible knowledge of the publication history of Montgomery’s work, his meticulous editing, and the archival work begun in volume one, A Life in Print (2013), this collection provides both “a solid overview of the critical conversation that has been generated collaboratively since her death in 1942” and an intriguing paratextual narrative of that conversation.
Lefebvre’s insightful introduction grounds the essays to follow while offering a comprehensive survey of both the breadth and depth of Montgomery scholarship. In four sections, Lefebvre describes mid-century male critics’ dismissal of her fiction, the “recuperative work” begun by scholars in the 1960s, the turning points of the mid-1980s, and Montgomery studies’ “arrival” in the twenty-first century. This literature review, with its sweep and scope, provides grounding for the commentary and context that introduce each essay in the volume but, most invaluably, opens up the scholarly story that carries through the collection itself.
The essays included in the volume benefit from Lefebvre’s sharp editing and helpful, yet brief introductory notes. These notes contextualize each essay and justify its inclusion in the Reader. Lefebvre’s choice “to include items in full rather than offer a more comprehensive book of excerpts” proves a strength as the essays—all republished from a variety of journals and edited collections—show the arc and range of Montgomery studies. Beginning with the first serious appraisal of Montgomery’s [End Page 439] work, Elizabeth Waterston’s “Lucy Maud Montgomery 1874–1942” (1966), the collection includes texts ranging from T.D. MacLulich’s exploration of the regional (1983) to Mary Rubio’s study of subversion (1992) to Emily Aoife Somers’s examination of the Japanese fascination with Anne of Green Gables (2008). The essays illustrate the feminist, (auto)biographical, archival, cultural, and literary studies lenses used to view Montgomery’s work. Lefebvre notes that Waterston’s essay attempts “to strike a balance that would open up the discussion rather than provide definitive answers.” Lefebvre’s choices seem to do the same: rather than offering representative examples of each and every scholarly discussion in order to summarize them, the essays illuminate possibilities and invite response and reflection. In sum, A Critical Heritage looks backward in order to propel the conversation forward, underscoring readers’ and scholars’ enduring fascination with Montgomery and speaking to the vibrancy of continued discussions of Montgomery’s life and work. Expert Montgomery scholars will no doubt feel that the volume’s weakness is its inclusion of otherwise available pieces, and one might quibble with Lefebvre’s contention that this volume “extends [the] major reassessment of Montgomery’s critical reputation” begun in volume one. But this should not prevent those same scholars from appreciating the framework that Lefebvre provides. Those new to the scholarship will find the “solid overview” promised and an introduction to a variety of viewpoints from which to join the dialogue.
Surely it is no accident that Lefebvre chose to use an image of Montgomery’s A Tangled Web (1931) as a frontispiece. The novel’s title is a metaphor for the multi-voiced debates, dialogues, and confessions that consume the Penhallow and Dark families after the death of their matriarch. The webs of scholarly exchange since Montgomery’s death, expertly collected and reframed in the Reader, reflect the origins and threads...