Despite her fame and international following, Canadian Lucy Maud Montgomery was generally underestimated throughout the twentieth century by literary critics, says Dr. Rita Bode, associate professor of English Literature at Trent University Durham.
Best-known for the Anne of Green Gables series, but author of 20 novels, Montgomery was looked down upon for her popularity, and considered "old-fashioned" and sentimental, having written the majority of her work as the trend toward modernist literature took hold.
“This opinion lingers even today,” says Prof. Bode. “But there is a rich and growing body of scholarship on Montgomery. The publication of her journals in 1985 initiated a significant shift in the critical assessment of her work."
Montgomery through an Ontario lens
A volume of essays recently released, co-edited by Prof. Bode and Dr. Lesley Clement of Lakehead University, builds upon this body of scholarship. L. M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys: the Ontario Years, 1911-1942 examines Montgomery’s work through an Ontario lens. The volume’s studies consider both her life-writing and her literature. A Symons Trust Fund award is supporting its publication.
Contributors to the volume include: Dr. Margaret Steffler, associate professor of English Literature at Trent University; Natalie Forest, who completed her BA and MA at Trent, and is now completing her PhD at York; and Trent University Durham undergraduate student, Kristina Eldridge, who worked on the interview with executive members of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario. Ms. Eldridge, who is an English major and also studies History, embraced the project with enthusiasm and was delighted to discover that Montgomery’s restored home in Leaskdale is less than an hour’s drive from Trent’s Durham campus.
"We shift the focus from PEI to Ontario as the major point of reference in her life and work and explore the significance of this new perspective," explains Prof. Bode, adding that Montgomery spent almost half her life and wrote much of her fiction in Ontario.
Professors Bode and Clement had met at a number of conferences but came together on this project following a 2011 conference, organized by Prof. Clement, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of Montgomery’s arrival in Ontario.
"We believe the various chapters complicate the interpretations of her work providing a firmer place in a Canadian literary tradition and beyond," says Prof. Bode, who works mostly on American and British women writers of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries, but adds that her forays into Canadian studies with Montgomery are always gratifying.