Monday, October 27, 2008

Maud and Me: a life in Montgomery

because I have Maud on the brain, I have decided to keep an account at LJ wherein I relay everything I am thinking while undertaking the not-so-daunting task of revisiting her novels.

A preview:

I first read Kilmeny of the Orchard in high school and I cannot remember it making a lasting impression on me.

There is an inscription in the front flap of my copy written by my friend Carol. She writes:" Happy Valentine's Day. I never could get into this one."

In many cases, I can see why.

Kilmeny of the Orchard was originally published as a magazine serialization entitled Una of the Garden. It is a sugary sweet and somewhat implausible melodrama that was pieced together for publication by LC Page on the heels of Montgomery's resounding Anne success.

In the spirit of my experiment, I woke up eager to get started. If Montgomery's work, indeed, has the power to change one's life perspective that this dreary, rainy day was the perfect place to reimagine life in purple hues.

The Monday morning subway commute began my sojourn into Kilmeny's world.

Inspired by the James Hogg balad, the eponymous Kilmeny Gordon is a mute girl with striking ebony hair, creamy ivory skin and deep violet eyes who captrues the heart of Eric Marshall, a visiting school teacher. The scene is Prince Edward Island, naturally, and Kilmeny and Eric's burgeoning romance is overseen by the tall, ominous trees of a phantom orchard where Kilmeny expresses her emotions with her violin.

You can basically deduce the entire plot ( and even the outcome ) by a glance at the back. There is comfort to that.

I googled the Amazon reader reviews of Kilmeny in an effort to discover what other Montgomery fans thought of this lesser known novel.

"Old fashioned." states one.
"A feminist's nightmare!" exclaims another."
another wipes it away with "Fairytale"
Another vehemently advises: "Skip this and read the Blue Castle"
"ho hum" yawns one reviewer
"No plot" surmises another

There were some reviews that describe it as "adorable" and "magical" escapism with little substance.

There really is little substance in Kilmeny but my attraction to the story on this dreariest of days was the well-crafted atmosphere that teleported me to Prince Edward Island and Kilmeny's enchanted orchard.

Montgomery had a great knack of turning extraordinary and magical things out of ordinary circumstances. To her, life had the possibility of being a fairytale; if only you were blessed, born of the "Race of Joseph" and kindred spirit enough to see it so.

As such, and as product of her love of nature, Montgomery infuses every page with colour and light and romance.

"The wonder of her grew upon him with every passing moment," the narrator relays of Kilmeny and Eric's budding romance.

This romance is set amidst beautiful, muted pastels: "It was just after sunset", the reader is told, " and the distant hills were purple against the melting saffron sky in the west and the crystalline blue of the sky in the south. Eastward, just over the fir woods, were clouds white and high heaped like snow mountains and the westernmost of them shone with a rosy glow as of sunset on an Alpine height"

Who doesn't want to sink into a world sharded completely in colours: tangible, tasty colour. It calms your mood just thinking about it and, for me, stripped away the nondescript grey of my office building to a rainbow world beyond.

The reader discovers that Kilmeny prefers to remain isolated in her orchard and the aforementioned landscape with her violin and her thoughts and you can really see why. Especially, when she uses her voice to infuse the lyrics and ginger sounds of nature: "She began playing an airy, delicate little melody that sounded like the laughter of daisies."

Maud was always brilliant with the turns of simile. Nature to Kilmeny, as to many of Maud's heroines, beomes a companion: the lilies, the wind, all her friends. This theme of nature as friend is oft delineated in the way the heroine either names the natural spots around her ( i.e. the Lake of Shining Waters, for an obvious example ) or becomes " of " that place in intricate connection, such as Kilmeny of the Orchard.

Because my mind is filled with wondrous caverns of Victorian literary knowledge ( mounting on obsession), I was delighted that my ramble in the world of Kilmeny hosted a Brotean reference. Exotic, Italian outside Neil Gordon: who is situated near Kilmeny and her adoptive guardians, longs and yearns for Kilmeny much in the way that dark outsider Heathcliff prowls Catherine's grounds. In one particularly melodramatic moment, Neil is described with "the untamed fury of the Italian peasant."

I enjoyed my visit to Kilmeny's world today and particularly relished the introductory chapters setting up Eric Marshall's close friendship with the elder David Baker. The novel begins in Halifax with a rather pointed description of the hills lining the harbour up to the Citadel. I can attest to these hills and love that Montgomery takes me right to places I have previously been in... and loved.

Perhaps magic fairyland is on my doorstep after all.

Did my time with Kilmeny change my perspective? Well, during lunch hour: whilst slurping soup and gazing dreamily, chin-in-hand at the font of this darling little book, I stumbled upon a quote I highlighted: "I have so many thoughts and it seems so slow to write them out... some of them get away." Kilmeny states this to Eric in reference to the fact that her speech impediment forces her to write her end of their conversation. But how true those words resounded to my imaginative-writer mind.

It set me to thinking that perhaps Kilmeny does not hold up to the other novels ( atleast at this part through ) because she is stripped of a voice. Emphatic, considering that Montgomery's beloved heroines were loud and vocal and independent. It was their tongues and words that beguiled the villages and men around them. In many cases, too, their voices as emblemized by their pens. I don't just refer to the fact that Kilmeny is mute but that she is, indeed, a feminist's nightmare: a pretty, silent innocent girl who, upon feeling Eric's possessive kiss, steps away from her child and the protective bounds of her gorgeous orchard.

I found myself momentary incensed by this telling silence until I took a step back into the language and colourful world. See, I promised as much as I could to shelf my modern sensibilities on the shelf. If Kilmeny's charming and utopic orchard exists and a dashing and compassionate hero like Eric finds her there, what need has she to assert a voicde? If not challenged, must a heroine need to lash out? Perchance her many musings with Eric over books and current events will be enough to sustain her.

Did my mood improve today as I sauntered through Kilmeny? Perhaps I would have been humming those strains of distant tune anyways
Perhaps the grey of my desk and the outside world ---out the window of my office and the Toronto skyline would have peeled to the possibility of enchantment beyond.

This daydreamer does know that today---paperclipping business cards to letters and licking envelopes and answering incessant emails --- redundant tasks all --- allowed her mind to escape elsewhere to a sleepy orchard world. I don't know if I want to be trapped in Kilmeny's world: I rather think it would be akin to being shaken in a snow globe ---- but, it is rather titillating to imagine what goes on.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Dear Maud,

My apologies if you think it rather informal of me to use your first name---but I think by this time, we should be on a first name basis, don't you?

I am writing to express some concerns I have. Not with you...god, no! You're fine and brilliant --- I lavish you with lofty laurels of praise daily. I write, instead, to express my disdain for a certain person of the same lineage as you.

Do you need some back story? Thought so. Most happy to oblige:

To start, you're quite on the tips of the tongues of most Canadians right now...

Fear not, old friend, the ever classic Mary Rubio has quelled the inopportune and distasteful suicide blurt while synonymously encapsulating your life faithfully in her new biography ( released early, which I argue, was to dispel the wagging tongues of those who couldn't loop a coherent sentence without the words: "Montgomery" and "suicide"). She has done you justice and the biography ( as prompted by your youngest son, Stuart) is definitive.

There's also, of course, the matter of the Anne Centenary: which has fickle Kevin Sullivanites plodding your treasured golden land of opal, red and turquoise in noisy droves. Oh, and some amateur playwright penned what is undoubtedly a travesty, a musical version of your life, cattily entitled: The Nine Lives of LM Montgomery . I know! You hate that, don't you ?

Thank the good lord you are spared those debacles.

But I will remain relatively laconic on those issues and delve into an issue pervading my realm of your scholarship.

I must tell you about KMB ( I concede the best way to handle her is to squish her name into monogram --- just in case some googlers get out of line ). You won't remember her, of course, because even though she is your granddaughter, her birth evaded your passing by some years.

Unfortunately, most of your followers ( not the authentic ones, mind, but the Sullivanites ) have made her into a full-blown celebrity.

Evidently, as KMB is constant proof, you can be famous and revered having done absolutely ( and I mean absolutely in the absolutest of senses) nothing. Pardon my italics, will you, I need to exude emphasis for the part of my brain forever in line with yours teeters desolately on this subject.

Last night, a revered Canadian Children's literature expert gave a lecture in your honour ( not Anne's honour as so many of the sub par events I have attended this year have turned out to be but yours). Aforementioned lecturer spoke of your tremendous influence on Canadian Children's literature and the indelible stamp you have forged on your literary heirs. Albeit, not your direct descendants, your heirs, I feel , in the truest sense of the word.

I arrived at the lecture slightly before its commencement to secure my seat and bury my nose in my book. I was subsequently tapped on the shoulder thrice by limpid Anne-ites begging: "Tell me, who is the granddaughter?"

Pathetic, eh?

Moreso when I tell you that she knows little of your work. Atleast that is what one has to assume given that a.) I have heard her speak and her knowledge seems minimal b) she ratted out the whole "suicide thing" at the same time as the Centenary celebrations ( how do you spell crass again? ) c.) she authenticated ( indeed, commissioned) a prequel entitled Before Green Gables. It seems sacreligious to breath its syllables and relay its full-bodied tragedy so, alas, I will leave you but a skeletal outline: Walter and Bertha Shirley's romance.

Do you need me to re-adjust you upright again, Maud, in your grave? Because your serene poise of eternal rest just took quite a tumble.

Don't blame you, dear soul.

I pointed out KMB, just in case you were wondering, and expressed her as she is: dyed blonde hair, oft-bespeckled, a hairband hoisting her severe bangs in a gaudy belfry atop her peaked face.

I am sorry to speak ill of one of your descendents, but I thought you should know you were being capitalized on. More than Sullivan, the stamps and coins, the Girl Guide Cookies (!!!) and the Niagara Falls-esque horror show lining the now-tortured and meretricious road to Cavendish is a woman who sold your "secret" to the Globe and Mail and the dignity of your writing to an exorbitant prequel.

I guess she expected to send another shockwave of your burgeoning popularity ( already potent and steady due to Anne's birthday ) in a pulsating undercurrent through the popular consciousness.

I don't try to reconcile myself to KMB's ill timed and ill-manouevered wish to out your private affairs and the manner of your death to the masses..... Maybe her long, bulging pockets ( laden with the fruits of your artistic labour ) feared the stealthy sounding of your multi-syllabled name would sink quietly back to its modest background.

As aforementioned, and most hearteningly, Mary Rubio countered the insanity with an eloquent extrapolation of the events. And, fortunately, the influx of ignorant comments polluting the internet have stilled and ceased.

There, Maud, it's all off my chest.

I hope you are resting well in the knowledge that I will brandish your name proudly. I will wave it high and defend it to the death.

The KMBs of the world are easily squelched!

So, dear Maud of the purple prose, ironic wit... you proclaimed painter of words, of fairystories, who tipped behind the veil of sodden reality to reveal jewelled sentences strung tautly like the faux pearl beads you bought in the West End Woolworth's Dept. Store, I sign off.

For now.

Thanks for everything. Next time I'll tell you about how elated I felt to realize Barney Snaith was based on a real person!

Your absolutely devoted,


(p.s. What is up with Dean Priest? )