Montgomery short stories contain full treasure
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/10/2009 (4782 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Blythes Are Quoted
By L.M. Montgomery
Edited by Benjamin Lefebvre
Viking Canada, 525 pages, $25
THIS much-hyped release is the long-awaited ninth volume in Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series.
It is not a coherent novel, but rather a collection of short stories and poems with a frame narrative of the Blythes at home, reading poetry and discussing family matters and local affairs.
While an abridged form of this manuscript was published in 1974 as The Road to Yesterday, the full text has never been available until now.
British-based editor Benjamin Lefebvre has restored more than 100 pages to the manuscript and, in an informative afterword, he describes the unearthing of this treasure in the Montgomery archives at the University of Guelph, and the light this text sheds on Montgomery’s life and work in Prince Edward Island.
The individual stories and poems will be familiar to Montgomery fans, but when placed in the context of the frame narrative, in the sequence Montgomery intended, they take on new resonance.
The title refers to the fact that all the stories in the collection reference the Blythe household, although, except in the frame narrative, none of the family is more than a minor character in any given tale.
It is entertaining to see the Blythes interacting with the community, but occasionally their appearance distracts from the story at hand: readers may be taken aback by the continual reference to the mischievous Anne Shirley and the grating Susan Baker as saintly paragons of domestic virtue.
War anchors the work: the first half is set just before the First World War, and the second half deals with the aftermath and the buildup to the Second World War — with a recurring theme of reflection upon the death of Anne and Gilbert’s son, Walter.
In the frame narrative, Montgomery (who died in 1942) has assigned her own poems to either Anne’s or Walter’s authorship, and has included them as readings performed by Anne for her family’s benefit.
After each poem, there is a short discussion between Anne and other members of the household concerning the imagery of the poem, or the circumstances of its writing, most of which refer to previous events in the Anne series.
For instance, the poem Farewell to an Old Room is contextualized as a reflection upon Anne’s childhood room at Green Gables. In the second half, which takes place after Walter’s death, the poems, while mediocre, become poignant in context.
Of note is the inclusion of The Piper, the poem that, in Rilla of Ingleside, earned Walter worldwide fame.
The first story, Some Fools and a Saint, is only now being included in the context Montgomery intended. A young minister, boarding with the Field family, witnesses possibly paranormal occurrences in the house; these ghostly events seem curiously centred around the Fields’ angelic invalid cousin.
It is a tale of mystery and madness, and although it resolves romantically, this exploration of a disturbed and unsettling character casts a shadow over the rest of the book.
The theme of the past shadowing the present persists throughout the collection. Montgomery placed the three darkest stories at the beginning of the volume, which renders even the sunny pre-First World War days ambivalent.
In the second half, the stories lighten, and the tragic sensibility shifts to the poems: the final story is a cheerful romance, but the final poem, The Aftermath, is Montgomery’s most ferocious critique of war.
While most accessible to serious Anne devotees, The Blythes Are Quoted provides an excellent introduction to Montgomery’s talents as an author of short fiction and poetry.
Catherine Tosenberger is an assistant professor of English at the University of Winnipeg, where she teaches children’s literature and folklore.