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L.M. (Lucy Maud) Montgomery (November 30, 1874 – April 24, 1942), born on Prince Edward Island, Canada. She was a novelist and short story writer best known for the Anne of Green Gables series. When she was not yet two years old her mother died of tuberculosis, and her father left her to be raised by her grandparents. Strict Presbyterians who ran the Cavendish post office, they provided a stable home for restless, imaginative Maud.
Maud started writing on scraps of paper when she was just a girl, and would eventually draw upon the beautiful Prince Edward Island habitat for the adventures of Anne Shirley. One of the sunniest characters in children’s literature, she was an intensely social and curious being who appreciated the beauty of the world around her. Like the other characters Maud would create, Anne had a streak of rebellion and a kind of inner fire.
Starting out as a teacher
In 1893, Maud gained a teacher’s license from Prince of Wales College, and though not quite 20 years old, was put in charge of a classroom. But she had always had the dream of being a writer, and never gave up on it, even as she went to work, first as a teacher, and later as a proofreader and copy editor for the Halifax Chronicle. When she began writing short stories and poems, they were often met with rejection. But with a firm belief in herself, she persevered.
Upon the first acceptance of a poem, she wrote in her journal: “The moment we see our first darling brain-child in black type is never to be forgotten.” At age 21 she sold her first short story for five dollars, and never looked back.
The birth of Anne of Green Gables
After her grandfather’s death, Maud moved back home to take care of her grandmother. She ramped up her work hours at the Halifax Chronicle, working long hours and struggling to find time to write. Though she’d always enjoyed an active social life, she felt her first duty was to her grandmother, and only considered marriage seriously once she had passed away.
Despite her long work hours and the care of her grandmother, Maud never stopped writing. She wrote short stories and serialized fiction for magazines, once she was able to break into the field. A novel was brewing, too, but like many authors battered by the continual rejection of a manuscript, she gave up and placed the worn Anne of Green Gables manuscript in a hatbox and gave up.
After it languished in a freezing attic for nearly a year, Maud decided to give it one more shot, sending it to Boston publisher L.C. Page. Serendipitously, there she had an ally — a Prince Edward Island expatriate named Miss Arbuckle. One of the company’s readers, she was enchanted with the novel’s romanticized Island setting. Miss Arbuckle “quietly and persistently championed Anne to the other staff readers until several supported the novel,” according to Maria Rubio in Writing a Life: L.M. Montgomery.
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How L.M. Montgomery found a publisher for Anne of Green Gables
Afraid to make waves, and eager to see her book in print, Maud accepted the terms given by the publisher. She wrote in her journal:
“I don’t know what kind of publisher I’ve got. I know absolutely nothing of the Page Co. They have given me a royalty of ten percent of the wholesale price, which is not generous even for a new writer, and they have bound me to give them all my books on the same terms for five years. I didn’t altogether like this but I was afraid to protest, lest they might not take the book, and I am so anxious to get it before the public. It will be a start, even if it is no great success. Well, I’ve written my book. The dream dreamed years ago in that old brown desk in school has come true after years of toil and struggle. And the realization is sweet—almost as sweet as the dream!”
An immediate success
Anne of Green Gables was an immediate success — well reviewed by critics, beloved by readers, and profitable. Maud’s first royalty check of $7,000 would be an enormous sum of money by any standards. At the time she received this royalty check, the yearly income for the average worker on Prince Edward Island was $300. Her journals reveal pride in her accomplishment:
“It seems that Anne is a big success. It is a ‘best seller’ and in its fifth edition … I can’t believe that such a simple little tale … with a juvenile audience in view, can really have scored out in the busy world.”
Later, the joy of this windfall would be tempered by learning that she had been cheated out of even more royalties that were rightfully hers.
Yet such fleeting joy is followed with entries like this: “I have had a month of nervous prostration — an utter breakdown of body, soul, and spirit. The hideous suffering of it, especially of the first fortnight, is something of which the mere remembrance curdles my blood.”
Weaving personal experience into her work
In 1911, after her grandmother died, Maud married Ewan MacDonald, a Presbyterian minister. She continued to weave personal experiences with marriage and motherhood into her work after she married Ewan MacDonald.
For her, fiction became a buffer against resentment at the roles she maintained, first as a dutiful granddaughter, then as an upstanding minister’s wife and devoted mother of two sons. Though these roles weren’t entirely facades, her spirited female characters hint at rebellion toward limited opportunities for women.
Her fictional heroines and their doings provided an escape from her own life, which filled up with cares as she entered adulthood. Bouts of depression increasingly took their toll, as did her husband’s deteriorating mental health, worries about her sons, and legal battles over her books. She never stopped writing, though — more Anne books, and other series, including the well-loved Emily of New Moon books. She also wrote several stand-alone novels for young adults.
L.M. Montgomery, Writing, and Motherhood
Seeking happiness for her readers, battling depression
Montgomery held no lofty view of her own talent, though she savored her gift for storytelling and ability to earn good money doing what she loved. Hers was an exception to the prevailing view of writing as an arduous (and sometimes agonizing) process. It was her greatest joy and an escape from the troubles that grew ever more tangled as she aged. Despite Maud’s own episodes of depression, which included breakdowns, she consciously sought to bring happiness to readers.
A difficult end, a lasting legacy of books
In the copious journals kept by , the theme that emerges from Maud’s reflections was that despite her personal troubles, she viewed her writing as a vehicle for bringing joy to others. After World War I, her books slipped in popularity, and she was ever more consumed by her husband’s treatments and deteriorating condition. She herself suffered from a nervous breakdown in 1938.
Fortunately, the dip in the interest in her books recovered. The blend of nostalgia and realism in her works have captivated readers for generations. Anne of Green Gables especially remains a beloved series, and has been translated to film and stage numerous times.
Lucy Maud Montgomery died in 1942 at age 67; there is dispute over whether she died as a result of a heart condition, or if she took her own life.
More about L.M. Montgomery on this site
- How L.M. Montgomery found a publisher for Anne of Green Gables
- Beyond Beauty: The Natural World of Anne of Green Gables
- L.M. Montgomery’s Literary Pilgrimage to Concord, Mass
- Writing Without Time or Privacy
- Writing and Motherhood
- Witty and Wise Quotes from L.M. Montgomery’s Novels
- Dear Literary Ladies: Do you learn anything from reviews of your books?
- Dear Literary Ladies: How does it feel to achieve a breakaway success?
- Dear Literary Ladies: How can a writer deal with rejection?
- Anne of Green Gables
- Anne of Avonlea
- Anne of the Island
- Anne of Windy Poplars
- Anne’s House of Dreams
- Chronicles of Avonlea
- Emily of New Moon (series)
- Kilmeny of the Orchard
- Pat of Silver Bush
- Rainbow Valley
- The Story Girl
Biographies, Autobiographies, and Correspondence of L.M. Montgomery
- Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings by Mary Henley Rubio
- Looking for Anne of Green Gables:
The Story of L.M. Montgomery by Irene Gammel
- My Dear Mr. M.: Letters to G.B. MacMillan edited by Bolger and Epperly
- The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career by L.M. Montgomery
- The Complete Journals of L.M. Montgomery: The P.E.I. Years
- L.M Montgomery on Wikipedia
- L.M. Montgomery Institute
- Anne of Green Gables – Source for News, Blogs, Community and More
- Reader discussion of L.M. Montgomery’s books on Goodreads
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See also: L.M. Montgomery, Writing, and Motherhood
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