L.M. Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, was born 140 years ago on November 30. The Canadian writer published 20 novels, many of which are still read around the world. But while her most popular creation, Anne (with an 'e') Shirley, finds love and happiness, Montgomery herself wasn’t so lucky. Her life was full of loneliness, suffering, and disappointment.
1. She felt like an orphan.
When Lucy Maud Montgomery was a baby, her mother died of tuberculosis. Her father, Hugh John Montgomery, left her with her maternal grandparents, the Macneills, on a farm in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. The elderly couple was strict and formal with Montgomery and didn’t understand her sensitive personality. She often felt unwanted, and sought comfort in reading books, writing, and her imagination.
2. She insisted on being Maud without an E.
Like Anne, Montgomery was particular about the spelling of names. She was named Lucy after her grandmother and Maud after Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Alice Maud Mary. She wrote in her journal, “I never liked Lucy as a name. I always liked Maud—spelled not ‘with an e’ if you please.”
3. She loved Prince Edward Island.
Montgomery spent her childhood outside picking berries, fishing, and going to the beach. As a child, she named everything she saw—even apple trees had names like Little Syrup, Gavin, and Spider. Later, Montgomery named these places all over again in her books. Cavendish became Avonlea. Her uncle’s pond became The Lake of Shining Waters. The forest near the farm became the Haunted Woods and a cowpath behind the pasture was Lover’s Lane.
4. She gave up her newspaper job to care for her grandmother.
In 1901, Montgomery got a job at The Daily Echo in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was the only woman on staff, earning a meager $5/week. She proofread articles, edited the society page, and wrote a column about fads and gossip under the pen name Cynthia. She loved every minute of it. But nine months into the job, her grandfather suddenly died. Montgomery was forced to return to Cavendish and live with her ailing grandmother.
5. She was a flirt.
As a young woman, Montgomery had many romances. She turned down two proposals before getting engaged to her second cousin, Edwin Simpson. Soon, however, she realized she didn't love Simpson and couldn’t marry him. Instead of rejecting him, she strung him along. Meanwhile, she fell in love with Herman Leard, a farmer’s son. Though Montgomery felt strongly about Leard, he didn’t have the intelligence she wanted in a mate. It all came to a head when both men visited her at the same time. She wrote in her journal: “There I was under the same roof with two men, one of whom I loved and could never marry, the other whom I had promised to marry, but could never love!” Needless to say, neither affair lasted.
6. She wrote despite a lack of support from her relatives.
Montgomery’s family considered writing to be a waste of time, especially for a woman. So she worked in secret, even going so far as to smuggle candles to her room so she could write at night. As she said in The Alpine Path: “I struggled on alone, in secrecy and silence. I never told my ambitions and efforts and failures to any one. Down, deep down, under all discouragement and rebuff, I knew I would 'arrive' some day.”
7. She was able to submit in secret because she ran the post office.
The Macneill homestead was also the district post office. When Montgomery returned to Cavendish, she took over the duties as assistant postmistress. That way, she could send out submissions and receive responses from publishers without anyone knowing. In 1902, she had 30 pieces accepted. In 1904, she earned $600 from writings. In 1906, she earned $700, when the average woman made $300.
8. She got the idea for Anne from an old journal.
One day, Montgomery was leafing through a journal and found an entry written a decade before. It said: “Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy. By mistake a girl is sent them.” She started writing a story about a red headed orphan, intending to submit it as a seven-chapter serial for a newspaper. But Anne took on a life of her own and soon Montgomery was writing a novel.
9. She almost gave up when the book was rejected.
In 1905, Montgomery sent Anne of Green Gables out to several publishers, which all rejected the book. Discouraged, she stuck the novel in a hatbox. Two years later, she came upon it, polished it up, and sent it out again. This time, L.C. Page & Company in Boston agreed to publish the novel. Anne of Green Gables came out in 1908 and was an instant bestseller.
10. She felt her marriage was a mistake from the start.
As Montgomery was writing Anne of Green Gables, a new Presbyterian minister, Ewan Macdonald, moved to town. The two become engaged, but had to wait five years until her grandmother died for them to marry. By then, Montgomery was 36 and wanted her own family.
The wedding wasn’t over before she was flooded with despair, writing in her journal: “I wanted to be free! I felt like a prisoner—a hopeless prisoner. … But it was too late—and the realization that it was too late fell over me like a black cloud of wretchedness. I sat at that gay bridal feast, in my white veil and orange blossoms, beside the man that I had married—and I was as unhappy as I had ever been in my life.”
11. She didn’t always want to write the Anne sequels.
Montgomery’s contract for Anne of Green Gables locked her into writing sequels if the book sold well. She didn’t like the idea, writing in a letter: “I’m awfully afraid if the thing takes, they’ll want me to write her through college. The idea makes me sick.”
Of course, the book did take off. Between 1908 and 1921, Montgomery wrote six Anne books. On completing Rilla of Ingleside, she said: “I am done with Anne forever—I swear it as a dark and deadly vow. I want to create a new heroine now—she’s already an embryo in my mind…. Her name is Emily.” After three Emily books, Montgomery returned to Anne, writing Anne of Windy Poplars in 1936 and Anne of Ingleside in 1939.
12. Her husband was mentally ill.
In 1919, Ewan had a mental breakdown. He suffered from “religious melancholia” and believed that God had predestined him to hell. He would spend days groaning, sobbing, singing hymns, and howling uncontrollably. Sometimes he would stare at the wall for hours, “hair bristling, blue underlip hanging, eyes glaring, face livid,” Montgomery wrote [PDF].
She felt pressured to hide the illness to protect his job as a minister and the family’s reputation. “No one must know,” she wrote. “For Ewan’s sake, and the children as well as my own, what his trouble is. As long as I can keep it secret.” The illness continued for the rest of Ewan’s life.
13. She put up a happy façade to hide crippling depression.
On the surface, Montgomery seemed like a happy person. Her relatives describe her as comical and jolly. In reality, she was increasingly depressed. Her husband’s mental illness, legal battles with her publisher, problems with her son Chester, increasing dependence on barbiturates, and the looming world war took their toll. In 1940, Montgomery had a nervous breakdown. By the end of her life, she lost the ability to write—the one thing she could always depend on.
Recently, her granddaughter Kate Macdonald Butler revealed that Montgomery took her own life. She died of a drug overdose at age 67. She’s buried in the Cavendish cemetery on Prince Edward Island.
14. She remains one of Canada’s most beloved authors.
Montgomery published 20 novels, over 500 short stories, 30 essays, an autobiography, and a book of poetry. Anne of Green Gables has been translated into 25 languages and has been made into movies, plays, musicals, cartoons, miniseries, and radio shows. The book put Prince Edward Island on the map, and the historic site of her birth is a park that sees over 125,000 visitors each year. Montgomery did all this at a time when women couldn’t even vote. Anne would be proud of her.