Long-lost L.M. Montgomery postcards discovered, donated back to P.E.I.

The collection of 70 postcards was previously unknown to L.M. Montgomery scholars and they consider it very important in helping to understand the enigmatic author's life and work.

'It's like treasure to find this'

P.E.I. writer Lucy Maud Montgomery corresponded regularly over 30 years with fellow writer George Boyd MacMillan in Scotland. Now, a collection of postcards she sent him has been given to the L.M. Montgomery Institute. (Parks Canada)

P.E.I. writer Lucy Maud Montgomery corresponded regularly over 30 years with fellow writer George Boyd MacMillan in Scotland. Now, a collection of 70 postcards she sent him have been given to P.E.I.'s L.M. Montgomery Institute.

The correspondence was previously unknown to Montgomery scholars and they consider it very important in helping to understand the enigmatic author's life and work.

"It's so exciting," said Elizabeth Epperly, also known by many as Betsy. "It's just the most amazing thing.

"They're in an old album and I can see why they were probably overlooked, because the first part of the album has some postcards, then a lot of blank pages."

Even though she knew what they were, Epperly said turning over the postcards and seeing Montgomery's handwriting was "this shock ... it's her handwriting. Because she has very distinctive, and sometimes very difficult, handwriting, and to see that and to see the ink changing where she dipped the pen to write, it's like treasure to find this." 

"It's a thrilling thing to be so close." 

Discovered amongst relatives' effects

Epperly is is the founder of the L.M. Montgomery Institute at UPEI, which is dedicated to the study of Montgomery and her world-renowned work, including Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon. Epperly even co-authored a book in 1992 about the correspondence between Montgomery and MacMillan, called My dear Mr. M: Letters to G.B. MacMillan.

The postcards were discovered last year by MacMillan's family in Scotland, Epperly told Mainstreet P.E.I. 

His great-grand nephew Duncan MacMillan contacted Montgomery's granddaughter Kate MacDonald Butler, who lives in Ontario. Butler got in touch with the institute to see if they would be interested in having them, and Epperly said she immediately wrote a letter to MacMillan expressing interest. 

Donna Jane Campbell purchased the collection and presented it to the L.M. Montgomery Institute.

What do the postcards say?

Among some chit-chat about weather, gardening, and one another's health, Epperly said the postcards reveal details about some big moments in Montgomery's life. 

Elizabeth Epperly, the founder of the L.M. Montgomery Institute, says the postcards are a 'treasure.' (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

The very biggest is a postcard Montgomery wrote on April 16, 1907, informing MacMillan that her first novel, Anne of Green Gables, had been accepted by a reputable and large publisher in the U.S. 

This postcard was a key piece that had been missing from the correspondence Epperly and Francis Bolger had laid out in their book — they could never understand why Montgomery hadn't written to MacMillan to tell him the big news, when she had told several of her lesser friends. The answer — she had.

"I was always sad about that and puzzled by it," Epperly said, since Montgomery had considered MacMillan a kindred spirit. Not only had she told him, but he was likely one of the first she wrote about the news, since it is dated just a few days after she herself received the news. 

The postcard dated April 27, 1907, sent from the Cavendish post office, in which Montgomery tells MacMillan Anne of Green Gables has been accepted by a 'premier American publishing firm.' (L.M. Montgomery Institute)

Another postcard reveals that shortly afterward, Montgomery sent MacMillan a copy of what she called "the" book (underlined), and asked for his candid opinion. 

There were also details about the world wars, the sinking of the Titanic and other events of the times.

70 historic images

Another fascinating thing to Epperly and fellow scholars is Montgomery's choice of postcard. Epperly's research with Bolger had shown that Montgomery and MacMillan were very choosy about what images they used for their correspondence — it had to be just right. 

The images Montgomery chose to send to MacMillan are 'a whole other language that's going on,' Epperly says. Her handwriting on the side says 'typical winter scene in our strait.' (L.M. Montgomery Institute)

"The image is really important too — so there are 70 images there to assess and think about, now why did she pick this one?" Epperly said. "So that's a whole other language that's going on." 

The postcards date from 1904 to 1939, although the pair's correspondence via letters, sometimes as long as 100 pages, run a few years longer. 

MacMillan was one of two writers with whom Montgomery was long-term pen pals — the other was Ephraim Weber from Alberta. MacMillan was a newspaper writer and lyricist. The writers had been put in contact with one another by an American woman who had hoped she might form a writer's collective with them.

The plan is to digitize the postcards so they can be viewed online, Epperly said.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Mainstreet P.E.I.


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