One of the best loved characters in Canadian fiction is Anne of Green Gables. Written by Lucy Maude Montgomery and published in 1908, it is the story of red-haired orphan Anne Shirley who is adopted by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, brother and sister who live together at Green Gables, a farm in the village of Avonlea, Prince Edward Island. A review at the time proclaimed that the book radiated "happiness and optimism"*.
Movie stills from the Anne of Green Gables a film produced and directed by Kevin Sullivan in 1985 for the CBC.
It is very tempting to associate an author with the characters he or she creates. The personal life of Lucy Maud Montgomery however, was one filled with what she herself described in the dairies that she kept from an early age, as a life filled with "shadows."
Here are a few things about Montgomery that you may not know.
Though she is known for the books she wrote about Prince Edward Island, Lucy Maud actually lived half her life in Ontario. For eleven years she lived with two sons and her husband Ewan in Norval Ontario, where Ewan was the minister for the Union Presbyterian Church.
The Norval Presbyterian Church as it looks in 2010.
Black and white photograph of Montgomery in front of her house in Norval dated September 18, 1932 Reference Code: F1075 Archives of Ontario, I0001763
In 1911, Maud had married the Reverend Ewan Macdonald to whom she had been secretly engaged to for five years. She was then 35 years old.
The small town of Norval is the setting for this post. Montgomery wrote,"I never loved any place so well except Cavendish." The house where Montgomery lived can still be found in present day Norval.
Shortly after moving to Ontario, Ewan began to suffer from recurring attacks of what was then termed “religious melancholia” and which would today be diagnosed as mental illness. Convinced that God disliked him and that he will be doomed to damnation for his mortal sins, Ewan was unable to sleep or to preach properly. Keeping Ewan's illness a secret from the local congregation became a constant source of anxiety for Lucy Maud.
While she struggled to deal with her husband's mental illness, Montgomery also had to contend with her own periods of debilitating depression. Though she continued to establish herself as a successful writer and public persona, in her private life Montgomery was lonely, restless and even longed for death.
Flowers were one of the few pleasures in Montgomery's life. In Norval, she had a kitchen garden where she grew lettuces, radishes, peas, carrots and herbs. After her writing and housework were complete, she often spent spring evenings working with gloved hands in her flower garden.
Spirea and forsythia were among her favorite spring bushes.
Bleeding Hearts flourished in Montgomery's Norval garden
Montgomery loved red currant jam which reminded her of her grandmother's red currant wine.
Today, in the town of Norval there is a lovely garden that was established in memory of Montgomery's contribution to Canadian literature and her time spent living in Norval from 1926 to 1935.
Holly hocks and cosmos were great favorites with Montgomery. They are one of the most beautiful features of the memorial garden.
The large perennial bed below is maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers of the Norval Community Association Garden Club.
A fragrant carpet of Thyme
Fireworks Onion Alluim Pulchellum
I have never seen this allium before. It had the most lovely dusty grey-green leaves.
An exquisite pink rose from the Norval garden.
The town's old school bell forms a focal point in the garden.
Hollyhock in the late afternoon sun.
It has long been believed that Montgomery died of congestive heart failure at the age of 67. An article in the Globe and Mail in 2008 by Montgomery's granddaughter, Kate Macdonald Butler however, revealed the strong likelihood that a depressed Montgomery took her own life via a drug overdose.
Anne of Green Gables continues to be a bestselling Canadian classic even 100 years later. In addition to Anne, Montgomery wrote 19 other novels, hundreds of short stories and poems.
Montgomery managed to keep the long shadows of her depression a secret from the world until the posthumous publication of her journals. Faithful readership were shocked to discover the deep sadness that pervaded the private life of their beloved author.
If you are interested in reading more, there are a number of books that I available. Here are two of the books I read, while researching the life of Lucy Maud Montgomery.
L. M. Montgomery The Norval Years, 1926-1935 Written by Deborah Quaile with Graphics by Jennifer Osborn. Published by Wordbird Press in 2006.
This book explores Montgomery's life in Norval, Onatrio. It includes a wonderful selection of historic photographs.
The Intimate Life of L.M. Montgomery" Edited by Irene Gammel published by the University of Toronto Press
This is a collection of 11 essays investigating Montgomery's life through her journals, correspondence, photography, scrapbooks and writing.
*Quote: Pg 170. Essay by Janice Fiamengo. The Intimate Life of L.M. Montgomery" Edited by Irene Gammel published by the University of Toronto Press