Lucy Maud Montgomery (November 30, 1874 – April 24, 1942), called "Maud" by family and friends and publicly known as L.M. Montgomery, was a Canadian author best known for a series of novels beginning with Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908. Anne of Green Gables was an immediate success. The central character, Anne, an orphaned girl, made Montgomery famous in her lifetime and gave her an international following. The first novel was followed by a series of sequels with Anne as the central character. Montgomery went on to publish 20 novels as well as 500 short stories and poems. Because many of the novels were set on Prince Edward Island, Canada and the Canadian province became literary landmarks. She was awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1935. Montgomery's work, diaries and letters have been read and studied by scholars and readers worldwide.
Lucy Maud Montgomery was born in Clifton (now New London), Prince Edward Island on November 30, 1874. Her mother, Clara Woolner Macneill Montgomery, died of tuberculosis when Montgomery was 21 months old (a year and 9 months). Stricken with grief over his wife’s death, Hugh John Montgomery gave custody over to Montgomery’s maternal grandparents. Later he moved to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan when Montgomery was seven years old. She went to live with her maternal grandparents, Alexander Marquis Macneill and Lucy Woolner Macneill, in the nearby community of Cavendish and was raised by them in a strict and unforgiving manner. Montgomery’s early life in Cavendish was very lonely. Despite having relations nearby, much of her childhood was spent alone. Montgomery credits this time of her life, in which she created many imaginary friends and worlds to cope with her loneliness, as what developed her creative mind.
Montgomery completed her early education in Cavendish with the exception of one year (1890–1891) during which she was at Prince Albert with her father and her step-mother, Mary Ann McRae. In November 1890, while at Prince Albert, Montgomery had her first work published in the Charlottetown paper The Daily Patriot; a poem entitled "On Cape LeForce". She was as excited about this as she was about her return to her beloved Prince Edward Island in 1891. The return to Cavendish was a great relief to her. Her time in Prince Albert was unhappy due to the fact that Montgomery and McRae did not get along and because by, "... Maud’s account, her father's marriage was not a happy one." In 1893, following the completion of her grade school education in Cavendish, she attended Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown for a teacher's license. Completing the two-year program in one year, she obtained her teaching certificate. In 1895 and 1896, she studied literature at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Writing career, romantic interests, and family life
The early 1890s brought unwelcome advances from Mr. John A. Mustard and Will Pritchard. Mr. Mustard, her teacher, quickly became her suitor who tried to impress her with his knowledge of religious matters. His best topics of conversation were his thoughts on Predestination and "other dry points of theology." He held little appeal for Montgomery. During the period when Mustard’s interest became more pronounced, Montgomery found a new interest in Will Pritchard, the brother of her friend Laura Pritchard. This friendship was more amiable; however, again, Montgomery felt less than her suitor did for her. When Pritchard sought to take their friendship further, Montgomery resisted. Montgomery refused marriage proposals from both because the former was narrow-minded and latter was merely a good chum. She ended the period of flirtation when she moved to Prince Edward Island. However, she and Pritchard did keep up correspondence over six years until Pritchard caught influenza and died in 1897.
In 1897, Montgomery accepted the proposal of Edwin Simpson, who was a student in French River near Cavendish. Montgomery wrote that she accepted his proposal out of a desire for "love and protection" and because she felt her prospects were rather low. While teaching in Lower Bedeque, she had a brief but passionate romantic attachment to Herman Leard, a member of the family with which she boarded. In 1898, after much unhappiness and disillusionment, Montgomery broke off her engagement to Simpson. Montgomery no longer sought romantic love. In 1911 she married Ewen Macdonald, see below.In 1898, Montgomery moved back to Cavendish to live with her widowed grandmother. For a nine month period between 1901 and 1902, she worked in Halifax as a substitute proofreader for the newspapers Morning Chronicle and The Daily Echo. She returned to live with her grandmother in 1902. Montgomery was inspired to write her first books during this time on Prince Edward Island. Until her grandmother's death in March 1911, Montgomery stayed in Cavendish to take care of her. This coincided with period of considerable income from her publications. Although she enjoyed this income, she was aware that “marriage was a necessary choice for women in Canada.”
In 1908, Montgomery published her first book, Anne of Green Gables. Three years later, shortly after her grandmother's death, she married Ewen (spelled in her notes and letters as "Ewan" ) Macdonald (1870–1943), a Presbyterian Minister, and they moved to Ontario where he had taken the position of minister of St. Paul's Presbyterian Church, Leaskdale in present-day Uxbridge Township, also affiliated with the congregation in nearby Zephyr. They had three sons, the second of whom was stillborn. The great increase of her writings in Leaskdale is the result of her need to escape the hardships of real life. Montgomery underwent several periods of depression while trying to cope with the duties of motherhood and church life and with her husband’s attacks of religious melancholia and deteriorating health: "For a woman who had given the world so much joy was mostly an unhappy one." For much of her life, writing was her one great solace. Also, during this time, Montgomery was engaged in a series of "acrimonious, expensive and trying lawsuits with the publisher L.C. Page, which dragged on until she finally won in 1929."
Montgomery wrote her next eleven books from the Leaskdale manse. The structure was subsequently sold by the congregation and is now the Lucy Maud Montgomery Leaskdale Manse Museum. In 1926, the family moved in to the Norval Presbyterian Charge, in present-day Halton Hills, Ontario, where today the Lucy Maud Montgomery Memorial Garden can be seen from Highway 7. In 1935, upon her husband's retirement, Montgomery moved to Swansea, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, buying a house which she named Journey's End, situated on the Humber River. Montgomery continued to write, publishing Anne of Windy Poplars in 1936, Jane of Lantern Hill in 1937, and Anne of Ingleside in 1939.
In the last year of her life, Montgomery completed what she intended to be a ninth book featuring Anne, titled The Blythes Are Quoted. It included fifteen short stories (many of which were previously published) that she revised to include Anne and her family as mainly peripheral characters; forty-one poems (most of which were previously published) that she attributed to Anne and to her son Walter, who died as a soldier in the Great War; and vignettes featuring the Blythe family members discussing the poems. An abridged version, which shortened and reorganized the stories and omitted all the vignettes and all but one of the poems, was published as a collection of short stories The Road to Yesterday in 1974. A complete edition of The Blythes Are Quoted, edited by Benjamin Lefebvre, was published in its entirety by Viking Canada in October 2009. Montgomery died on April 24, 1942. A note was found beside her bed, reading, in part, "I have lost my mind by spells and I do not dare think what I may do in those spells. May God forgive me and I hope everyone else will forgive me even if they cannot understand. My position is too awful to endure and nobody realizes it. What an end to a life in which I tried always to do my best."
It was reported that Montgomery died from coronary thrombosis in Toronto. However, it was revealed by her granddaughter, Kate Macdonald Butler, in September 2008 that Montgomery suffered from depression – possibly as a result of caring for her mentally ill husband for decades – and may have taken her own life via a drug overdose. But, there is another point of view. According to Mary Rubio, who wrote a biography of Montgomery Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings (2008), the message was intended to be a journal entry rather than a suicide note. She was buried at the Cavendish Community Cemetery in Cavendish following her wake in the Green Gables farmhouse and funeral in the local Presbyterian church. During her lifetime, Montgomery published 20 novels, over 500 short stories, an autobiography, and a book of poetry. Aware of her fame, by 1920 Montgomery began editing and recopying her journals, presenting her life as she wanted it remembered. In doing so certain episodes were changed or omitted. Her major collections are archived at the University of Guelph, while the L.M. Montgomery Institute at the University of Prince Edward Island coordinates most of the research and conferences surrounding her work.
The first biography of Montgomery was The Wheel of Things: A Biography of L.M. Montgomery, (1975) written by Mollie Gillen. Dr. Gillen also discovered over 40 of Montgomery's letters to her pen-friend George Boyd MacMillan in Scotland and used them as the basis for her work. Beginning in the 1980s, her complete journals, edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston, were published by the Oxford University Press. From 1988–95, editor Rea Wilmshurst collected and published numerous short stories by Montgomery. Despite the fact that Montgomery published over twenty books, "she never felt she achieved her one 'great' book." Her readership, however, has always found her characters and stories to be among the best in fiction. Mark Twain said Montgomery’s Anne was “the dearest and most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice". Montgomery was honoured by being the first female in Canada to be named a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in England and by being invested in the Order of the British Empire in 1935.
Her fame was not limited to Canadian audiences. Anne of Green Gables became a success worldwide. For example, every year, thousands of Japanese tourists "make a pilgrimage to a green-gabled Victorian farmhouse in the town of Cavendish on Prince Edward Island...." A national park was established near Mongomery's home in Cavendish in honour of her works. Montgomery's home of Leaskdale Manse in Ontario and the area surrounding Green Gables and her Cavendish home in Prince Edward Island have both been designated National Historic Sites of Canada. Montgomery herself was designated a Person of National Historic Significance by the Government of Canada in 1943. Her life's work does not only live on in print but in movies, television shows and cartoons that have become enduring favorites to fans who have never even read a word she has written.