PEI

Scholar finds friendship, special bond with her mother through L.M. Montgomery works

Lucy Maud Montgomery has always been a big part of Emily Woster's life.

Emily Woster fell in love with Anne Shirley's creator at an L.M. Montgomery Literary Society meeting

L.M. Montgomery's Canadian children's classic has captivated generations of children in Canada and around the world. (Wikimedia Commons/Tundra)

Lucy Maud Montgomery has always been a big part of Emily Woster's life.

The beloved author of Anne of Green Gables has been the subject of Woster's scholarly research since her PhD dissertation.

The Minnesota woman has been travelling to Montgomery's birthplace in P.E.I. since she was a teenager, and has attended university conferences focused on the author since she was 17.

She's even named after one of Montgomery's characters — and so is her younger sister, Anne.

"My name and my family and my research, my work is all kind of connected," she said. "I know that for a lot of people, that might be kind of hard, but I love that ... in a lot of ways."

Woster's mother, Christy, was a renowned collector of Montgomery editions and memorabilia who became fascinated with the Anne books when she was a child.

"[My grandmother] sat down my mom and her three brothers and read the beginning of the end of Green Gables for them, right up to the point where Matthew and Marilla are deciding whether or not to keep Anne," Woster said. "And then she kind of pretended she got a headache and just left the book with them.

"Of course, then they all went on to read it, and that's really how my mom got into it."

Emily, Christy and Anne Woster. (Emily Woster)

Naturally, Woster read Green Gables as a young child as well. She became fascinated by Montgomery's world when she was about 11 years old, after her mother dragged her and her sister to one of the first meetings of the L.M. Montgomery Literary Society in Minnesota.

"My mom had seen I think maybe a  message about it from a library or there was something in the newspaper. I'm not even sure how she heard about it," she said. "But so my mom went to a meeting and dragged me along and actually my little sister as well."

"It was sort of unusual to find this group of people in Minnesota who knew about Montgomery, you know. And really, from there, it sort of blossomed."

'Literary detectives'

The society, which was founded by literary scholars and Montgomery experts Carolyn Strom Collins and Christine Wyss Eriksson, has been meeting for over 30 years to discuss all things related to the author.

The society meets L.M. Montgomery Institute founder Elizabeth Epperly at the 100th anniversary of the publication Anne of Green Gables in Guelph, Ont. From left: Epperly, Carolyn Strom Collins, Christy Woster, Ann Johnson, Emily Woster, Mary Beth Cavert. (Carolyn Strom Collins)

It started out with about 25 members and many, like Woster, are still active. But it's grown a lot since then, with Montgomery fans all over the world subscribing to the society's annual newsletter and following it on social media.

Woster's mother was one of the core members of the group before she died in 2016.

Though the group hasn't met as often as it used to due to COVID-19, they recently celebrated their 30th anniversary with a small gathering.

"Just getting together was such a treat," Strom Collins said. "We had a lovely spread of fun, snack-y things, and we had a beautiful cake that the local baker had made for us. So it was a real celebration and of course, we had our raspberry cordial along for the afternoon." 

Strom Collins said some of the society's members are "so-called literary detectives," researchers like herself who comb through Montgomery's vast output, her journals, and historical documents for insight on her life and work.

But she says the society's meetings are also about socializing and that a lot of close friendships have developed over the years, all initially sparking from their shared love for Montgomery's work.

"She had such a wonderful storytelling ability, of course, so the plots of her books and stories and so forth are interesting and fun to read," Strom Collins said.

"She has such a gift for expressing detailed nature and colour and weaving that throughout her work, and it's such a treat to read."

"Montgomery is so interesting to study," Woster said. "There's so much we still don't know. She was so prolific and she just had such an amazing output of writing in journals and all of these things. There's so many things we're still piecing together. I love that I sort of have my life's work set out for me."

While she says her work has always, it's taken on more meaning since her mother died.

"It gives me this great connection to my mom that I don't have anymore," she said.

She's working on a couple of Montgomery-related projects. The main project is the digitalization of the Green Gables manuscript and the creation of an accompanying online exhibition, which is being funded by the Virtual Museum of Canada and developed in partnership with the L.M. Montgomery Institute and other P.E.I. institutions.

The exhibit is set to launch next year.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Arturo Chang is a journalist based in Prince Edward Island. He previously worked as a digital producer for BNN Bloomberg. He can be contacted via email at arturo.chang@cbc.ca

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