Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Looking For Anne of Green Gables

Title: Looking For Anne of Green Gables
Author: Irene Gammel
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Date Finished: 6 September 2008
My Rating: 4 Stars

I was really fascinated with this book about L.M. Montgomery and the creation of Anne Shirley, one of literatures most beloved heroines. After reading this book I was not at all surprised to read the recent news article written about L.M. Montgomery's suicide. A quote from the article, written by Montgomery's granddaughter, "Despite her great success, it is known that she suffered from depression, that she was isolated, sad and filled with worry and dread for much of her life. But our family has never spoken publicly about the extent of her illness.What has never been revealed is that L.M. Montgomery took her own life at the age of 67 through a drug overdose."

The author of this book, Irene Gammel, did an amazing amount of detailed research before writing this book. There is so much information and interesting tidbits in this book that I had to keep copious notes so I would remember everything.
Gammel delved into contemporary source material from Montgomery's life so that she could discover the origins of Anne. Magazines that Montgomery read and published in, unpublished letters and journal entires of Montgomery's, as well as pictures and photographs, books and articles from the years surrounding Anne's creation were all used to uncover the mystery.
Gammel herself stated in the prologue that "telling the life of Anne is like peeling an onion. This book takes readers inside Maud's guarded life not only by reading between the lines of her unpublished journal entires for the period, but also by looking beyond the conventional sources that Maud wanted us to see." While Montgomery was an addictive diarist and note taker and loved reading old diary entries, letting them influence her present, she destroyed much of her letters, notebooks and journals. What we are left with today is only what she wanted to survive. This is also an indication of the amount of research Gammel had to undertake to really discover L.M. Montgomery and her creation of Anne.
One thing that surprised me and that I think might surprise many of Montgomery's fans is that she was very pragmatic about her writing career. She wanted to make money, be self-sufficient and famous. She wasn't fueled by imagination like the character she created was. Montgomery read extensively from popular publications so she would know what kind of stories could get published and then she would mimic the formulas. The story of Anne is far from being an original idea. It was a formula story that sold well and was very popular at the time, even down to the red hair and the name Anne. Montgomery was very pragmatic in her creation of Anne. It seems much of the story was not drawn from her imagination but taken from real life situations and magazine articles.
One thing that really surprised me about L.M. Montgomery is what a tease and a flirt she was. She liked playing mental games with men and suitors. I guess I never imagined the creator of Anne of be so manipulative.
What was most revealing to me however, was how self-involved Montgomery was, how much of a "woe is me" attitude she had and how she felt a need to denigrate and bring down other people. That attitude arose from how utterly insecure she was. One example of this is that she kept a mental blacklist of everyone who failed to congratulate her on the success of Anne of Green Gables. "A sign of narcissistic self-involvement, it was also a mark of deep-seated insecurity and a lifelong desire for praise and acceptance. Nate Lockhart, with whom she had first shared her desire to write a book, never congratulated her on her novel, she complained. One wonders whether she congratulated him on the birth of two sons, both in the same year as Anne." (236)
The best part of this book is going along with Gammel as she uncovers so much of what influenced L.M. Montgomery in creating Anne of Green Gables. "Anne was the product of a long evolution. In fact, just as Maud would distill her winter potpourri from the blossoms of an entire summer, so she distilled Anne's character from a variety of "Anns" while also blending that distillation with her own nostalgic memories. That distillation is at the core of the novel's success....Anne was the result of ten years of disquiet and turbulence, years of restlessness and loneliness." (218-219)
Those who just have a passing enjoyment of Anne of Green Gables or L.M. Montgomery's other books might not enjoy this book. As I've said, extensive research into very minute details went into this book and it does get a little bogged down at times. That said, truly devoted Anne fans really should read this fascinating literary biography.


the lazy reader said...

I just finished this one. It was fascinating and almost tragic. Its strange to think that such a happy novel has such a dark history. Thank you for the reccomendation.

Jeanette said...

Glad to hear you read this. I totally agree about it being fascinating yet a little tragic. I've always liked L.M. Montgomery's books but never took the time to learn about her. I am going to read more about her and her journals, even though now I know how much she edited them.

Laura H said...

I'm actually kind of sad that I read this review. I love all the Anne books, I hope this doesnt make me look at them different. I guess I put authors of such a high pedestal that I forget they are human.

Trish said...

I honestly had no idea that she had battles with depression and then suicide. Yikes--I grew up on Anne but I know virtually nothing about Montgomery's life (although when I was little we drove past her Ontario home where she lived briefly).

Kim김 said...

Wow! Hi! I came across your blog via your entry about Mary Blair's Cinderella book. Which is a book I plan to get. But, this book sounds so interesting and I never knew it existed! I love Anne of Green Gables. Thanks for the write up. ^^