My rating: Probably an 8/10 – it’s a slender little thing, and tells nothing very new, deep, or startling, but it is nonetheless an enjoyable excursion into the life of the renowned author, written in the relatively early years of her successful career.
A must-read for the L.M. Montgomery aficionado, just to say you’ve read it; a gentle, happy overview of the author’s life for those new to her; a pleasant “light” memoir with only a few mentions of the very real and frequently tragic difficulties the author faced in her childhood, teen and adult years.
The book is a compilation of a series of six autobiographical essays which L.M.M. wrote for the Toronto magazine Everywoman’s World in 1917, ten years after the stunning success of Anne of Green Gables had made her a worldwide household name.
Many years ago, when I was still a child, I clipped from a current magazine a bit of verse, entitled “To the Fringed Gentian”, and pasted it on the corner of the little portfolio on which I wrote my letters and school essays. Every time I opened the portfolio I read one of those verses over; it was the key-note of my every aim and ambition:“Then whisper, blossom, in thy sleep How I may upward climb The Alpine path, so hard, so steep, That leads to heights sublime; How I may reach that far-off goal Of true and honoured fame, And write upon its shining scroll A woman’s humble name.”
It is indeed a “hard and steep” path; and if any word I can write will assist or encourage another pilgrim along that path, that word I will gladly and willingly write.
The first half of this slender book is devoted to childhood reminiscences, many of which the author mentions as having been used as inspiration and worked-over anecdotes for her personal favourite of her novels, The Story Girl. Then follows some discussion of the years when she attempted to establish herself as a published, and more importantly, paid author, and of course, the story of the manuscript of Anne, which was flatly rejected numerous times, and laid away
in an old hat-box in the clothes room, resolving that some day when I had the time I would take her and reduce her to the original seven chapters of her first incarnation. In that case I was sure of getting thirty-five dollars for her at least, and perhaps even forty.
The manuscript lay in the hat-box until I came across it one winter day while rummaging. I began turning over the leaves, reading here and there. It didn’t seem so very bad. “I’ll try once more”, I thought. The result was that a couple of months later an entry appeared in my journal to the effect that my book had been accepted. After some natural jubilation I wrote: “The book may or may not succeed. I wrote it for love, not money, but very often such books are the most successful, just as everything in the world that is born of true love has life in it, as nothing constructed for purely mercenary ends can ever have.”
And then there’s this comment, which I rather smiled at; the author having too-late second thoughts after killing off a character:
Many people have told me that they regretted Matthew’s death in Green Gables. I regret it myself. If I had the book to write over again I would spare Matthew for several years. But when I wrote it I thought he must die, that there might be a necessity for self-sacrifice on Anne’s part, so poor Matthew joined the long procession of ghosts that haunt my literary path.
After the evocative descriptions of her Prince Edward Island childhood, the part of the book I enjoyed the very most was the selection of journal entries from L.M.M.’s winter in 1901 of working on the staff of the Halifax Daily Echo, where she performed all sorts of different roles, from chasing down advertisers for copy – once unexpectedly scoring a new hat from a satisfied client – to proof-reading, and making up endings for serials whose manuscripts are inexplicably incomplete. Grand training for an aspiring writer, as L.M.M. points out, with much good humour!