We are thrilled to have this exclusive guest post by the editor of the L.M. Montgomery's Complete Journals: The Ontario Years, 1911- 1917, Jen Rubio.
When Oxford University Press first published the journals of L.M. Montgomery in the 1980s, they gave instructions to the editors to remove about 50% of the material. The editors—Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston—did an excellent job of carefully removing material while maintaining the overall “life” of the material.
More recently, the decision was made to publish a complete version. To this end, we started from scratch, going right back to Montgomery’s handwritten journals and printing every word. We wrote entirely new notes. We used all the photographs that she had pasted in her journals, re-scanned them, enlarged them, and tried to lay them out to match the layout in her journal (easier said than done). It was a fascinating process.
We were hopeful that the material would be of interest to historians as well as to literature lovers generally. To this end, historian Jonathan Vance wrote an excellent preface considering how Montgomery was caught up in her own life until the outbreak of war in August 1914; at that point the world as it had been known changed utterly. Montgomery was unusually well-read in history—she was an avid consumer of big-canvas histories like George Grote, George Rawlinson, and Ernest Renan—and she also possessed a fine historical imagination. She herself understood from the beginning that the human cost would be huge and that world politics would never be the same. This knowledge made her feel more isolated; many of the people around her, she felt, did not understand either the seriousness of, or her own anxiety about, the war.
What do the journals tell us of Montgomery’s response, as a writer with exceptional historical awareness, to the war? We love the elegant narrative arcs in her novels and stories, but while she was writing about current events from the years 1914 to 1918, the war’s outcome was unknown. She constantly, almost obsessively, read as much as she could about it, as if somehow she might find in the writing of others a narrative arc to help map it out in her own mind. She describes in detail numerous circumstances surrounding those moments when she first reads a given piece of news. She was wise enough, however, to know that until the final battles had been fought, nobody could know.
Montgomery’s journals may tell us something about the history of friendship. Her sense of horror at the war—particularly in the glaring absence of a narrative to help write about it—reveals changing interpersonal understanding. Different groups of people responded differently to the war. Of her husband, she writes: “Ewan, who is of a very phlegmatic temperament and never goes to pieces as I do, was calm though depressed and tried to encourage me, but it was a hard task even for his india-rubber optimism” (March 1918). Only some people could share her intensity (or perhaps at least understand her temperament enough to help soothe her anxiety). In her journals, she records with increasing intensity her friendship with her cousin, Frede Campbell. It was during these years that Montgomery began to write about the importance of meaningful friendship and loyalty to such friends. Here at least is some kind of narrative arc.
We see this in her novels of the time. Rock’s Mills Press has also recently published an annotated edition of Anne’s House of Dreams, written in the dark months of 1916, and Rilla of Ingleside, published after the war’s end, in 1921. In both these novels, friendship in times of unknowable darkness plays a key role. In Rilla of Ingleside, characters bond together to help each other survive emotional trauma. Only some people possess the imagination and the historical knowledge to understand.
And Montgomery herself was haunted. For instance, as the mother of two young children, she was deeply disturbed to read about the death of children:
I read a horrible statement in a paper the other day. It haunts me. When I cannot sleep at nights it tears my soul. “No child under eight years of age is left alive Poland. They have all perished from starvation or exposure.”
She repeated the statement in Rilla of Ingleside. Here we must turn to historians of the period to tell us if this fact was true, or was propaganda. (Given her wide-ranging reading and reporting of the war, there were many historians to consult.) And ever more interesting questions arise. How did her historical reading influence how she read about and reported current events? How does an intelligent and sensitive person cope when overwhelmed by the weight of history? One of the few things such a person can do is look for meaningful friendship and remain loyal and true to those few-and-far-between friends. In the next complete journal, which will be published in 2017 and cover the years 1918 to 1926, this theme continues as life begins to get complicated in ways she might never have predicted.