She Was Just Like Us

An Essay By Libby // 2/12/2019

The year is 1874. It is a cold day in November, and as the world awakens in the small town of Clifton, Prince Edward Island, a little girl with a big name cries out in her mother’s arms. Yes, Lucy Maud Montgomery, one of the classic wonders of our world, was once a little baby. Her story may not be so different than yours. Or maybe…it is. Perhaps it will be easier to understand and relate to her if we catch a glimpse of who she was—not as the enchanting Anne of Green Gables, but as she really was: Lucy Maud Montgomery—a girl who didn’t like her first name and insisted on being called Maud—specifically NOT with an ‘e’!

We return to the child, asleep on her mother's breast. Lucy's first year was full of joy and love as her parents delighted in her in every way. But before she was yet two years old, Lucy’s mother passed away from tuberculosis; and her father, upon the loss, left her in Cavendish, in the care of his father and mother-in-law, moved to western Canada, and remarried. Lucy’s early life in Cavendish was very lonely. Despite having relatives nearby, much of her childhood was spent alone. It was during these hours by herself that she developed the incredible imagination and creativity exhibited so distinctly in her later writings. Having no friends, she made up imaginary friends who lived in the “fairy room” behind the bookcase in her grandparents’ drawing room. Their names were Katie Maurice and Lucy Gray. She lived in a magical world—one full of fancies and dreams. Her love of nature was evident in every part of her. Even at a young age, much like Anne and Emily—characters from some of her most famous works—she dreamed of becoming a future wonder, a writer with novels and poetry published all over the world.

At age thirteen, she submitted her first poem to a local magazine. Upon rejection, she burst into tears as she stowed the wrinkled manuscripts in the bottom of her trunk. But, as she later wrote, “down, deep down under all the discouragement and rebuff, I knew I would ‘arrive’ some day.” Perseverance was imbedded in her very being. She never gave up, and in 1890, at the age of 16, after completing her education in Cavendish, her poem, “On Cape LeForce”, was published in the Charlottetown paper, The Daily Patriot. Her life was forever changed.

One vital part of her life, though seldom known to the public, uniquely set her apart from others. This experience she called “the flash” – a moment of tranquility and clarity when she felt “an emotional ecstasy, and was inspired by the awareness of a higher spiritual power running through nature.” A deeply spiritual woman, Lucy cherished these moments, and later incorporated them into one of her deepest characters of all time, Emily of New Moon. Accounts in this vibrant novel describe the tension and the revelations in nature that often Lucy had experienced herself while walking in the woods in Cavendish. While she explains it in many of her journal entries, however, “the flash” is still an enchanting mystery to us today.

But life was not as perfect as Lucy would have liked, for in every person’s life, trials must come. Her father’s marriage was not a happy one. She did not get along at all with her stepmother. So, that year, she returned to Cavendish once more, obtained a teacher’s license over two years at Dalhousie University in Halifax, and, just like the beloved Anne of Green Gables, began teaching in a little school. Though she did not love her work, she admitted that it gave her the necessary time she needed to write.

During her years as a teacher, she did win the attention of many fashionable young men. (At the age of fourteen, she received a marriage proposal, abruptly turned down, of course.) This phase of her life was often reflected in the life of Emily, who attracted younger boys with her slim, elusive grace, yet always snubbed them when they “proposed”.

However, as each young man proposed to Lucy and was rejected, slowly, she began to realize that her prospects were fading away. This drove her to accept the proposal of a later suitor, Edwin Simpson, who was a student in French River near Cavendish. Lucy never grew to love him, but she felt she could not break off the engagement without disgracing herself. While thus struggling with her feelings, she fell in love with another man, Hermann Leard, who had “magnetic blue eyes” and an attractive personality. She spent much time in private with Hermann, whom she loved with a passion. Her unfaithfulness to Edwin, though never known to him, only made her unhappier. In the end, as she did not love Edwin and her family did not love Hermann, she broke off both attachments and gave up seeking for “romantic love”.

During the next 9-month period, she began to work in Halifax as a substitute proofreader for the newspapers Morning Chronicle and The Daily Echo. She was inspired to write her first books at this time. It was in 1908 that her first novel, Anne of Green Gables, was published. By November 1909, the book had already gone through six printings.

The world exploded in bewilderment when they found out that the author of such a brilliant, breathtaking book came from Canada, thought then to be backward and slow. The American newspaper article in Boston burst with the words: “No one would ever imagined that such a remote and unassertive speck on the map would ever produce such a writer whose first three books should one and all be included in the ‘six best sellers’. But it was on this unemotional island that Anne of Green Gables was born…” Her story boomed with success and was applauded around the world. Critics had only good things to say about it and fans joyfully read and reread the masterpiece she had created.

But life was not devoid of trials. Shortly after her grandmother’s death in 1911, Lucy married Ewen Macdonald, a Presbyterian minister. Lucy scribbled in her diary, “I would not want him for a lover but I hope that I might find a friend in him.” Together, they had three sons. Chester and Stuart, the eldest and youngest, lived and grew into healthy young boys. Hugh, to Lucy’s grief, was stillborn. This painful event was later recorded in Anne’s House of Dreams, when Anne’s firstborn child, Joyce, is also stillborn. Such grief she had never experienced before.

Lucy’s later years came with depression. She was often “isolated, sad and filled with worry and dread”. She struggled to bring up her children and to take care of her husband, while sustaining a steady stream of novels. Among her greatest works were Magic for Marigold, The Blue Castle, Pat of Silverbush, A Tangled Web, Emily of New Moon, and of course, Anne of Green Gables. She often dreamed of becoming those heroines who danced out on the paper as her pen glided over the surface. Many a time, she explained, she would have sudden flashes that brought her into another world... only to come back to earth, depressed all the more because she could not be what she created. Who would’ve known that the very woman who dreamed up such stories of beauty and magic had the same burdens and cares of everyday life as we have?

Lucy Maud Montgomery died on April 24th, 1942, in her home in Toronto. Her life had not been a bed of roses. Always, there was something to mar the perfection of each year, and ugliness insisted on creeping into her world. Her choices and her motives were not always pure, and the hurt she dealt with when her husband suffered from illness and when her beloved cousin passed into the next life would always haunt her. Her created characters, Anne, Emily, Valancy, Pat—she looked up to them, catching glimpses here and there of their magic souls. But she was not like them—she was, after all, human, like you and I. Yet, despite these and other problems, she persisted in writing, expressing her love of life, nature, and beauty in her world of words.

Comments

This is so good!! So much I

This is so good!! So much I didn’t know about her. Behind every genius is the relatability of a normal, human life. :) I hope I can mirror her persistence and dedication with my own writing.

Damaris Ann | Tue, 02/12/2019

I don’t thrive off of chaos: chaos thrives off of me.

Thank you so much, Damaris!

Thank you so much, Damaris! It is inspiring to read about the lives of those incredible people who create such amazing masterpieces. And it's a good reminder of how she was just like us...had her faults and her virtues.
Thank you so much for your sweet comment <3

Libby | Mon, 02/25/2019

“The gospel alone is the power of God unto salvation.
Therefore, suffer, yes. Be misunderstood, yes. Be shamed, yes. But do not be ashamed. For the joy set before you, take up your cross, follow Jesus, be shamed and despise the shame!" -- John Piper