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date: 07 December 2019

Montgomery [married name Macdonald], Lucy Maudfree

(1874–1942)
  • Susan Drain

Montgomery [married name Macdonald], Lucy Maud (1874–1942), novelist and diarist, was born on 30 November 1874 in Clifton, Prince Edward Island, Canada, the only child of Hugh John Montgomery (1841–1900), shopkeeper and land agent, and Clara Woolner, née Macneill (1853–1876). After her mother's early death from tuberculosis, the child Maud was placed in the care of her maternal grandparents, while her father moved west, eventually remarrying, settling, and raising a second family in Alberta. Life in her grandparents' farmhouse at Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, was quiet, but Montgomery was part of an extended family with a tradition of story-telling. She learned and practised the craft during visits to her Montgomery grandparents and her aunt Annie Macneill Campbell's lively family. Montgomery was especially close to her youngest Campbell cousin, Frederica; Frede's death in 1919 ended Montgomery's closest relationship.

Montgomery was educated in the local one-room school; when nine she began to write poetry and to keep a diary. Her first published poems and stories appeared in 1890–91, a year she spent in Alberta with her father's second family. After a teacher-training course in Charlottetown in 1892–3, she taught in a rural school, continuing to write and publish her stories. She studied for one year at Dalhousie University in 1895–6, but returned to teaching until needed upon her grandfather's death in 1898 to look after her grandmother. The young schoolteacher had rejected two possible partners, a Presbyterian minister who had been suitable and a farmer to whom she had been passionately attracted. Neither offered her the possibilities she longed for, but life with her grandmother was even narrower. The romantic fiction she was writing and selling to Canadian and American magazines was her major occupation: among her output were stories she liked enough to rework into later fiction. Increasingly confident in her talent and professionalism, and supported by her closeness to Frede and by the interest of another Presbyterian minister, Ewen Macdonald (1870–1943), she wrote her first novel, Anne of Green Gables. Published in 1908, the book was a critical and commercial success, and was followed by a sequel as well as a continuing stream of stories and poems. On her grandmother's death in 1911 Montgomery married Macdonald, to whom she had been engaged for five years, and joined him in Leaskdale, Ontario, where he was minister.

For more than thirty years Montgomery was both a successful and admired writer and a minister's wife. She wrote at the dining-room table in the mornings, and spent her afternoons and evenings in such activities as choir practice, congregational entertaining, and Red Cross war work. The couple had two sons, Chester in 1912 and Stuart in 1915. A stillbirth in 1914, the near-death of Frede in 1915, and the impact of the First World War distressed her, but she continued to write, bringing out more Anne books and a volume of poetry. The Alpine Path (1917), an autobiographical essay, asserted her place as a highly disciplined and professional writer. Annual visits to her beloved Prince Edward Island maintained an essential link. Unhappily, a series of lawsuits with her first publisher over royalties and an unauthorized collection of stories began in 1918, and the dispute was not finished until 1928. More devastating were Frede's death and the first of her husband's series of mental breakdowns, the full extent of which she managed to conceal from his parishioners. Throughout the period between the wars Montgomery's life was a public success and a private struggle, the duality echoed in her two main writing projects, the fiction and the journal. The one was deft, amusing, and positive, though with a strong subversive streak and a sure knowledge of both the originality and the commonality of women's lives. The other was also crafted and edited, constructing and controlling the shadow side of her life, critical, despairing, painful. It was a side that shocked those who knew the public or literary woman when the first journal selections were published in 1985. She published her last novel in 1939, and worked on another collection of stories in 1940, but the now-fragmentary journals recorded her loss of hope for herself, her family, and for a world once again sunk in international war. Her physical and mental decline ended with her death in Toronto on 24 April 1942. She was buried in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, on 29 April.

Montgomery's fictions, both novelistic and autobiographical, have increasingly drawn serious critical attention, while continuing to be popular. Widely read, not only in Canada, her books have been turned into film and television, as well as into a tourist industry. Translated into a dozen languages, her novels are particularly popular in Poland and Japan. Their strong appeal derives in part from their celebration of the natural beauty of Prince Edward Island, but more especially from their celebration of women's lives, and the quiet challenge to the authority of the structures within which those lives are lived.

Sources

  • M. Rubio and E. Waterston, Writing a life: L. M. Montgomery (1995)
  • M. Rubio and E. Waterston, eds., The selected journals of L. M. Montgomery, 1889–1935, 4 vols. (1985–98)
  • G. Åhmansson, A life and its mirrors: a feminist reading of the life of L. M. Montgomery (1991)
  • M. Gillen, The wheel of things: a biography of L. M. Montgomery (1975)
  • L. M. Montgomery, The alpine path: the story of my career, [new edn] [1974]
  • M. Rubio, ed., Harvesting thistles: the textual garden of L. M. Montgomery (1994)
  • E. R. Epperly, The fragrance of sweet-grass: L. M. Montgomery's heroines and the pursuit of romance (1992)
  • F. W. P. Bolger, The years before ‘Anne’ (1974)
  • F. W. P. Bolger and E. R. Epperly, eds., My dear Mr. M: letters to G. B. Macmillan (1980)
  • K. McCabe, The Lucy Maud Montgomery album, ed. A. Heilbron (1999)

Archives

  • Confederation Center of the Arts, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, MSS
  • NA Canada, corresp.
  • University of Guelph, Ontario, journals

Likenesses

  • photographs, repro. in McCabe, Lucy Maud Montgomery album
National Archives of Canada, Ottawa