The name “Lucy Maud Montgomery” might not ring any bells for you, but everyone knows Anne of Green Gables - the beloved books and equally beloved tv series that came after. But her creator had an interesting and varied life as well - with a lot of parallels to Anne’s.
Read on for a short biography of Canada’s most famous writer.
Lucy was born on Prince Edward Island in 1874. Her mother died when she was 21 months old, at which point she began living with her maternal grandparents. Her early years were solitary. She spent much time alone, creating imaginary friends for herself. This imaginary world was clearly what sparked her creativity. She kept a diary, where she entertained dreams of becoming a famous writer.
At age 16, she went to live with her father and step-mother for a year. There her first poem, “On Cape Force”, was published in The Daily Patriot, the local paper. They would go on to publish an article of hers as well before she returned home to Prince Edward Island.
At age 19, she attended Prince Edward College to train for her teacher’s licence, and later studied literature at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. Upon leaving, she worked at a number of schoolhouses on Prince Edward Island. This work gave her the time to write, which she began doing prolifically. From age 23 to 33, she published over 100 stories.
Despite, the solitary life, Lucy loved Prince Edward Island. She felt a deep spiritual calling in nature. Her most famous characters, Anne Shirley and Emily, would also have this same intense love for their surroundings.
At age 24, she returned home to live to care for her widowed grandmother. During this time, she worked at a proofreader at two local papers. She began writing her first books, which brought her significant money and acclaim. Part of the Anne series selling power was Lucy’s own origins. Readers were entranced at her stories of a slower, more rustic way of life. Lucy’s own life was embellished upon by her promoters, in order to create a mystique around a young, female author who writes part-time in the wilds of Prince Edward Island. In reality, she was 37 years old at this point, unmarried, who definitely had designs upon being a famous, full-time author.
At the age of 37, she married Ewen Macdonald, a Presbyterian minister. They moved to Ontario, where he had taken a position. She would write 11 books there. Their marriage appears to be more of a convenient than romance. He did not have a love for literature like her, nor did they have much else in common. While her marriage was uninspiring, writing became her outlet and her escape.She wrote characters who were idealised versions of herself, who frequently fall in love with the type of person she would have liked to have married.
Lucy was horrified at the reports that would arrive on World War One. She identified strongly with the Allies, and wrote passionate articles urging women to do their part. A deeply religious woman, she was frustrated when her husband refused to speak about the war in his sermons. In some ways, she developed an unhealthy interest in the war efforts. Her diaries show that she was utterly consumed by news and reports and became depressed whenever bad news arrived.
Both Lucy and her husband suffered from bouts of depression. The responsibilities of motherhood and church life weighed heavy on her, as did her unhappy and unfulfilling marriage. She often bemoaned the wide gap between how her young readers idealised her and the reality of her life.
At age 44, Lucy caught the Spanish Flu, which almost killed her. She ranked it among one of the worst and most painful experiences of her life. Unfortunately, her best friend also contracted the Flu and did not survive. At this time, her marriage to Ewen also became very difficult to endure. She felt abandoned by him during her illness, and he himself was struck by intense bouts of depressive episodes, which left him erratic and unwilling to help Lucy with household duties. Writing continued to be her solace during this difficult times.
By 1920, Lucy was famous and received fan letters from across the world. Her childhood home was besieged by visitors, who hungered to see where their favourite writer spent her childhood. Capitlising on the fame, Anne of Green Gables was made into a film, although bizarrely the location was changed from Canada to the United States. This made Lucy deeply unhappy, as well as what she considered a very poor characterisation of Anne. But as her publisher owned the rights, she had no say whatsoever over the film, and all the royalties went to him and not Lucy. This year she also stopped writing about Anne, of whom she had tired. She turned to other female characters, such as Emily of the New Moon.
Lucy Maud Montgomery is the most best-selling author of all time. But as a writer of stories and novels for children and women, she received little to no critical acclaim. They did not consider her a serious writer and critics dismissed her.
In 1935, her husband retired and they moved to Swansea, a suburb of Toronto. After a gap of 15 years, she started writing about Anne Shirley again. These books, such as Anne of the Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside, filled in the hitherto unexplored areas of Anne’s life. This same year she received an OBE (Order of the British Empire), a title she was very proud of.
At age 67, she was found in her bed, dead of a suspected thrombosis, although this was never confirmed. She was buried at Cavendish Community Church. She had published 20 novels and over 500 short stories, as well as keeping a diary consistently, which she revised and edited herself.
Montgomery has a unique distinction whereby her reputation does not rest on one or two books, but a whole body of work. Her Anne books are beloved the world over, with thousands making pilgrimages very year in order to soak up the atmosphere of Montgomery’s other main character - Prince Edward Island.
Visit: Leaksdale Manse, Uxbridge, Ontario. Montgomery’s first home with her husband Ewen Montgomery is now a National Historic Site and a house museum.
Watch: Anne With an E (2017-19)