Elizabeth Rollins Epperly : Reading Time: L.M. Montgomery and the “Alembic of Fiction”
Why Read? scholar and literary-cultural critic Mark Edmundson asks in his best-selling book. The answer I give for why I read Montgomery may have changed many times over more than fifty years of reading and studying her works, and yet something, though differently described, has remained the same: my reading of her affects how I experience struggle in my everyday life.
Since I was old enough to listen, I have claimed Montgomery’s characters and settings as vital parts of my life and identity. I have made life-changing decisions – even changed my citizenship -- based on my love for Montgomery’s writing. Her works continue to inspire me to think and to study in new ways. In recent years she has led me to pursue visual imagination, synaesthesia and synaesthetic metaphor, perception and sight, haptic sensing, archetypal shapes and patterns, conceptual metaphor and cognitive linguistics, eco-criticism, the uncanny, queer theory, to name a few. Always, of late, I am trying to understand how my reading of Montgomery’s richly metaphoric writing engages me in a process where I experience the transformation of the everyday into the extraordinary or the extraordinarily comforting.
The autobiographical Emily books feature the creative ways (the avid reader) Montgomery’s nimble imagination and well-stocked memory distilled real-life experience and perceptions into art. Emily’s “flash,” psychic visions, and thrill at finding the right word are all invitations to the reader to experience transformation – made accessible through reading and then reproducible in life beyond the page.
The four linked chapters in the middle of Emily Climbs, describing teen-aged Emily’s vision of art and artistry and then her psychic vision of the lost little Bradshaw boy, reveal a process of seeing and the transformative power of art as they are beset by everyday annoyances and also by trauma and tragedy. The artist persists, Montgomery’s novel suggests, partly despite and partly because of her daily struggle to recognize and to engage with beauty and meaning in a life inevitably challenged by negativity and loss.
I suggest Montgomery’s shaping of image and scene, her rhythmic alternations of compression and expansion of colours and shapes in her descriptions, encourage the willing reader to engage with and to become the seeing artist able to struggle purposefully.
Elizabeth Epperly, BA, MA, Ph.D., LL.D., fourth President of the University of Prince Edward Island, Professor Emerita of English, founder of the L.M. Montgomery Institute at UPEI, imagined she was reading Montgomery for herself even though her eyes were closed and she was just learning to manage the alphabet – so effortlessly did she enter Montgomery’s world when her father read to her sister and to her. Many Montgomery-related and inspired essays, talks, and books later, Epperly’s most recent works include a creative memoir, Power Notes: Leadership by Analogy (Rock’s Mills Press, 2017), and a children’s book, Summer in the Land of Anne (illustrated by her sister carolynepperly.com), to be published by Acorn Press in 2018. See www.elizabethepperly.com
Margaret Mackey : L.M. Montgomery and the Shadow Life of an In-Dwelling Reader
Two insights into how we read provide a way to consider the impact of L.M. Montgomery’s writings on an individual reader. Louise Rosenblatt distinguishes between efferent reading (reading to take something away) and aesthetic reading (reading for the experience of dwelling in the text-created world). Sven Birkerts talks about the way that intense reading can seep into daily life, talking about the “shadow life” of reading that occurs when a story haunts our regular existence.
As a child, I read Montgomery’s works both extensively and repeatedly. Without a doubt, I spent much solitary time inhabiting the shadow life that they generated in my own conscious and subliminal awareness. Montgomery’s heroines walked in my shoes, and I in theirs. I did not read the books to take away any improving information, but I was “occupied” by many of her ideas all the same.
In this talk I will explore how Anne, Rillah, Emily, Pat, and Jane shadowed my own life, for good and ill, and expand from that personal perspective to consider the impact of intense and repetitive reading on the person who engages in it.
Margaret Mackey is Professor Emerita in the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta. Her work on her own early literacies and texts culminated in the publication of One Child Reading: My Auto- Bibliography (University of Alberta Press, 2016), recently named as the Scholarly and Academic Book of the Year for 2017 by the Book Publishers Association of Alberta. In 2017 she was also honoured by the Children's Literature Association with the Anne Devereux Jordan Award for lasting contributions in scholarship and service.
Catherine Sheldrick Ross : LMM and the Paradox of the Reading Experience
I conduct ethnographic research with adult readers who read for pleasure and at last count had over 300 open-ended interviews with avid readers. In these interviews, readers reflect on such topics as factors that fostered reading in childhood, how they choose books to suit a mood, genres that they prefer or avoid, how they feel about rereading books, the role of reading in their life, and books that have made a big difference to them in one way or another and why. I will share some of my discoveries about the reading experience itself, focusing on the experience of real readers who read L.M. Montgomery. In particular, I consider why so many children and adults read (and reread) LMM and what various roles these books have in the lives of the readers, including readers who become writers. Reading researchers and critics often denigrate “reading for escape” as a reading practice and “escapist reading” as a low-status genre, declaring that they waste time that could be better spent confronting life. However when we examine the role of reading for escape within the context of the lives of actual readers, we get a more nuanced picture in which reading for escape—either “escape-from” or escape-to” reading—is reading for connection.
Catherine Sheldrick Ross is Professor Emerita and former Dean of the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS) at Western. With a longstanding research interest in leisure reading, she has published scholarly articles and books on various aspects of the pleasure-reading experience. She has over 300 open-ended interviews with avid readers, which she has analyzed in articles and books. These interviews explore such topics as: factors that foster or discourage reading in childhood; how readers go about choosing books; books that have made a significant difference in readers’ lives; the role of reading in readers’ lives; rereading; and social reading. Not surprisingly, when asked about “important books” in their lives, many of these avid readers spontaneously mentioned LM Montgomery’s books and described Anne and Emily and Jane as “friends.” Catherine Ross has just completed a new co-authored book, Reading Still Matters: What the Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries, and Community (Libraries Unlimited, in press). Other recent books include: The Pleasures of Reading: A Booklover's Alphabet (Libraries Unlimited 2014); and a nonfiction book for children, Shapes in Math, Science and Nature: Squares, Triangles and Circles (Kids Can Press 2014) that has been translated into Danish, Italian, Korean, Chinese, and Russian. In 2013, she received the Margaret E. Munroe Award given by the American Library Association for “significant contributions to library adult services.”
Emily Woster : L.M. Montgomery: The Reading of a Lifetime
As an indefatigable re-reader of texts and reviser of her own writing, Montgomery’s canon is a tangle of textual references, allusions, revisions, and reconsiderations. I have spent the last decade considering Montgomery as a reader, thinker, and re-reader to examine how these roles influence and define her autobiographical work. I have mined Montgomery’s lifetime of reading to redefine her autobiographical methods and “autobibliography”, and I have considered how her reading and recording function as personal and cultural archives.
But upon rereading and reflecting on these projects, I am compelled to think a bit more like Montgomery herself and perhaps revise my approach and return to the research that started it all. Thus, this talk is meant as a sort of coda to a project that I started as a starry-eyed undergraduate researcher who came to this conference at age 19. That first project explored only the first volume of Montgomery’s published journals in an attempt to list and reflect on the “literary landscape” of allusions and reflections on reading in the volume. But now, with access to more Montgomery material than ever before, I have begun refining that project to create a full and complete record of Montgomery’s reading life as we (can) know it. In (re)building this rich catalog to share it more widely, I have confronted some of the of major narratives scholars have built about Montgomery and her life, and I have also faced some of the stories, including my own, that we tell about ourselves as readers of Montgomery.
Emily Woster is the current Visiting Scholar for the L.M. Montgomery Institute and an assistant professor in the department of English, Linguistics, and Writing Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth. She earned her Ph.D. in English Studies at Illinois State University. Emily’s work has focused primarily on the reading lives and textual worlds of L.M. Montgomery, including a chapter in L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys: The Ontario Years, 1911-1942. Her broader research interests straddle the worlds between women’s life writing, children’s literature, and English Studies. Emily is Managing Editor of a/b: Auto/Biography Studies.