L.M. Montgomery has been perennially popular internationally since the publication of Anne of Green Gables in 1908. Academic assessment of Montgomery has undergone many changes, and in recent years, active engagement has replaced much of the former tolerance, indifference, or hostility. The complex story of the coming together of these two audiences (the popular and the academic) is part of Montgomery's legacy to Twenty-First-Century publishing history and to readers around the world.
L.M. Montgomery first began to publish poems and short stories in popular magazines in Canada and the United States. By the early 1900's she was making a comfortable living by her pen. When she began the correspondence with the younger journalist, G.B. MacMillan of Scotland, in 1903, she had the titles and descriptions of dozens of promising journals to share with him as an aspiring writer anxious to be published. In those early days, Montgomery thought her poetry was better than her prose, but with prose and poetry alike she was determined to please editors and find appropriate outlets for her pieces. If Montgomery had stayed with magazine poetry and stories only, it is doubtful that we would read her work today. But she took time away from magazine pieces to write a novel--just to satisfy herself. Anne of Green Gables (1908) surprised the world, and Montgomery, by becoming an immediate international success with a wide and diverse readership.
It is clear from the cover and design of the first edition that the L.C. Page Company intended Anne of Green Gables for a general audience. The cover has a sophisticated illustration by M.A. Claus and W.A.J. Claus, showing a mature young woman in profile; the lettering and boards would appeal to an adult rather than a children's audience. In 1908 many of the artificial distinctions now made between children's and adult fiction did not exist. While there were children's books--with large print or illustrations--books based on children were not assumed to be for children or for children only. Dickens's novels, even those focusing part of their story on children (such as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, The Old Curiosity Shop) were read by young and old alike. Similarly, Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were not assumed to be children's books even though children delighted in them. Montgomery's novel met with praise from young and old, from several countries, and from such astute readers as Mark Twain himself.
The popular audience embraced Anne of Green Gables and Montgomery's sequels and later novels.
The academic audience was less sure of the place Montgomery should hold in any serious discussion of literature. As a woman writer and a writer who appealed to children and who captured local color and landscape, Montgomery was not accepted in the academy as a serious writer. The split between the popular and the academic audience grew wider as post-war writers and critics departed from Victorian and Romantic models of writing and embraced Modernism.
Along with Modernism and a post-war economic boom--and bust--came a different kind of marketing for books. Books about children were commonly separated from adult books and were marketed differently. The covers of Montgomery's novels actually tell a story about these changes in marketing and estimation. Montgomery's books continued to sell well but were increasingly assumed by critics, and by readers influenced by them, to be for female juveniles primarily.