Welcome to Part 1 of The Complete Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, The PEI Years, 1889-1900.
Maud’s journal begins at the young age of 14 (a few months’ shy of 15) with the beginning of a new diary, one that she’s determined will be of substance and more than just a documentation of the weather of the day. She will go on to recount her adventures and include relevant photographs of the people and places she encounters.
In 1889, Lucy “Maud” Montgomery lived in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, a small village of fishermen and farmers and their families, with her maternal grandparents, the Macneills. Maud’s own mother had died of tuberculosis when Maud was 21 months old, and her father lives in Saskatchewan with his new wife.
Having never been to Cavendish myself, I try to visualize the town from Montgomery’s descriptive writing, which reminds me of life in Avonlea, from the woods and pastures, the seashore and the magnificent skies, from stormy to sunsets.
What struck me the most about this first year of her life is her school days. Her teacher, Miss Gibson, has a lot of ideas about how to engage children in recitations and school events, which undoubtedly worked its way into AGG. Maud had her own kindred spirit in the form of Amanda Macneill, and the two were so inseparable that Maud was called “Pollie” to Amanda’s “Mollie”. Then there’s the proverbial group of mean girls Maud cannot tolerate, including Clemmie Macneill. There are a lot of Macneills in Cavendish!
And then there’s also Nathan ‘Nate/Snip’ Lockhart, the Baptist minister’s step-son who flirts like anything and hangs about Mollie and Pollie and you just have to wonder if he isn’t crushing on one of them just the tiniest bit and ahhh, the age of innocence is a wonder to behold.
It’s now 1890, and Maud’s comic adventures with cows and with stoves remind me again of a certain irrepressible red-head. I suppose it is inevitable that I will look for AGG references throughout this book as I so want to believe that Montgomery drew from her own life while writing the books.
Maud, in her teenage years, is discovering how enjoyable it is to be walked home by a boy (and oh, how her classmates talk!) and the complex emotions of affections requited and unrequited. She seems to share some of Anne’s romantic sensibilities (and indeed, Valancy Stirling’s, for that matter) with her love of nature:
“Those dear old woods […] we lay and gazed through half-shut-lids at the blue sky, smiling through the traceries of the spruce boughs, or explored by the eye the intersecting glades and dreamed idly of long, delicious summer days to come, when we might wander at will through those ferny depths and gather all the joys of Nature’s bridal hours” (27).
There is a lot of lovely imagery throughout these first few years’ of scenery, especially during the journey Maud takes in the summer of 1890 to visit her father and new stepmother in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, a 3,000-mile journey that takes ten days. There, she will study for her teacher’s certificate. Maud recounts the social scene of Prince Albert in between her studies under the tutelage of Mr. John Mustard, and the addition in December of a new boy in class, William Pritchard, whom, Maud says, despite a “crooked mouth […] is splendid. I have lots of fun with him” (52).
Life is not all fun and play however, the weather in Prince Albert in winter requires Maud to walk to school bundled in a buffalo skin; and she struggles continually with her stepmother, whom she grows to despise and describes as “sulky, jealous, underhanded and mean” (43). Maud also has severe bouts with homesickness and wilts under periods of stress and a lack of steady female companionship.
December 7th is a highlight in Maud’s young life (now sixteen!) in which she has her first piece published in the Charlottetown Patriot, a poem about the legend of Cape Leforce.
Lest I gloss over the bad, there is some decidedly racist attitudes existing at the time towards children with Aboriginal blood — French and Scot fur traders marrying “country wives” and the children resulting from such marriages, who are called “breeds” (half-breeds) or “Métis” (45); While the racist attitudes, not uncommon for the time, may offend some readers, it isn’t representative of Montgomery as a person or as a writer but it would hardly be a fair review leaving it unmentioned either.
Sixteen year old Maud views her stepmother (perhaps unfairly) as an unhappily married woman, discontent with her lot in life and jealous of Maud and her father’s shared affection. There are also hints that her stepmother’s happiness may stem from Mr. Montgomery’s lack of economical means. This is almost the stereotypical relationship of a young girl and her ‘evil stepmother’ and I wonder how much of this is factual and not just Maud’s limited perspective.
The emphasis on recitation and memory in Victorian era education is interesting, lending credit to Anne Shirley’s obsession with literature and poetry (and recitations) and in a small town like Cavendish, the productions the school puts on likely served as community entertainment beyond a mere demonstration of acquired knowledge over the course of the school year.
While I don’t recall ever reading the word ‘logging’ in Maud’s entries, the presence of forestry in Canada is prevalent during the 3,000 mile (there and back again) journey from PEI to Saskatchewan, which offers a stark contrast of mud, pigs, and tree stumps far as the eye can see, in the shadow of the mountains, as opposed to the lush, rolling hillsides, ocean views, and wildflower-studded woods of Cavendish.
Next week, I’ll be continuing the series, further discussing Maud’s time in Prince Albert, and the culmination of her summer romance.
The Complete Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, The PEI Years, 1889-1900, edited by Mary Hensley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston, Oxford University Press (published in Canada), 2012, hardcover, 484 pages.