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L . M . M O N T G O M E R Y ’ S P O R T R A I T S O F T H E A R T I S T : R E A L I S M , I D E A L I S M , A N D T H E D O M E S T I C I M A G I N A T I O N T. D. MACLULICH 2 \nne of Green Gables (1908) and Emily of New Moon (1923) are gene­ rally accepted as L. M. Montgomery’s best books. These two novels tell the stories of spirited and imaginative girls who struggle towards maturity in societies that attach little value to the imagination or to individual selffulfilment . In fact, Emily of New Moon and, to some extent, Anne of Green Gables are worthy anticipations of the portraits of young female artists that are given in the works of later writers such as Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro. I mention Montgomery in conjunction with Laurence and Munro in all seriousness. Like them, she had the ambition to write “serious” fiction, and she took as a major theme of her work a subject that Laurence and Munro have now made familiar to all readers of our fiction: the develop­ ment of a young female artist. Montgomery’s best work, then, announces the beginning of a struggle for self-expression by Canadian women writers that has continued virtually to the present day. In both her work and her life, however, Montgomery drew back from claiming the full personal autonomy that later writers have demanded. Some critics grow visibly exasperated when they are forced to deal with Montgomery’s work. Their patronizing comments make it plain that they see Montgomery as a writer of sentimental fiction who once had the luck to stumble on a formula that touched a universal nerve.1 But Montgomery was, in intention at least, a more committed and a more serious writer than is generally recognized. However, I must be careful in stating my thesis. I do not want to make an absurdly inflated claim for Montgomery as an instance of neglected greatness, though I do feel that Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon deserve a more thoughtful consideration than they are usually given. Rather, my claim is that Montgomery’s career reveals a good deal about the literary and social climate shaping — and sometimes retard­ ing — the development of Canadian fiction during the turn-of-the-century era. In particular, an examination of both Montgomery’s fiction and her ideas about literature highlights several of the forces that hindered her from consistently attaining the level of excellence she exhibits in her best work. E n g l is h S t u d ie s in C a n a d a , x i, 4, December 1985 I Throughout her life, Montgomery told stories. As a young girl, she invented tales of sentiment or piety, modelled on popular romantic fiction such as that she read in Godey’s Lady’s Book, in which “villains and villainesses were all neatly labelled and you were sure of your ground.” 2 One of her most striking early efforts was a lugubrious saga titled “My Graves,” which detailed the sufferings of a Methodist minister’s wife who buried a child in every one of her husband’s postings, on a journey that took her from New­ foundland to British Columbia.3 As she grew older, however, Montgomery learned that fiction could be built around the ordinary doings of the people of her native Island. Eventually, in her twenty novels and several books of stories, Montgomery created a pastoral image of Prince Edward Island that endures to the present day. Montgomery thought of her fiction as realistic, in that it presented charac­ ters and situations resembling the people and events she had observed during her own childhood. Moreover, her best fiction contains dialogue that is lively and colloquial, and she displays an alert eye for those personal foibles that make literary characters amusing and endearing. Yet, on the whole, Mont­ gomery’s fiction presents what to modern eyes appears to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1913-4835
Print ISSN
0317-0802
Pages
pp. 459-473
Launched on MUSE
2019-04-03
Open Access
No
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