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Reading: Jane Urquhart, L. M. Montgomery, a Review

Updated on June 18, 2013
L M Montgomery
L M Montgomery | Source
Lucy Maud Montgomery (between 1920 and 1930)
Lucy Maud Montgomery (between 1920 and 1930) | Source
First Page of Anne of Green Gables, published 1908
First Page of Anne of Green Gables, published 1908 | Source
Prince Edward Island, Canada
Prince Edward Island, Canada | Source

Jane Urquhart, L. M. Montgomery, Toronto, ON: Penguin Group (Canada), 2009, ISBN 978-0-670-06675-9, p. p. 155


This unusual book, part of the Extraordinary Canadians series edited by John Ralston Saul, shows a rather original approach with regard to some of the claims made about the famous author of Anne of Green Gables (1908). Only a relatively small proportion of the book seems to be about what L. M. Montomery (1) actually wrote in her published works. The remainder of the book purports to be about various other aspects of her life: the real meaning of her diaries (as opposed to the supposedly socially restricted content of her published works, etc.); her supposedly miserable life; her supposed suicide in 1942, and so forth.

And so for the biographer (although describing her as the writer of biographical fiction would probably also fit) the real L M Montgomery is heard if in a diary entry she complains about her friends and relatives, whereas the intricate and often witty character and landscape descriptions in her published novels are not as authentic.

Then much is stressed about what the biographer sees as the writer's miserable life. L. M. Montgomery's husband, Presbyterian Minister Ewen Macdonald, indeed suffered from mental illness and spent periods confined to an institution; and the tribulations of their two, surviving sons are detailed. The apparent, underlying logic of what the biographer seems to be asserting (without quite stating it in so many words) is that of course L. M. Montgomery should never have married a Christian minister and if only the novelist had been more willing more wholeheartedly to embrace secular values and assert and pursue unbridled feelings continuously, then she would have been a much more happy and stable person. Well, of course, the biographer is entitled to her opinion.

To crown it all, her suicide (although the biographer admits there is no clear evidence of it having occurred) was supposedly the merely logical result of the alleged fact that social conventions had made L. M. Montgomery miserable.

To be fair, John Ralston Saul in his Introduction is at pains to state that he did not want this series to appeal conventional, and certainly from this perspective this book succeeds in attaining this aim of the series' editor.

I think also that the genre of historical and biographical fiction is one in which the writer of this book may be said to excel. My feeling is that I learned a lot about the biographer's creative writing skills, and she indeed writes in a sometimes moving and sensitive manner, although the precise identity of her subject matter was not always apparent.

June 18, 2013


(1) A number of years ago my wife and I attended a symposium on L M Montgomery (1874-1942), held at Leaskdale, Ontario; this event included a tour of the former, Presbyterian manse where the novelist and her husband lived. Interestingly, those attending the occasion were privileged to have the presence of a granddaughter of L. M. Montgomery.

MJFenn is an independent writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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