Lucy Maud Montgomery: a Maritime Cinderella
One hundred years ago, Anne of Green Gables introduced readers to one of the most enduring characters in fiction and launched Canada's most lucrative literary franchise. The heartwarming story of the plucky red-headed orphan has gone on to sell hundreds of millions of copies and become the basis for an unprecedented television phenomenon. But behind the fictional and feisty Anne Shirley lurked the often-tormented life of author Lucy Maud Montgomery. CBC Archives takes a look at the life, death and lasting legacy of the woman who created Anne.
This clip from CBC Radio's Morningside has host Peter Gzowksi examining Lucy Maud's difficult early years as "an emotional orphan" and how it helped shape her as a writer.
• By all accounts her young life as the only child of a young married couple in a P.E.I. farming town was trouble-free.
• That all changed in October 1876 when her 23-year-old mother died of tuberculosis at her parents' home in nearby Cavendish, P.E.I. Lucy Maud was just 21 months old.
• Without any other children to help him, Hugh John Montgomery decided to leave his only child in the care of his late wife's parents.
• Lucy Maud would live in the Atlantic fishing and farming community for the bulk of the next 35 years until her grandmother's death in 1911.
• Lucy Maud's grandparents, who were in their 50's and had already raised six children, accepted her but largely out of a feeling of duty and family responsibility.
• Devoutly Presbyterian, they restricted her from playing with other children and frowned on outward displays of emotion. They also resented Lucy Maud's devotion to her absent father, who drifted around P.E.I. for years before finally moving to Prince Albert, Sask., in 1884.
• As Peter Gzowski points out in this clip, the Macneills "weren't exactly Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert," — the kindly, adoptive parents from Anne of Green Gables. At best, her new caregivers tolerated Lucy Maud and were often harsh to their granddaughter.
• In her journals Lucy Maud recalls being bedridden over the winter with the flu. In the middle of the night her grandfather came in to check on her, commenting "You'll be dead by the spring, just like your mother."
• Unlike her most famous creation Anne Shirley, Lucy Maud technically wasn't an orphan. Reflecting on her lonely upbringing in the first volume of The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery (1985), she referred to herself as an "emotional orphan" who was deprived of a loving environment despite growing up with family members.
• Her emotionally stunted relationship with her grandparents forced the young Lucy Maud to create imaginary friends for herself. She also named trees and plants, including a Geranium named "Bonnie," and took long walks on the nearby beach and a country path she dubbed "Lover's Lane."
• As she grew up she began spending much of her free time at a home across the street that was owned by David and Margaret Macneill, Lucy Maud's cousins. Since they were relatives, Lucy Maud's grandparents approved of the increasing amount of time she spent there.
• Her cousins' home and farm would later be cited by Lucy Maud as the inspiration for the home in her 1908 debut Anne of Green Gables.
• When she was nine years old Lucy Maud began to funnel many of her personal thoughts and feelings into journals. This was a ritual that would prove to be a great comfort for her until her death in 1942.
• The journals also provided a platform for her earliest poems, several of which would become her first published work.
• Despite the loneliness that marked her childhood, Lucy Maud later wrote "Were it not for those Cavendish years, I do not think that Anne of Green Gables would ever have been written."
• Her ability to transform her early hardships into what would turn out to be a remarkably successful writing career led the Globe and Mail, in an October 2004 article, to dub Lucy Maud "A Maritime Cinderella."
Broadcast Date: Dec. 20, 1985
Guest(s): Mary Rubio, Elizabeth Waterston
Host: Peter Gzowski
Last updated: March 22, 2012
Page consulted on March 28, 2013
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