Many of us grew up with Anne, "with an e," Shirley, the plucky, redheaded heroine of Prince Edward Island. A newly published, rediscovered work, The Blythes Are Quoted, is challenging the collective, Canadian (indeed, international) perception of the author, Lucy Maud Montgomery.
To shed light on the topic, I called up Jane Urquhart, award-winning author, most recently of a biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery. Her own love of L. M. Montgomery means that she wasn't at all surprised by the darker, less sunny content of The Blythes Are Quoted, which was never published during Montgomery's lifetime.
"The story, from what I gather, is not that much different than everything else Montgomery wrote," Jane says. "I think what's happened over the years is that she has been branded as a children's author when in fact she really wasn't."
"Anyone who has closely read the Emily of New Moon trilogy will have encountered adultery, suspected murder, and people with all kinds of challenging medical and mental problems. All of the things that have been mentioned in the attendant publicity that goes along with The Blythes Are Quoted were very present in Montgomery's work before."
"I think what people are responding to when they think of her as an author who hasn't addressed these issues, doesn't have to do with the books themselves, but the spin-offs, the Little Prairie-ization of the adaptations for CBC television, all of which were quite delightful and lovely but did not include the kind of dark undertone that was always there."
"Even Anne of Green Gables, after all, addressed a serious issue of the time, which was unwanted orphans, who were very often placed in miserable conditions. Matthew and Marilla wanted a boy, the reason why being that people got free farm labour. She was addressing some serious issues with Anne of Green Gables, a child who has to charm her way into a world of adults who don't want her to begin with, or who want her for the wrong reasons. It's a long struggle and not a very happy one."
Another buzzing, sensational idea around the recent publication of The Blythes Are Quoted is that the manuscript, which was housed in the archives at the University of Guelph before it was rediscovered by editor Benjamin Lefebvre,was reportedly submitted to the publisher on the day that Montgomery died. Was it suicide? Jane says yes.
"Something that has been known for quite a while to people who have paid close attention is that the last diary entries made by her state quite clearly that she's going to kill herself," Jane explains.
"And those diaries were published and edited by professors Rubio and Waterston, the same couple who were responsible for getting the papers to the University of Guelph. It's very clear that her life was unbearable," Jane says.