Happy Birthday, LMM
135 years ago today, a little girl was born in a small town called Clifton. She would one day become a world-famous author.
Her mother died when she was only 22 months old. The little girl's only memory of her mother is at the funeral, of her mother lying in her casket, looking asleep, and the girl wondering why everyone was crying and giving her sympathetic looks. That memory would one day show up in a book called Emily of New Moon.
Her father remarried and moved out west, so she was raised by her rather strict grandparents. She did spend a year or so with her father during her adolescence, but it was a miserable time, and she longed to be home with her cousins and friends, so she went back to live with her grandparents.
Later on, she went to college and at one point became a school teacher, sleeping in a room so cold in the winter that her wash water and ink bottle would freeze overnight.
Even so, she had aspirations to be a writer, so she got up early before school, lit a fire, got the ink workable, and hand-wrote short stories and poetry. Some of that work she published in magazines, which helped to keep her finances afloat.
Later, she worked at a newspaper proofing copy as articles flew down a chute at her. She no longer had the luxury of quiet time to write, but she found a way to write with the loud noises of the printer banging around her and in the snippets between the times articles shot down the chute. She had more acceptances during this period.
Eventually, however, she had to return home to care for her ailing grandmother, who had raised her. At this point, she managed to sell dozens of short stories, and she kept sending them off, something easy to do since the family ran the local post office. (In fact, that's how she sent off her first submission without anyone ever knowing about it.)
During a particularly harsh winter, she had a deep depression and nervous breakdown, and the local minister, named Ewan, a bachelor, became a dear friend who helped her through that time. He proposed, and she accepted, on the condition that she couldn't marry until her grandmother had passed away. He agreed, but his ministry called him away a year or so later, and they had a long-distance engagement for several years.
She admitted in her journal that she was never "in love" with him, but she loved him dearly as a friend and couldn't imagine her life without him, but at her age, that was the best she could hope for.
During this time, she decided to try her hand at a novel instead of short stories. She flipped through her idea notebook, where she always jotted down random ideas that came to her, and she came across one that seemed like a fun one to explore: a couple who wants to adopt a boy and accidentally gets sent a girl.
That book was rejected a few times, but eventually it found a home. Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908 and became a break-out success.
In the last 101 years, it has since been translated into dozens of languages, made into several movies and a musical, and continues to be a beloved classic. Her readers demanded many sequels. Her life as a famous novelist began.
When her grandmother died, Ewan returned, and they married. She was 38.
Right away, they left what was her home and moved far away. She would never live there again, only visit it, but she most of her future writing career would be focused on her old stomping grounds, and the world would love her for it.
She had three children, all boys. The second was stillborn due to a knot in the umbilical chord. She named him after her father, Hugh. She never quite got over losing him, even giving a similar loss to a character in one of her books.
In spite of the happy, almost magical, tone of her books, she led a sad life filled with depression, largely due to her husband's mental illness and tendency toward being a hypochondriac. Her eldest son, Chester, gave her much grief, failing in college, having an extra-marital affair, becoming a liar and a cheat, and so forth--things that made her completely heartsick.
She and her husband both had chronic depression and were dependent on prescription medications. She was generous, almost to a fault, with readers and fans, and frequently loaned money to family (which she often never got back). When her husband became too ill to work as a minister (and keep a congregation happy), she became the primary breadwinner of the family.
This was particularly difficult during the Depression, when buying books became a luxury for most people, and her income suffered dramatically as a result.
She kept a journal from the time she was a young girl almost until the end of her life. She nearly stopped writing in it during her final years. Quite often she wrote entries on other pieces of paper or in notebooks and later transcribed them into her journal.
The last one in the published version of her journals is supposedly such a note, written about a month before her death, but it was found on a table next to her body, and some people believe it to be a suicide note. We'll never know conclusively whether she died of natural causes or if she had a hand in it, as an autopsy was never performed.
"Since then my life has been hell, hell, hell. My mind is gone--everything in the world I lived for has gone--the world has gone mad. I shall be driven to end my life. Oh God, forgive me. Nobody dreams what my awful position is."
Whatever happened at the end of her life, I hope she's a happier woman now on the other side and has found some semblance of peace, particularly since she brought so much joy--and continues to bring that joy--to the millions who read her books.
I can honestly say that of all writers out there, L. M. Montgomery has had the most profound impact on me as a writer. That could be because of the age I was when I discovered her work or the friends I had who also loved her stories. As I've said before, I'm not just an Anne fan.
Rather, I am fascinated by L. M. Montgomery the mother, the wife, the writer . . . the woman. I can point to elements in my own work that have been directly impacted by hers. Today I'm remembering her and honoring her.
Happy birthday, Maud.
May you truly rest in peace.