Today in History (November 30)

On November 30, 1874, Lucy Maud Montgomery was born in Clifton, Prince Edward Island, Canada. As L.M. Montgomery, she published 20 novels, more than 500 short stories, an autobiography, and a book of poetry during her lifetime. Like generations of readers before me, I first discovered Montgomery through her classic Anne of Green Gables series. (Montgomery’s descriptions of Prince Edward Island began my lifelong obsession with the Maritime provinces, which has added to my enjoyment of such things as the Memorial Cup championship and my favorite band.)

While I enjoy the Anne books, my heart belongs to the Emily of New Moon trilogy, which Montgomery published between 1923 and 1927. After the death of her beloved father, Emily Starr is sent to live with relatives on a Prince Edward Island farm. The complex family dynamics and eccentric townsfolk are not portrayed through rose-colored glasses, and the honest, occasionally snarky feel gives the series a very modern sensibility in spite of the rural setting. While Anne Shirley’s literary aspirations were played for comic relief in her books, Emily’s compulsion to write drives her entire series (aside from some soap-opera melodrama in the finale, Emily’s Quest). It is frustrating at times that the reader never gets more than a line or two of the stories Emily writes, but that’s more than made up for by her diaries. I especially love the second book, Emily Climbs, which depicts her teenage years in school. It’s one of the most thorough and realistic portrayals of a young writer’s evolution that I’ve read, and incredibly entertaining on top of that. (In interviews, Montgomery said that Emily was much closer to her personality than Anne was, which adds another intriguing layer to the proceedings. The author herself kept journals, but changed or omitted certain details once fame complicated her life. I hope that Emily’s diaries gave Montgomery the satisfaction that her own could not.)

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