For more than a year now, Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney have been writing about friendships between women writers on their blog, SomethingRhymed.com, and when they were preparing to write about L.M. Montgomery, they wrote to ask me for suggestions. Montgomery’s correspondence with G.B. MacMillan and Ephraim Weber is well known, but of course they were looking for a woman writer, so I wrote to recommend Nora Lefurgey, with whom Montgomery kept a joint diary, and they posted their profile of that friendship in the fall.
(I also suggested Lucy Lincoln Montgomery, a Massachusetts writer Lucy Maud Montgomery corresponded with – apparently they became friends because of the similarity of their names – but I haven’t been able to learn very much about their friendship. If any of you know more about Lucy Lincoln Montgomery, please share in the comments. Maybe someday I’ll write an essay about the two Montgomerys with the Sarah Emsley who works at Headline Publishing….)
Sue Lange, a South Australian writer with a particular interest in Montgomery, first wrote to me last summer after I mentioned her article “L.M. Montgomery’s Halifax: The Real Life Inspiration for Anne of the Island,” in a blog post about connections between my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia and Montgomery’s “Kingsport.” We’ve kept up a regular correspondence ever since, about writing, Montgomery, and Jane Austen (and one of my other favourite authors, Jeanne Birdsall, whose newest book in the Penderwicks series was just published a few weeks ago, and whose writing often includes allusions to both Montgomery and Austen.)
Inspired by what Emily and Emma Claire wrote about the secret joint diary, Sue sent me an excerpt from the book she’s working on, called Hooked on Montgomery: The Hooked and Braided Rugs in the Life of L.M. Montgomery, and with her permission, I’m pleased to share it with all of you here. I would have posted it last fall, except that, as many of you will recall, I was totally wrapped up in the Mansfield Park celebrations and therefore had trouble finding time for Montgomery. This month, however, I’ve been rereading Anne of Windy Poplars and thinking about Montgomery’s novels again. So – with thanks to Sue for her patience – here is her guest post that ties together rug hooking, friendship, and that fascinating secret diary.
Sue is a regular contributor to The Shining Scroll (published by the L.M. Montgomery Literary Society) and Rug Hooking magazine, and her current research focuses on L.M. Montgomery, Kate Douglas Wiggin, Louisa May Alcott, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. It’s been lovely to meet new friends like Sue, Emily, and Emma Claire through the world of blogging, and I’m happy to have this opportunity to introduce them and their writing to you.
L.M. Montgomery and her friend Nora Lefurgey make a number of witty references to rug hooking in the collaborative “burlesque” diary they kept from January to June 1903, in which they catalogued their various larks and jokes.
Twenty-three-year-old Nora Lefurgey had moved to Cavendish in late 1902 to teach at the local school. She was just five years younger than Montgomery and the two women quickly discovered they were kindred spirits. Within a few months of arriving, Lefurgey moved from the nearby Laird residence to board instead with Montgomery and her grandmother. Montgomery and Lefurgey would share a lifelong friendship, despite losing contact at some points.
The diary primarily revolves around the alleged pursuit of potential male suitors. In the midst of the teasing banter between the two women (who took turns writing most days) are several humorous and informative references to rug hooking. On March 29, 1903 Montgomery writes,
Nora and I both went visiting yesterday and come home with all the gossip in C. [Cavendish] with which we regaled each other in bed. The main items are “that Mrs. Will Sandy is hooking mats for Townsend. . . .”
Evidently hooking mats (rugs) was gossip worthy, in the eyes of Cavendish women of this era. As Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston explain in The Complete Journals of L.M. Montgomery: The P.E.I. Years, 1889-1900, “Will Sandy” was a nickname Montgomery gave her great Uncle William Macneill, who was her maternal grandfather’s brother. Like his parliamentarian father (William Simpson Macneill, known as “Speaker Macneill”), William A. Macneill was a man of local stature and importance. From Montgomery scholar Carolyn Strom-Collins, I learned that Mrs. “Will Sandy” (or rather, Bessie Macneill) was in fact hooking rugs for her son, Townsend, who married Annie McLure around 1903. The rugs she was hooking were to be to be given as a wedding gift to him and his new wife, to decorate their new home.
If Mrs. “Will Sandy” was hooking rugs for her son over the winter it certainly could have set local tongues wagging with speculation that a wedding announcement was imminent. Given the many hours it takes to hook a rug, such as the one Judy Plum makes as a wedding gift for Aunt Hazel in Montgomery’s Pat of Silver Bush, Mrs. “Will Sandy” would have had to start her project well in advance of the wedding date.
The connection between rug-making and suitors is further expanded when Lefurgey and Montgomery engage in an especially humorous exchange relating to Montgomery’s alleged unsuccessful pursuit of two older bachelor farmers, including fifty-one-year-old Howard Simpson from Bay View. Lefurgey writes,
Thursday Maud went up to Dan Simpson’s to cut rags! (Ahem.) I have heard of girls going out to hook but to cut rags . . . however, she can’t hook so she said she would cut rags. The simple truth is she thought she would “hook” into Howard and cut the “widow” out! But she got nicely left and she was so disappointed that she took sick as soon as she got home and had time to think it all over.
“Outraged” at this slur, Montgomery provides an alternative explanation, refuting Lefurgey’s “mis-statements” about her motives:
Tuesday morning we spent quilting at Uncle John’s. Thursday morning Lu and I went to Dan Simpson’s. Nora could not go, hence her jealous slur about me and Howard! I did go to cut rags and I cut them! As for “hooking” Howard, all I’ve got to do is to raise my finger and everybody knows it. His “widder” is quite welcome to him and no sour grapes about it.
One can understand why Lefurgey was somewhat dubious about Montgomery’s motives, as most consider the task of cutting rags mundane and dreary. The exchange between the two young friends illustrates that rug hooking at that time was a means to gain favour with a beau and a legitimate way to spend time socially with a suitor’s family.
The third rug hooking reference shows that Montgomery’s first cousin Lucy Macneill also participated in rug hooking. Montgomery writes, “Tuesday evening Nora went over to help Lucy hook and dragged me along too, not even giving me time to comb my hair.” The secret diary shows how popular the practice of rug hooking was in P.E.I. at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was not only Montgomery’s older female relatives, such as her aunt Annie Campbell, who participated, but also her contemporaries, including Lefurgey and Lucy Macneill.
During this period of her life Montgomery complained bitterly that her grandmother gave her constant worry with her intolerant and childish behavior, particularly towards strangers who came to the house. It seems productive social occasions such as sewing, quilting, and hooking bees provided necessary social stimulation and a chance to escape the drudgery of household chores and lack of companionable conversation at home.
Admittedly though, Montgomery’s preference was to create stories, rather than rugs, much as she admired them and enjoyed the social aspects of regular hookings, where she amiably cut rags and chatted.
Quotations from the secret diary are taken from The Intimate Life of L.M. Montgomery, edited by Irene Gammel (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005).
For further reading:
Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings, by Mary Henley Rubio (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2008).
The Complete Journals of L.M. Montgomery: The PEI Years, 1901-1911, edited by Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
Postscript from Sarah: I just started reading Anne’s House of Dreams for the Green Gables Readalong (I know, when I wrote about Anne of the Island I said I didn’t think I had time to read all the books in the series this year, but I couldn’t resist continuing with Anne of Windy Poplars and now Anne’s House of Dreams) and I came across this comment from Marilla about the braided rugs she plans to give Anne for her new house. Trust Anne to want something old-fashioned instead of the latest thing.
I’m giving Anne that half dozen braided rugs I have in the garret. I never supposed she’d want them – they’re so old-fashioned, and nobody seems to want anything but hooked mats now. But she asked me for them – said she’d rather have them than anything else for her floors. They are pretty. I made them of the nicest rags, and braided them in stripes. It was such company these last few winters.
Next Friday I’ll post about Anne of Windy Poplars (and the reason I don’t like it very much…).