A Visit to Charlottetown, PEI


One of the best things about the biennial Lucy Maud Montgomery conference is that it happens in Charlottetown. One of the best things about Charlottetown is going to the Lucy Maud conference.
Not entirely true. I went to see the musical Anne and gilbert the Thursday evening of my stay. The Guild, a theatre on the corner of Richmond St. in downtown Charlottetown—across the street from the Confederation Centre in one direction and the Anne of Green Gables Store in the other—is an intimate venue where the front row is essentially part of the stage. This year, Ellen Denny of London, Ontario, played Anne, and Patrick Cook of St. John’s, Newfoundland, played Gilbert, two very fine and energetic actors. This was one of the liveliest musicals I’ve ever seen, and I used to hate musicals.
I loved the show, but even better was having Ellen Denny and Patrick Cook show up at the Saturday evening banquet at the conference as part of a birthday surprise for one of the conference participants. Ellen Denny was sitting beside me, and I did my utmost to act as though I wasn’t thrilled at her choice of seats.
I correct myself. Many exciting things can happen in Charlottetown besides attending the Lucy Maud conference. I can’t oversell this place. It’s one of the oldest cities in the country, its streets are crowded with interesting shops, pubs, and coffee shops; its people are kind and helpful in a way I’ve rarely seen, and they really will go out of their way on your behalf. I was looking for a bank one afternoon, and this fellow, who happened to be eating lunch in his car, got out—leaving the door open with the keys in the ignition—to lead me around the corner and down the street to the door of the bank.
It’s not as though people aren’t friendly or helpful in Edmonton. They are. But in Charlottetown, the people seem to have fewer barriers when it comes to strangers. It’s all part of the island culture.
They have an expression on the island. If you aren’t an islander, then you “come from away.” If you come from away, then you will never be an islander. But neither are you a stranger. If you visit the island, you are a guest, and you will meet with the same kindness and respect granted to friends and family.
But back to the conference. We had four days of talking about Lucy Maud, Anne, Rilla, and many, many other characters from Montgomery’s body of work. And then there are the journals—five decades worth—which means we have more information about Lucy Maud’s personal life and writing habits than any other writer I can think of, save maybe Samuel Johnson.
The theme of this year’s conference was Montgomery and War. She only wrote one book about the Great War—Rilla of Ingleside. Nonetheless, the conference presentations and conversation ranged all over the Lucy Maud map: from food, to spirituality, to post traumatic stress disorder, to patriotism, to women and the Red Cross. We talked about Montgomery’s struggle with depression, her grief over the death of her beloved cousin Frede Campbell, and her decade-long series of court battles with L. C. Page, the original publisher of Anne of Green Gables in 1908.
I always learn something new at these conferences. I learned, for example, that Montgomery collected reviews of her books and pasted them into scrapbooks. A curious habit. But as Ben Lefebvre, co-organizer of the conference and editor of The L. M. Montgomery Reader, said to me in a hallway conversation, Montgomery was “the author of her own career.”
Montgomery’s short stories, her poetry, her many novels, as well as her scrapbooks, letters, and journals provide an endless number of discussion points, no matter the topic. I wondered if this conference would be more limited than those in the past because of the theme. But no. And more and more, scholars and professionals are bringing an interdisciplinary perspective to the conference. I, for one, had a child psychiatrist from Melbourne on my panel about trauma.
If you are an Anne fan, there’s much more to read and discover in Montgomery’s books—Emily Star, for one. If you aren’t an Anne fan, then try the journals. Life writing is entirely its own genre, and Montgomery provides interesting historical and cultural insights into life on Prince Edward Island and Ontario, not to mention Canada. Montgomery visited the UK during her honeymoon, but As far as I know, the farthest west of Ontario Montgomery travelled was Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, to visit her father, but she had friends and family all over Canada, the States, and the UK.
I fell into the world of Montgomery by accident. I didn’t read Anne of Green Gables until I was in my thirties—and I saw the film first. I don’t know how long I’ll stay in this world, but just like Charlottetown, it’s a fascinating place to visit.

All of the Annes (of course with an E)


With the LMM conference in Charlottetown just over a week away, I’m spending much time these days thinking about and reading L.M. Montgomery, particularly rilla of Ingleside. Rilla is Montgomery’s book about WWI. It’s a poignant narrative about Anne’s family and the response of the community of Four Winds Harbour to the war.
If you haven’t read the book, I won’t spoil it for you, but I’m always struck by the character of Anne in this last of the Anne books, chronologically speaking, that Montgomery wrote in her lifetime. After Rilla, Montgomery went on to write Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside, but these books fit earlier into the series, and, if you’ve read them, you will know the different tone these books employ. The Anne of Rilla of Ingleside is both mother and wife—sometimes writer but always a prominent figure in the community—a woman who has raised a family and experienced grief over the deaths of two children. The Anne of this book is a long way from the chatterbox who first comes to Green Gables on a buggy with Matthew, imagining names for the places she passes—The White Way of Delight and The Lake of Shining Waters—and  imagining having a family for the first time in her life.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Anne from Anne of Green Gables, but it can be tricky sometimes reconciling the girl to the woman. Anne herself in the first book talks about the different Annes that she must negociate: “There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person.” But readers of the series have to negociate Annes as well. You have to go from loving a skinny, starry-eyed redhead at eleven to understanding a wife and mother in her forties. Fans of the Harry Potter series talk about growing up with Harry and friends—especially those kids, like mine, who began reading Harry at eleven or twelve—but it’s a much longer haul with Anne.
Here are two passages that help to illustrate all of the Annes from the Montgomery’s series:
Anne of Green Gables
She danced up to the little looking‑glass and peered into it.  Her pointed freckled face and solemn gray eyes peered back at her.
“You’re only Anne of Green Gables,” she said earnestly, “and I see you, just as you are looking now, whenever I try to imagine I’m the Lady Cordelia.  But it’s a million times nicer to be Anne of Green Gables than Anne of nowhere in particular, isn’t it?”
Rilla of Ingleside
“She was thinking of little Joyce’s grave in the old burying-ground over-harbour – little Joyce who would have been a woman now, had she lived – of the white cross in France and the splendid grey eyes of the little boy who had been taught his first lessons of duty and loyalty at her knee – of Jem in the terrible trenches – of Nan and Di and Rilla, waiting – waiting – waiting, while the golden years of youth passed by – and she wondered if she could bear any more.”

L.M. Montgomery and War, the Eleventh Biennial Conference

On June 25, I will be travelling to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, for L. M. Montgomery and War, the Eleventh Biennial LMM Conference, at the University of PEI. This year’s conference commemorates one hundred years since the beginning of WWI.
This is my fourth trip to this conference, and it’s an exciting event for Lucy Maud fans and scholars from around the world. I will be staying in downtown Charlottetown, a short walk from the harbour, the Anne of Green Gables Store, and the Anne of Green Gables Chocolate Shop. The chocolate shop will definitely be one of my stops.
Enjoy a tourists welcome to the Anne of Green Gables National Park. Remember, Anne is an industry for the island.
Charlottetown is a beautiful city, and it would be a challenge to find friendlier or more engaging people anywhere in Canada. Charlottetown itself is an older city—as far as Canadian cities go. During my last two trips to the conference, I had the good fortune to stay at the Great George, which I was told hoasted the fathers of confederation at the Charlottetown Conference in 1864.
The Lucy Maud conference starts on Wednesday, June 25, and I will be presenting on Friday, June 27. My paper for the conference explores post-traumatic stress in Montgomery’s fiction, specifically rilla of Ingleside and Jane of Lantern Hill.
While Montgomery wrote only one book exclusively about World War I, the conference will feature papers and presentations that cover war in all of its implications in her fiction.
Watch for updates and photographs from Prince Edward Island as the conference gets closer. If you haven’t’ read Rilla of Ingleside, Montgomery’s novel about the war from the perspective of the home front, you should know that the book largely comes from Rilla Blythe’s point of view, Anne’s youngest daughter. Rilla has to grow up as the community responds to the war and the war effort. Here is an excerpt.
“We must keep a little laughter, girls,” said Mrs. Blythe. “A good laugh is as good as a prayer sometimes—only sometimes,” she added under her breath. She had found it very hard to laugh during the three weeks she had just lived through—she, Anne Blythe, to whom laughter had always come so easily and freshly. And what hurt most was that Rilla’s laughter had grown so rare—Rilla whom she used to think laughed over-much. Was all the child’s girlhood to be so clouded? Yet how strong and clever and womanly she was growing! How patiently she knitted and sewed and manipulated those uncertain Junior Reds!
Rilla of Ingleside, Chapter XII