Friday, May 7, 2010
With Love to Lucy Maud
My Sepia Saturday offering; The woman in the photograph is Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874 - 1942) and one of my all time favourite authors. She has had an enormous influence on my life.
When I was ten years old my teacher read 'Anne of Green Gables' to us out loud, and I loved it! Captivated and enthralled, I couldn’t wait for Friday afternoons to hear the next chapter. I begged my mother to buy me the book, which she did, and thus began a life-long adoration of all things Lucy Maud. I have collected all the other L.M. Montgomery works over the years, including a glossy, new, elegant '100 Years of Anne' edition of Anne of Green Gables, but retain an especial love for my original book, its pages stained and faded from many readings.
I believe that books help to develop a sense of individual self. The introverted nature of reading ... you and the book, is part of its power. No one knows what you are thinking as you read. No one can see what changes might be taking place under the surface of your silent repose, and this can be transforming to heart and brain. Neural pathways are being built. Anne, and thus Lucy Maud Montgomery, set me firmly on that path of magic and optimism. It was because of Anne that I started my first little diary which later morphed into the over forty years of hand-written journals I now possess.
Anne began her life impoverished and unloved, yet she managed to cultivate her gifts of optimism, curiosity and imagination. As she grew, her somewhat eccentric notions mellowed into an intense appreciation for beauty and a deep understanding of human love. Even as a child, I was keenly aware of this.
Although I have a deep attachment to the Anne of Green Gables series, my favourite Lucy Maud Montgomery book is ‘The Blue Castle’. It is the story of Valency Stirling, a meek, shy, unattractive, unloved 29 year old woman who is oppressed by her mother and family. She escapes into a created dream world which she calls The Blue Castle. Told that she has a fatal heart condition, she decides to keep this news from her family, and to actually "live" her last year on earth. Thus begins a transformation that sees her dreams become reality, and Valency understand that the only way to really be whole is to open your heart to all your life contains ... the sad and poignant and hurting, too.
Written in 1926, it is the most mature of Montgomery’s books, a romantic fairytale for adults. The Blue Castle is about disappointment and renewal, about unlived life and second chances. I have two favourite quotes from the book which I wrote out years ago, and have up in my little study:
"Fear is the original sin. Almost all of the evil in the world has its origin in the fact that some one is afraid of something."
"Rebellion flamed up in her soul as the dark hours passed by … not because she had no future but because she had no past."
Several years ago I made a pilgrimage to both Prince Edward Island and Ontario. I visited the Lucy Maud Montgomery Heritage Museum at Park Corner in Cavendish, and toured Anne of Green Gables House. I saw the house in New London, P.E.I. where Lucy Maud was born on November 30th, 1874, and stood in the room of her birth. I went to Leaskdale, (Uxbridge) near Toronto, where I breathed every room of the manse (now a museum) where Lucy Maud lived for fifteen years with her husband, Rev. Ewan MacDonald, and two sons, and where she wrote eleven of her books.
I took many pictures of things which delighted my soul; Anne's bedroom, the rosebud tea set; portraits of Lucy Maud at various stages of her life, her gowns, her handwritten manuscripts. I looked into the 'Lake of Shining Waters' and walked the 'White Way of Delight'. I bought myself an Anne of Green Gables doll. My husband, Gem, was an exceedingly good sport and very patient with me during this holiday, for which I will be forever grateful, and goes a long way to making up for the fact that he wouldn't agree to naming our only daughter Lucy!
Lucy Maud Montgomery died in April, 1942. Her official cause of death was listed as congestive heart failure. Her last years were not easy ones as she struggled with desperate depression, both hers and that of her husband, a man who had been mentally ill for many years with extreme melancholy and hyperchondria.
In 2008, Kate Macdonald Butler, her granddaughter, revealed that her famous grandmother took her own life by a deliberate overdose of heart medication, a dark secret the family had kept for decades. No autopsy was ever performed, but Kate's father Stuart MacDonald, a medical doctor, and Lucy Maud's younger son, apparently disposed of the evidence after reading the scene as a suicide. According to the granddaughter, he also pocketed a note which said, in part, addressing her much loved cousin and best friend Frede Campbell, who had been dead for more than twenty years, "I see your portrait on my bedroom wall, and soon I will step into that picture and hold out my hands to you as you stand among the shadows. Beloved, we will be together again and the years of our severance are as if they had never been."
I visited Lucy Maud's gravesite in Cavendish cemetery, near her childhood home. As I stood there, I found myself mourning deeply the woman who is somehow such an integral part of who I am.
Now, as ever ... I sense her presence in comforting kitchen smells, in afternoon walks under spicy, fragrant trees, in the scent of rain-soaked flowers, in my delight in eccentricity, and in my love of the kindred.
"Kindred spirits are not as scarce as I used to think", said Anne.
I agree. I have even found some in here.
(Lucy Maud Montgomery in 1935, at the age of 61).