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The Life of L.M. Montgomery

photo of the MacneillsLucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942) was born in Clifton (now called New London), Prince Edward Island, daughter of Hugh John Montgomery and Clara Woolner Macneill. Her twenty-three-year-old mother died of tuberculosis when Maud was just twenty-one months old, and her maternal grandparents, Alexander and Lucy Macneill, took over her care at the Macneill homestead in Cavendish. She grew up in the seaside fishing and farming community, and knew intimately all of its beaches, woods, fields, and homes.

In 1890 she was invited to visit--perhaps to live with--her father and his new wife in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. She enjoyed the train trip itself and made some wonderful friends while out west--even saw her name in print for the first time--but she and her stepmother did not get along. She was homesick for the Island, too, and returned in 1891. Her awe over the size and beauty of Canada never left her.

Maud graduated from in Charlottetown in 1894 and received a first-class teacher's licence. At the convocation exercises, she read her essay on Shakespeare's "Portia" to an appreciative audience. She taught school first in Bideford, Prince Edward Island, where she was reasonably happy though she had a large class. She was courted by several young men and recorded many jolly times in her journal. The Bideford Parsonage, where she boarded that winter, has now become a museum in her honor.

Maud Montgomery had saved just enough money in her first year of teaching to pay for one year at Dalhousie University in Halifax. She thought that a course in English literature might aid her writing career. She received her first payment for a poem while in Halifax, and won a newspaper contest for writing. She returned to the Island to take up a second teaching post, in Belmont, Lot 16. Here she was not happy with the pupils nor with her living arrangement. She became secretly engaged to Edwin Simpson, her cousin, and almost immediately began to regret her decision. The next year, through Edwin Simpson's connections, she filled in as a teacher in Lower Bedeque, PEI. Her journal records her passionate attachment to the son of the family with whom she boarded--Herman Leard. Leard may already have been engaged, and she was herself. Her grandfather's death in 1898 took her back to Cavendish and away from Leard (who died the next year) and teaching. She broke her engagement with Edwin Simpson and assisted her grandmother in the post office for the next thirteen years.

Apart from a ten-month stint as a newspaper reporter on the Halifax Daily Echo (1901-1902), she stayed with her grandmother until Lucy Woolner Macneill died in 1911. She had many activities to keep her busy in Cavendish apart from the post office work: she photographed, she worked on the Cavendish Literary Magazine, she kept scrapbooks and a journal, and she wrote and published poetry and short stories. She was ambitious to earn a living by her pen. She made some far-flung friendships through her writing, three of which lasted for many years: with an elderly Massachusetts writer, Lucy Lincoln Montgomery (whose similar initials had brought them in contact); with an aspiring writer and teacher in Alberta, Ephraim Weber, with whom she began corresponding in 1902; and with George Boyd MacMillan, a young Scottish journalist and aspiring writer, with whom she began a correspondence in 1903. By the time she began writing to MacMillan, she was earning a comfortable living through her writing.

In 1902 Maud developed two important friendships: one was with the Cavendish school teacher, Nora Lefurgey, who boarded at the Macneills in the winter of 1903 and with whom she kept a riotously funny private journal. Nora moved away from the Island in 1904 but reappeared in Montgomery's life in the late 1920's when she moved to Toronto. They renewed their old friendship. The other friendship was with Maud's cousin Frederica Campbell of Park Corner, whom she had known for years as a little girl, but suddenly "discovered" as an adult. They became best friends, and Frede's death in 1919 was a permanent grief.

In 1903 Ewan Macdonald was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in Cavendish. When he left Canada to study for a year in Edinburgh in 1906, he and Maud were secretly engaged. Maud was determined to stay with her grandmother so that she could remain in her old home, and so the two could not wed for another five years. Meanwhile, Montgomery decided to take the time away from her lucrative short-story writing to write a novel. Anne of Green Gables was rejected several times before it was finally accepted by the L.C. Page Company in Boston. It was published in 1908 and became an immediate success. The Page Company contract tied Maud in for years, and she renewed the contract, though she hated doing so, on a visit to Page in 1910.

Anne of Green Gables changed her life. Suddenly she was a celebrity and began receiving fan mail. She earned what for the times was an enormous amount, despite the small royalty of the Page contract. She earned enough to pay for Frede Campbell's two-year course at Macdonald College in Montreal and for her own honeymoon in 1911. For the rest of her life, she was to be famous and sought after.

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