God's in. His Heaven
“I like imagining better than remembering.” L. M. Montgomery
The Anne of Green Gables Museum (opened 1972 )
Prince Edward Island, Canada
There must be something about a gabled house that sets the literary juices flowing. Nathaniel Hawthorne, inspired by one in Salem, Massachusetts, wrote The House of the Seven Gables, a residence haunted by the injustice of the witch trials. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s cherished residence in Maritime Canada gave birth to Anne of Green Gables, the tale of the triumphs and tribulations of an orphaned girl. For the legions who love the Montgomery series, The Anne of Green Gables Museum makes for an irresistible mecca.
In the summer of 2008, thousands of visitors descended on Prince Edward Island to attend the one hundredth birthday of the country’s most famous fictional red head. Youthful fans wore straw hats with long, flame-colored pigtails-their own or synthetic. Anne-who insisted on spelling her name with an E at the end as it “looks so much nicer” is the precocious protagonist of the classic that-along with the Mounties and hockey-is Canada’s most famous export.
The woman who put the province on the international literary map was Lucy, (named after her grandmother,) Maud-without an E, (named after Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Alice Maud Mary) who hailed from the rural community of Cavendish, the fictional Anne’s Avonlea. She was born in 1874 in a modest residence, one of several of the author’s home-museums. Highlights of the house tour are the room she was born, a display case that holds a reproduction of her wedding gown, her bridal shoes, and the pair she wore on her honeymoon to England and Scotland. Scrapbooks reveal memories of her years as a student at the Prince of Wales College. Period pieces make one step back into the Victorian era with items such as a Franklin stove, an organ that displays a copy of “Island Hymn,” composed by Maud in 1908, her handwritten letters. The walls display framed photographs of family members such as her mother, Clara, who died from tuberculosis when her daughter was twenty-one months. Not relishing the role of single father, Hugh took off for Saskatchewan; distance did not make the heart grow fonder. Maternal grandparents, Lucy and Alexander MacNeil, who lived several miles away. In their fifties and the parents of six, had little patience with Maud’s wild imaginings that clashed with their Presbyterian conservatism. For solace, Maud sought beauty in her island home, and in books such as Little Women. She found friends in her own reflection in the glass plate of a cabinet: the one the left she called Katie Maurice, the one on the right she called Lucy Gray. When Maud was fifteen, she took the train to Saskatchewan. Hugh had married Mary Anne McRae, with whom he had children Kate and Donald. Her stepmother disliked Maud whom she kept out of school to work as a nanny and maid, and a year later, she returned to Prince Edward Island. Anne’s words were her author’s own, “My life is a graveyard of buried hopes.”
Maud worked at several schools until she resigned to care for her widowed grandmother. During that time, she contributed short stories to Ladies Journal, McClure’s, and other magazines. In her journal she wrote that freelancing had earned $500.00, the equivalent of a male stenographer’s annual New York income. Of those who had doubted she would succeed, she gloated, “The dollars have silenced them. But I have not forgotten their sneers. My own perseverance has won the fight for me in the face of all discouragements.”
In 1905, Maud began a novel about an orphan who finds the poetic in the prosaic. She typed up her manuscript on an old typewriter with a broken W key that necessitated writing in each missing letter in ink. After five publisher rejections, she regulated the pages to a hatbox. During spring cleaning, she chanced upon the manuscript and sent it to the Boston based L.C. Page & Company that published Anne of Green Gables in 1908. In five months, the book sold 19,000 copies, (current number is 50 million copies) and appeared in twenty translations. Fan letters arrived from all over the world, including one from Mark Twain, “Anne of Green Gables is the dearest and most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice.” King George V appointed her to the Order of the British Empire in a ceremony presided over by Canada’s Governor-General Lord Bessborough in Rideau Hall, Ottawa. Maud was the first Canadian woman member of the British Royal Society of Arts.
In the novel, Gilbert Blythe, a student in Anne’s one-room schoolhouse, pulled her braid and called her Carrots-fighting words as she despised her flaming locks. Her knee jerk reaction: smash a chalk slate over his head. As punishment, the teacher made her write on the blackboard, “Ann Shirley has a very bad temper.” A further humiliation was she had to write Ann-without an E. In the fifth book of the series, Anne’s House of Dreams, the adult Gilbert reconnected with Anne, and he told her, “You’ve thwarted destiny long enough.” Succumbing to Gilbert’s “roguish hazel eyes,” realizing he was her “kindred spirit,” they married and raised six children in an Avonlea fairy-tale.
Art did not imitate life. Maud fell in love with a farmer who she rejected as she could not commit to an uneducated farmer. In her thirties, she wed the Reverend Ewen MacDonald. When Ewen received a position in Ontario, Maude left her heart in Prince Edward Island. She referred to 1919 as “a hellish year.” Her cousin, Frederica Campbell, died from influenza. Four months later, her husband suffered from what was referred to as “religious mania” currently classified as bipolar. Ewen endlessly feared eternal damnation.
Mischief and Anne always went hand in hand: she dyed her hair green, accidentally intoxicated her best friend, Diana Barry, on currant wine, almost drowned while enacting Lord Tennyson’s poem, “The lady of Shalott.” The MacDonald’s oldest child, Chester Cameron, had more serious scrapes. Unable to hold jobs, he badgered his mother for money, abandoned his wife and two children for another woman, and had a propensity to indecent exposure. Police arrested him for embezzlement. Her second baby, Hugh, was still born. She called her youngest, Stuart, her “one good son;” he became a respected Ontario obstetrician. Forced from his pulpit, in 1935 the couple bought a house in Toronto that Maud named the “Journey’s End” that could also have been known as Maud’s House of Nightmares. To treat Ewen’s disorder and Maud’s depression, doctors prescribed barbiturates that led to the hell of addiction.
While the author arm-wrestled her demons, Anne became a beloved classic. Polish resistance fighters took the novel to the Front; in Sri Lanka it aired as a television series, Canada featured her on a postage stamp, with both its English and French title, “Anne…La Maison aux pignons verts.” In the 1950s, the book -with the title Akage no An Red-Haired Anne-became part of the Japanese school curriculum due to the number of post-war orphans who related to the protagonist. In Japan, Anne mania is so intense that a Japanese businessman signed a contract to import more than $1.4 million worth of potatoes from Prince Edward Island.
As William Shakespeare dominates Stratford-Upon-Avon, Anne Shirley is the princess of Prince Edward Island. Maud’s orphan fuels the province’s multi-million-dollar tourist industry with theatrical performances, horse-drawn carriage rides, a mock Anne of Green Gables’ village.
The 1872 white, green-trimmed House of Green Gables Museum is in the former two-story farmhouse of Maude’s Aunt Annie and Uncle John Campbell where she experienced her happiest memories. Maud named the house Silver Bush and referred to it as “the Wonder Castle of My Childhood.” Visitors enter through the kitchen whose black wood-fire stove still heats the rooms. The parlor remains the same as when Maud wed in front of its fireplace; the organ played the Wedding March. A plaque on the wall reads, “Room where I was married, standing before the mantle.” “La salle ouv j’ étais foyer.” Some of the artifacts are the enchanted bookcase that inspired Anne’s imaginary friends, under glass is the Crazy Patchwork Quilt the author worked on from ages twelve to sixteen. On display is the weathered Blue Chest described in “The Story Girl;” its contents once belonged to a bride jilted at the altar. Maud’s upstairs bedroom has copies of the series with the sign, “First Edition Books Autographed by L. M. Montgomery To members of the Campbell family.” Another bookcase holds the book in its various translations. Throughout are mounted prints bearing quotations from Maud’s journals, the place she truly entered the confessional. beside it is a carriage such as the one in which Matthew Cuthbert first brought Anne to Green Gables from Bright River station. The sign in front holds the words from the author’s 1917 journal, “I only wish that I could have a house of my own like it and I would be satisfied.” Maud’s tragedy is she never obtained a room of her own.
Lucy Maud Montgomery committed suicide by overdosing on drugs in 1942 in Journey’s End. She left a note ripped from her journal, “My position is too awful to endure and nobody realizes it.” How different from the last line of Anne of Green Gables where Anne whispers a line from Pippa, the Italian orphan from Robert Browning’s poem, “God’s in his heaven all’s right with the world.”
The View From Her Window: The nearby lake inspired Anne’s Lake of Shining Waters.