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Lucy Maud Montgomery's long road to fame

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.

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"I cannot remember a time when I was not writing, or when I did not mean to be an author," Lucy Maud Montgomery once wrote in her journals. "To write has always been my central purpose around which every effort and hope and ambition of my life has grouped itself."
But life for a female writer in 19th century rural Canada came with a number of cultural obstacles. This clip from CBC Television's Life & Times looks at the two decades of struggles and triumphs that led to the breakthrough success of Anne of Green Gables
• Montgomery began writing in her journals when she was nine years old -- a practice she continued for the next six decades. Her earliest journals, which where published beginning in 1985, depict a young woman experimenting with poetry and dreaming of fame.
• After writing in her journals for six years, Montgomery was first published in 1889 when her poem, The Legend of Cape Leforce, ran in the Charlottetown Daily Patriot. Montgomery was only 15.

• Like many female authors before and since, Montgomery used pen names such as "Maud Cavendish" and "Joyce Cavendish" as a way of hiding her ambitions from family and friends.
• In the end she settled on "L.M. Montgomery," which was used to mask her gender to her readers.
• In 1898 her grandfather died, and Montgomery returned to Cavendish to take care of her grandmother, where she would stay for the next 13 years.

• In 1901 she took a 10-month break to work as a reporter and editor at the Halifax Daily Echo, where she wrote "women's" columns under the name Cynthia."
• By the time she was in her late 20's Montgomery was earning a steady income from freelance writing, which she completed in the early morning.

• Inspired by children's books such as Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Montgomery decided to try and write a novel for young readers in 1905.

• Inspired by a newspaper story about an elderly couple in England that tried to adopt a boy but received a girl, Montgomery writes Anne of Green Gables. She sent the manuscript, about a scrappy 12-year-old orphan who wins over the hearts and minds of a small P.E.I. town, to five publishers. All of them rejected it.

• In 1906 she put the manuscript in a hatbox and stored it away. The following year she discovered it while doing spring-cleaning and decided to send it back out.
• In 1907 Boston-based publisher L.C. Page Co. accepted the book for publication and immediately requested a sequel. Her contract granted the company the copyright to the book and gave Montgomery a royalty of nine cents a copy.

Anne was released in June 1908 and sold 19,000 copies in five months. Montgomery received her first royalty cheque for $1,730 in 1909.
• In her journals she wrote "The dream dreamed years ago at that old brown desk in school has come true at last after years of toil and struggle."

• In a letter, Mark Twain called Anne Shirley "the dearest, and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice."
• A rare negative review appeared in The New York Times on July 18, 1908, under the headline "A Heroine From An Asylum." The anonymous reviewer said "The author undoubtedly meant [Anne] to be queer, but she is altogether too queer."

• "In spite of her tender years," the reviewer added "she talked to the farmer and his sister as though she had borrowed Bernard Shaw's vocabulary, Alfred Austin's sentimentality, and the reasoning power of a Justice of the Supreme Court. She knew so much that she spoiled the author's plan at the very outset and greatly marred a story that had in it quaint and charming possibilities."

• Nearly a century after her debut, the feisty red-haired Anne has become Canada's most successful literary franchise whose success is mirrored by other young adult series such as J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter.
• In a 2004 Globe and Mail article, L.M. Montgomery scholar Dr. Mary Rubio described Anne of Green Gables as "Canada's most enduring literary export."
Medium: Television
Program: Life & Times
Broadcast Date: Nov. 1, 1996
Guest(s): Elizabeth Epperly, Don Hanna, Elizabeth Waterston
Narrator: Jackie Burroughs , Mike Jones
Duration: 8:43

Last updated: October 29, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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