Imagining Anne: L. M. Montgomery’s Island Scrapbooks
Imagining Anne: L. M. Montgomery’s Island Scrapbooks
The two Island scrapbooks are the most colourful and vibrant of the six personal scrapbooks. They reflect Montgomery’s youth and optimism, and she lavished time on arranging the items. .. Reading over Montgomery’s shoulder, we find 19th and early 20th century rural Canadian life come alive...
The scrapbooks are living records - Montgomery edited them over the years and borrowed from them to illustrate her handwritten journals... It is possible to uncover clues about Montgomery’s private live and the larger world around her as you begin to spot markers and patterns over many pages. The scrapbooks reward close reading...
Readers today may be charmed by the scrapbooks, for the revealing details they preserve, for the flavour of the times and for the experience of feeling an artist’s passion for the vivid rainbow dance of life she creates and imagines.
The Fringed Gentian...
Then whisper blossom, in thy sleep,
How I may upward climb
The Alpine path so hard, so steep,
That leads to heights sublime?
How may I reach that far-off goal
Of true and honored fame,
To write upon its shining scroll
A woman's humble name?
Who doesn’t like to decode hidden messages and figure out someone’s personality from the things he or she saved? Lucy Maud Montgomery buffs who know something about her personal story will be especially interested in the new edition of Imagining Anne: The Island Scrapbooks of L. M. Montgomery, presented by Elizabeth Rollins Epperly.
A scholar and Montgomery specialist, Epperly serves on the board of the Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority and the International Advisory Board of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Institute. The latter body, along with the Heirs of L. M. Montgomery and the L.M. Montgomery Birthplace Trust, were instrumental in the publication of this glossy coffee table book which features an introduction by former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.
Epperly has edited two books about Montgomery and has authored two more. While other scholars (Waterston and Rubio) have pored over Montgomery’s journals, Epperly focuses on Montgomery’s visual legacy. In her 2007 study, Through Lovers’ Lane, L. M. Montgomery’s Photography and Visual Imagination, Epperly identifies themes and symbols in Lucy Maud’s photos and relates them to her novels. Interpreting the scrapbooks, which are also visual, is a logical continuation of Epperly’s research.
The “Island” scrapbooks are those kept by Lucy Maud while living in Prince Edward Island before her marriage to the Rev. Ewan Macdonald and their move to an Ontario pastorate. In Imagining Anne, Epperly presents and discusses selected pages from the Blue Scrapbook, 1893-7, and the Red Scrapbook, 1896-1910. It is hard to date the scrapbooks as Montgomery wasn’t chronological but included on the same page images dating decades apart, The Blue Scrapbook items are things she saved from her years 18 to 22, a busy time in which she graduated from teachers’ college, taught school, published her first stories and poems, attended Dalhousie University for a year, and “fell in and out of love”. The Red Scrapbook is a “writer’s scrapbook” of clippings and pictures that suggest “miniature dramas and dialogues among the images.”
These two scrapbooks are personal, including souvenirs, photos, newspaper and magazine clippings, pressed flowers and other memorabilia. (Montgomery also kept work-related scrapbooks containing her published poems and stories and reviews of her novels.) Many pages in these “personal” books are visually compelling, with cut-out photos of fashionable women, flowers, children, cats; swatches of cloth and engraved invitations. Present-day scrapbookers using new materials from craft shops may be impressed with what Maud achieved with fewer resources.
Montgomery used her scrapbooks to “explore and map out ideas through images and colour”, writes Epperly. Through these “mixed media collages”, Montgomery makes “references in code” to significant personal experiences. “Each image,” says Epperly, “is laden with memory and meaning.”
Montgomery fans, thrilled to put on their Sherlock Holmes hats and get out their magic decoding rings, will find that some pages are not obscure; for instance, p. 35 of the Red Scrapbook is devoted entirely to pictures of cats, animals which Montgomery loved.
Similarly, it’s not hard to figure out why Maud pasted a story, “The Mistake”, above the invitation to her father’s wedding to his second wife. Montgomery’s father left her, a toddler, in her maternal grandparents’ care and went west. When Maud, in her early teens, spent a year under her stepmother’s roof in Saskatchewan, she was overworked and unhappy. She returned to Prince Edward Island, and, although she and her father kept in touch, he was never part of her daily life. Those who have read Anne of Windy Poplars and Emily of New Moon know that absent fathers recur in Maud’s writing.
Looking at some of the pages – for instance, p. 29 in the Red Scrapbook – one can see how the various items tie together to convey a feeling. A photo of Maud’s gable window; a card with flowers and a seascape; a poem about uncertain love are alongside a newspaper photo of a hen and chicks; a joke about the end of the world; a poem “At Grandmother’s”, and a 1903 clipping about the Rev. Ewan Macdonald. Maud and Ewan postponed their marriage so that Maud could see her grandmother through to the end of her days. The items suggest Maud’s musings about the gains and losses marriage will bring.
Page 26 of the Red Scrapbook, which Epperly describes as one of “Poetic Imagery”, includes a picture of the curving Cavendish shoreline, a colour illustration of a bend in a road, and a clipping of a poem, “The Bend in the Road” by Grace Denio Litchfield. The phrase “a bend in the road” recurs in the Anne books. Other items on the page – a church photo; a wedding clipping; an obituary, a pretty greeting card and a poem about ancient Egyptian slippers – hint of change but more obscurely.
The game of close reading, decoding and interpreting isn’t exact and can be frustrating. Page 33 of the Red Scrapbook includes items that seem to convey Maud’s thoughts about getting married: a picture of moonlight on water; a bride illustration; a wedding clipping, and two references to children: the poem, “Monday’s child is fair of face”, and an illustration: “The Evolution of the Engagement Ring”, showing a series of pictures of a diamond ring turning into the face of a crying child. The copy of the College Record, of 1894, however, doesn’t seem to fit.
Some pages may simply consist of items Maud held onto for sentimental or aesthetic reasons and had to put somewhere, with no code implied. The scrapbooks don’t reveal any new information about Maud’s friendships with the opposite sex, although Herman Leard’s obituary is on one page and, on another, a newspaper photo of the Rev. Edwin Smith, a friend from later in Maud’s life. Epperly doesn’t comment on every item; for instance, the clipped-out poem, “Night is my Friend” (p. 11 of the Red Scrapbook) by “Lucy Lincoln Montgomery”. Was that one of Lucy Maud’s pen names, or was it another writer altogether? We aren’t told.
Generally, Epperly draws our attention to items we may know of from Maud’s novels and biographies, such as a clipped-out poem by her pen pal, the author Ephraim Weber. She also draws our attention to the poem, “The Fringed Gentian” (see beginning quote) which appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1884 and inspired Montgomery so much that she borrowed a phrase as the title for her biography, “The Alpine Path”.
Imagining Anne provides thirsty Montgomery fans with yet more information about their beloved Canadian author and will also engage scrapbookers curious about early examples of their craft. Although readers 10 and up may find the pictures interesting, the book will be best appreciated by older readers who already know something about Maud’s life and work.