Yesterday, it had been 400 years since Shakespeare died. Today, it has been 74 years ago since Lucy Maud Montgomery died. I can’t believe that she died so comparatively recently! I’ve spoken about her a lot on this blog, and last year made a lifelong dream come true by visiting Green Gables and L. M. Montgomery’s own world on Prince Edward Island in Canada. I really haven’t written as much about that as I ought to have done, but in this post I mention said visit to Green Gables. I also grin as calmly as possible, so as not to scare the helpful friendly tourist taking my picture (see below). It really was a wonderful day.
I have mentioned how I began reading L. M. Montgomery’s Anne books when I was 8 years old, having got Anne of Green Gables as a Christmas present from a great-aunt. Anne is a friend to all the women of the past three generations on my mother’s side. A year or so later, I started writing a Scottish version. The ten or so chapters are, as I think I’ve mentioned, hidden from me somewhere in the Family Seat. I only bring it up here because today Mum produced a draft of a letter from my grandfather to family friends in America, in which he describes me (then aged 13) as “a budding writer”. I never knew that this is what he told people about me. Between that and yesterday’s post on how Shakespeare is not a thing I am, should I start thinking about writing (more than the occasional blogpost) again?
But today I want to introduce you all to my favourite heroine of L. M. Montgomery’s creation, at least so far (I have not yet read all Montgomery’s works). For many years, I loved Anne like a bosom friend. Then a real-life friend introduced me to one Miss Emily Byrd Starr. She’s more ethereal and mysterious than the fiery Anne (who is still and will always be hugely important to me), closer to my own quieter temperament, but still with her own take on the spark and spirit that you’d expect from one of the Montgomery women. The explanation of the difference between Anne and Emily is proving difficult. I feel it, but I can’t put into words that make it clear. Part of me wants to say that Emily is a darker Anne, but that’s not it. Something to ponder on this week’s bus journeys to and from work…
The first description of Emily is all about personality, nothing about looks. That in itself is rather nifty:
Emily didn’t know she was being pitied and didn’t know what lonesomeness meant. She had plenty of company. There was Father – and Mike – and Saucy Sal. The Wind Woman was always around; and there were the trees – Adam-and-Eve, and the Rooster Pine, and all the friendly lady-birches.
And there was “the flash”, too. She never knew when it might come, and the possibility of it kept her a-thrill and expectant.
Emily had slipped away in the chilly twilight for a walk. She remembered that walk very vividly all her life – perhaps because of a certain eerie beauty that was in it – perhaps because “the flash” came for the first time in weeks – more likely because of what happened after she came back for it. (Emily of New Moon, p.1)
I won’t tell you what happens next. You really should read the book (published in 1923), and its two sequels, Emily Climbs (1925), and Emily’s Quest (1927). I really enjoy discussing how the trilogy ends!
It’s very strange to me that Anne Shirley seems to have dominated, almost to the complete exclusion of the other Montgomery women, in all aspects of L. M. Montgomery “fandom” – research, reading for pleasure, in tourism, and on the big and small screens respectively. Emily Starr seems almost not to exist, while Anne is everywhere; I must of course acknowledge that Montgomery wrote many more books about the redhead. On the one hand, this could be seen as an opportunity to bring Emily to the fore, but on the other, it’s just a real shame, as she deserves so much more. I did start looking for background and critical literature on the Emily books before going to Canada, but to no avail. It’s entirely possible that I just haven’t applied enough of the Librain (Librarian Brain), so please tell me if I’m wrong, and then please recommend some sources. I’m going to start my quest for Emily again, ideally beginning with Elizabeth Epperly’s The Fragrance of Sweet Grass: L. M. Montgomery’s Heroines and the Pursuit of Romance (2nd edition, 2014), which has a full section on Emily. Although I don’t plan to be L.M. Montgomery-ing on this year’s Canada trip, it could be time to start looking for Emily’s places in her creator’s world.