Twayne’s World Authors Series 834
New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992
Anne of Green Gables, the story of the spirited orphan from Canada’s Prince Edward Island who longed for home, family, and true friends, has found a place in the hearts of countless readers since its first publication in 1908. Translated into more than 16 languages and a favorite in countries as diverse as Poland and Japan, L.M. Montgomery’s first novel has all the earnestness, wit, humor, and promise of its young heroine, who was to appear in many later books. In this first critical study of Montgomery’s complete works, Genevieve Wiggins traces the lives and careers of the author, her beloved Anne, and numerous other characters as they matured together.
The early promise Montgomery displayed in Anne of Green Gables was fulfilled in many ways. She pursued her writing career with indefatigable determination, publishing 20 novels as well as short stories and poems. Montgomery revitalized the ever-popular orphan story, curtailing its customary sentimentality and creating believable protagonists who are appealingly honest and not always well behaved. A lifelong lover of nature, Montgomery was gifted in her ability to convey a sense of place, especially the rural Canada of her youth.
A favorite Montgomery theme is that of the idiosyncratic child trying to establish her identity – a theme that continues to dominate contemporary children’s literature. The tougher, more audacious Gilly Hopkins and Harriet the Spy, creations of Katherine Paterson and Louise Fitzhugh, may seem a far cry from Montgomery’s Anne, but they are essentially of the same breed. Montgomery’s heroines are also distinguished by their fierce independence and willingness to question the wisdom and authority of adults. This distinction has largely inspired admirers but may also have its detractors: authorities in occupied post-World War II Poland attempted to ban Anne of Green Gables.
As much as faithful readers have cheered the rebelliousness of Montgomery’s children, critics – and even the author herself – have looked doubtfully on the adults they become. Montgomery accepted the Victorian tenet that stories for girls must idealize woman’s conventional role as homemaker and nurturer; as her protagonists mature, they by and large conform to the expectations of the age. Carrying the imprint of their early orphanhood with them into adulthood, they are motivated primarily by their desire to please and to belong.
Montgomery shared this desire. Overriding her own literary tastes and preferences, she often wrote to win the approval of her relatives, her neighbors, her editors, and her reading public. Financial success was also important to Montgomery, so much so that she overproduced, frequently resorting to stale plot contrivances and repetitious characters and situations.
Despite these drawbacks, Montgomery’s strong comic sense, her aptitude for dialogue, her ability to create a sense of place, and particularly her precise recall of the way it feels to be a child remain worthy of the highest praise. As Genevieve Wiggins writes, “These qualities have ensured the continuing popularity that she so much desired.”
1. “The Round of Life”: L.M. Montgomery (1–18)
2. “Born of True Love”: Anne of Green Gables (19–42)
3. From Avonlea to Four Winds: 1909–1917 (43–63)
4. More about Anne: 1919–1939 (65–86)
5. “Where Airy Voices Lead”: The Emily Trilogy (87–105)
6. Other Series Heroines: Sara Stanley and Pat Gardiner (107–21)
7. Novels without Sequels (123–48)
8. Short Stories and Poems (149–69)
Notes and References (174–81)
Selected Bibliography (182–7)
Reviews by Elizabeth R. Epperly and Mavis Reimer.