A precocious red-headed orphan from Prince Edward Island captured the world’s heart in 1908. Anne Shirley, otherwise known as Anne of Green Gables, has withstood the test of time and to this day remains a beloved literary heroine. What about the woman who made her? In many ways, Lucy Maud Montgomery has been overshadowed by her popular creation. Little is known about the story behind the story- the orphan raised by strict grandparents in rural Cavendish, fighting loneliness with the world inside her head. Lucy Maud Montgomery most certainly qualifies as a shero in her own right.
She preferred being called Maud, without an “e”, if you please, and she was born in 1874 in Clifton, Prince Edward Island. Unfortunately, Maud’s mother passed away when she was just 21 months old. At age seven her father decided to pursue opportunities out west, leaving Maud in the care of her maternal grandparents. A sensitive child, she found it difficult to adjust to the life of her traditional grandparents. She retreated into nature and into the world of her imagination. She created a magical escape, a place for her hopes and dreams to thrive.
She kept a journal and wrote daily. She was determined to be a writer and she saw her journal as a way of honing her craft. In 1917, she wrote in her journal:
“I cannot remember a time when I was not writing, or when I did not mean to be an author. To write has always been my central purpose around which every effort and hope and ambition of my life has grouped itself.”
The first step on what she refers to as the “Alpine Path” was having her first poem published. Throughout her teens she submitted poetry and short stories to various newspapers and magazines, but most were sent back to her. In 1890 her persistence finally paid off. A Charlottetown newspaper, The Daily Patriot, published her poem titled “On Cape Leforce.” Maud was just sixteen and this gave her the validation she needed to continue developing her skills as a writer.
Luckily for Maud, her grandparents ran the local post office so she was able to scavenge for material to write on and send her work out to publishers discreetly. Publishers dismissed her work as “sensational fluff” because she was a female writer, and some days she began to believe that she would never be able to support herself with her pen.
Despite these setbacks, she trudged on. She always found time to write- while she was a student at Prince of Wales College, or later at Dalhousie University, she would wake up early before her classes to steal a few minutes of creative solitude. She even worked for a newspaper in Nova Scotia, The Daily Echo, before returning to Prince Edward Island to care for her grandmother.
In 1905 she came across an old story idea she had written on a scrap of paper: “Elderly couple apply to orphanage for a boy. By mistake a girl is sent to them.” She intended to write it as a serial for a Sunday school paper, but the story grew on her so much that she knew she had try to make it into her first novel. She sent it out five times and each time it was sent back. Discouraged, she tossed it into an old hatbox and went on with her life. She became engaged to the Reverand Ewan Macdonald, but was not free to marry while her grandmother was alive.
A couple of years later, she was cleaning out her closet when she came across her old story. She decided to rewrite it and send it out again. To her astonishment, it was accepted by the L.C. Page Company in Boston and subsequently published in 1908. The book was a tremendous success, and Anne Shirley became “the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.”
In 1911 Maud’s grandmother passed away, leaving her free to marry Ewan and move to Ontario to begin their new life. They first settled in Uxbridge but later moved to Norval before finally settling in Toronto. As a minister’s wife she was expected to perform many roles in the community, and yet she still found time to write. She went on to write twenty novels and over five hundred short stories and poems. While Anne of Green Gables remains her most famous series, Lucy Maud Montgomery is widely recognized as a Canadian literary icon. The idyllic world she created in her novels, perhaps a world she wished to escape to, continues to resonate with people around the world.
Written for Sheroes of History by Jessica Young. Jessica is a History graduate from Queen’s University. She has contributed blogs for Sullivan Entertainment (creator of the Anne of Green Gables TV series) and is as a member of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Heritage Society of Norval. They are currently working towards purchasing her home in Norval and creating the Lucy Maud Montgomery Museum and Literary Centre.
Find out more…
If you have never read any of Lucy’s work why not start with her most famous novel, Anne of Green Gables? There are many more books of hers still available (see here), and of course you can watch the various film & tv adaptations too.
To find out more about Lucy’s personal life try reading her journals: The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery edited by Elizabeth Waterston and Mary Rubio