ambition, books, diaries, Emily Climbs, Emily of New Moon, Emily's Quest, Fiction, L.M. Montgomery, literature, reading, writing
In L.M. Montgomery’s Emily Climbs (1925), one of the novels Emily Starr reads is The Children of the Abbey (1796), by Regina Maria Roche, which is also mentioned in Jane Austen’s Emma, when Harriet Smith tells Emma that Mr. Martin is going to read it because she’s recommended it. Emily laughs while she’s reading the novel, because “The heroine fainted in every chapter and cried quarts if anyone looked at her.” It’s the only novel Emily’s Aunt Ruth owns—and Aunt Ruth is shocked that Emily finds it funny, as she thinks it “a very sad volume” (Chapter 16).
There are no tears mentioned on the first page of The Children of the Abbey, but there’s one—a single “tear of unutterable joy”—on the second page, and it’s quickly followed by a description of the heroine, Amanda, “smiling through her tears.” In the second chapter, “a trickling tear stole down [Lady Malvina’s] lovely cheek, which, tinged as it was with the flush of agitation, looked now like a half-blown rose moistened with the dews of early morning.” And there are many more. For example: “her tears began to flow for the disastrous fate of her parents” (Chapter 45); “Tears at length relieved her painful oppression, she raised her languid head, she looked around, and wept with increasing violence at beholding what might be termed mementos of former happiness” (Chapter 55); “She wept, and sighed to think, that the happiness he had prayed for he could not behold” (Chapter 58). I can picture Emily laughing, and Aunt Ruth sighing, or perhaps allowing a single tear to trickle down her cheek.
Like Helen Glew, who says in her blog post about rereading Emily of New Moon as an adult that she was “struck by the literary nature of the book,” I’ve been paying more attention to literary allusions in the “Emily” novels this time around than I did the first time I read them, when I was ten. Helen highlights references to The Pilgrim’s Progress, Jane Eyre, and The Mill on the Floss. I can hear echoes of Mansfield Park as well, especially in the scene in Emily of New Moon in which Emily is given a room of her own and thinks, “I wonder if Aunt Elizabeth will ever let me have a little fire here” (Chapter 27), and in Emily Climbs when Aunt Ruth tells Emily that “Plays are wicked” (Chapter 10).
In Magic Island: The Fictions of L.M. Montgomery (2008), Elizabeth Waterston suggests that in Emily Climbs, “The constant literary allusions emphasize Emily’s similarity to her creator in tastes and influences. Emily’s journal, like Montgomery’s, mentions Scott’s poems, Viking sagas, Emerson’s essays, Tennyson, Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra (1832), George Macdonald’s At the Back of the North Wind (1871), Byron, Macaulay, Dickens’s David Copperfield (1850), Mrs. Browning, Mrs. Hemans, the historical works of Francis Parkman, and Bliss Carman’s poetry.” (Thanks to “Buried in Print” for recommending Magic Island in a comment on my Emily of New Moon blog post last month.) I also enjoyed reading Waterston’s analysis of images of entrapment in the novel, of the names Montgomery chose for her characters, and of Emily’s response to both obstacles and opportunities as she pursues her dream of becoming a successful writer.
When I read this series for the first time, I’m pretty sure I focused more on Emily as a writer than on Emily as a reader. I was inspired by her determination to create a literary career for herself, to keep writing despite “brutal rejection slips and the awfulness of faint praise” (Chapter 22). Like Montgomery herself, Emily adopts the metaphor of climbing the “Alpine Path” when she thinks about her literary ambitions: “she would climb it, no matter what the obstacles in the way—no matter whether there was any one to help her or not” (Chapter 5). (Montgomery’s autobiography was published as “The Story of My Career” in 1917 and later as The Alpine Path. The phrase “the Alpine Path” comes from a poem by Ellen Rodman Church and Augusta De Bubna called “The Fringed Gentian,” which Montgomery pasted into one of her scrapbooks; an image of the scrapbook page is included in a virtual exhibition curated by Elizabeth Rollins Epperly.)
Even when Emily feels she doesn’t have time, she keeps writing: “I haven’t a moment of time for writing anything. … But I have to write. So I get up in the morning as soon as it is daylight, dress, and put on a coat—for the mornings are cold now—sit down and scribble for a priceless hour. … That hour in the grey morning is the most delightful one in the day for me” (Chapter 7).
Reading about Emily’s persistence in writing stories and sending them to publishers made me want to do the same thing, and when I was ten, the year I read these novels, I wrote two stories that were strongly influenced by Emily’s own history and by what she was writing.
The first story, “Alone,” opens with ten-year-old Katie being told by her uncle’s housekeeper that her beloved Uncle Mac has died. I just noticed now, rereading the story, that she cries in Chapter 1, but then at the funeral, in Chapter 2, “not once did she let a tear fall.” She doesn’t faint, either. Katie is sent to live with her Great-Aunt Lucy, who dies the very next night, and then she’s sent to an orphanage, where she makes friends with a girl named Alice and the two of them plan to run away. Eventually, they find a home with a kind woman who adopts both of them—and then, “as most stories usually do, this one ends. And they all lived happily ever after!” Anne of Green Gables is obviously another influence.
I’m pleased, and a little embarrassed, to say that this story was included in a collection published by the Halifax City Regional Library. I guess that must have been my first published story. And I haven’t published any fiction, yet, as an adult, though I’ve spent the past several years working on a novel. (I mentioned my novel at the end of a blog post I wrote last fall.) I’ve been working on a new round of revisions and I’m much happier with the manuscript now. As soon as I have anything else to report, I’ll be sure to share the news here.
I suppose I could show you a photo of the manuscript, or maybe of my laptop and coffee cup, or something like that, but instead I’ll show you a photo I took the other day when I was on my way to a café in Herring Cove to work on the novel. I liked the colours of the sea and sky so much that I’ve made this the banner photo for the blog.
Anyway—back to the second Emily-inspired story I wrote when I was ten. It’s called “A Night in the Old Garden.” I knew the plot of “Alone” owed a great deal to Emily of New Moon, but I had forgotten that there was also a connection between Emily Climbs and the second story. In this case, it’s just the title. Emily’s poem is called Night in the Garden, and I don’t think the flowers come to life, as they do in my story. Here’s how my story begins: “There was a strange feeling about the moors as I walked slowly towards the old garden that night. … I started to draw the old garden, but the flowers kept making horrible, twisted faces at me….”
I showed “Alone” and “A Night in the Old Garden” to my grandmother, who shared them with a friend of hers, Lois Valli, who drew several sketches to illustrate each story. And then my grandmother traced and stitched the outlines of some of the sketches onto a quilt she was making for me. I still have the quilt, of course, and I’ll always treasure it, as it reminds me not only that my grandmother believed in my writing, but also that her own creative work has been a source of inspiration for me all my life. She loved painting, drawing, quilting, and writing letters and poetry. And she loved reading.
I wish I’d kept track of the books I’ve read over the years, beginning either when I was ten and discovered the “Emily” series or sometime soon after that. I know I’ve often mentioned books in diary entries, but I do wish I had a more complete list of what I read and when. Vicki Ziegler wrote recently about the notebook in which she’s recorded the books she’s read over the past thirty-four years, and I felt quite envious when I read her blog post (“What I Read in 2016”). I also felt a shock of recognition, because the notebook she uses looks very much like the one a friend gave me sometime in the 1980s.
Seeing Vicki’s photo prompted me to search for my notebook. I didn’t know for sure whether I still had it, or, if I did, where I would have put it, but I was fairly certain that I hadn’t written on very many of its pages. It didn’t take too long to find it—it wasn’t in the same box as my two stories, but it turned up in a box nearby—and I discovered that at some point in the past, I tore out and discarded several pages. I don’t think I burned them; I’m sure I would remember if I had done something that dramatic, or if what I had written was so scandalous that it merited that fate. Thus, while I don’t know what was written on those pages, I have a new opportunity to begin a record of the books I’m reading. (Plus, my notebook looks kind of like Vicki’s, which I think is awesome.)
Naturally, I’ve started with Emily of New Moon and Emily Climbs. For about four years now, I’ve kept track of at least some of the books I’ve been reading—the ones I want to be sure to remember—on Goodreads. (Please do come and find me there! I’m always interested in hearing recommendations.) So I’ll consult that online list when I record in my “new” notebook the titles of other books I’ve read this winter, including Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth, Lisa Moore’s Flannery, Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder, and Juliet McMaster’s Jane Austen, Young Author—all of which I recommend highly.
I’ve also had the privilege to read Melanie J. Fishbane’s wonderful novel Maud, which focuses on L.M. Montgomery as a teenager, during the years when she was, like Emily, beginning to work seriously on her writing. (Maud will be published by Penguin Random House on April 25th.)
I love the way Montgomery shows how important Emily Starr’s reading is to her career as a writer, and I’m now curious to find out what she reads in Emily’s Quest. And, of course, to find out what she writes.
This blog post is the second in a series for the Emily Readalong (#ReadingEmily) hosted by Naomi of Consumed by Ink. Here’s Naomi’s blog post “Emily Readalong: Emily of New Moon,” which includes links to what other bloggers have written about the novel. And, in case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s my first post for the series: “‘I am important to myself’: Emily of New Moon.” I’m planning to write about Emily’s Quest in April.
A few more of the passages I underlined in Emily Climbs:
Emily’s diary “seemed to her like a personal friend and a safe confidant for certain matters which burned for expression and yet were too combustible to be trusted to the ears of any living being.” (Chapter 1)
“I have made up my mind that I will never marry,” Emily tells her diary. “I shall be wedded to my art.” (Chapter 1) (Mary Henley Rubio says in Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings that when Montgomery was writing Emily Climbs, “She felt little interest in it. Her readers would demand that Emily grow up, marry, and live happily ever after. Maud had been in a state of heady excitement when she wrote both Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon, but it was only her personal discipline that got her through the sequels, where her feisty heroines had to be tamed.”)
“Nothing ever seems as big or as terrible—oh, nor as beautiful and grand either, alas!—when it is written out, as it does when you are thinking or feeling about it. It seems to shrink directly you put it into words. … Oh, if only I could put things into words as I see them! … but it seems to me there is something beyond words—any words—all words—something that always escapes you when you try to grasp it—and yet leaves something in your hand which you wouldn’t have had if you hadn’t reached for it.” (Chapter 1)
A comment from the narrator: “I have never pretended, nor ever will pretend, that Emily was a proper child. Books are not written about proper children. They would be so dull nobody would read them.” (Chapter 1)
“I am not anybody’s ‘property,’ not even in fun. And I never will be.” (Chapter 2)
“Well, it all comes down to this, there’s no use trying to live in other people’s opinions. The only thing to do is live in your own. After all, I believe in myself.” (Chapter 4)
“Keats is too full of beauty. When I read his poetry … I always feel a sort of despair! What is the use of trying to do what has been done, once and for all?” (Chapter 19)
On whether to stay in Prince Edward Island, or leave home to pursue a literary career: “as for material—people live here just the same as anywhere else—suffer and enjoy and aspire just as they do in New York.” (Chapter 24)
What a wonderful post, Sarah! I loved hearing about your own personal stories about reading Emily when you were 10, and how your grandmother made you that quilt. I used to write stories about orphans as well, most likely highly influenced by LMM’s books. But my stories were terrible and I’m pretty sure I threw them out long ago – to be sure that no one ever chanced to read them! I think I even invented an island off the coast of PEI for one of my heroines to live.
What a coincidence that your notebook looks so much like Vicky’s! I have a list that I’ve been keeping since grade 8, but I had started it on looseleaf in a binder, and only just switched it all over to a notebook a few years ago. I do love going through it to remind myself of books I’ve read. Sometimes, though, I feel embarrassed for myself when I see the ‘quality’ of some of them, but even those tell a story of who and what was influencing my reading at certain times in my life.
I was working on my post for Emily Climbs yesterday, and we have pulled out some of the same quotes. Not surprising, though, since there is such a big focus on her writing. I like that you highlight some of the books she was reading. I was actually wondering if there was any overlap with Jane Austen’s characters. I knew if there was, you would point it out for me!
I think it’s fun that LMM writes directly to the reader on occasion in the Emily books. I don’t think she did that with Anne, did she?
Sarah Emsley said:
You invented an island off the coast of PEI! What a fabulous idea. My Katie and her Uncle Mac lived in Summerside. Lucky you, to have a record of your reading since grade 8. I wonder why it didn’t occur to me to keep track. I’m sure there’s a lot more that could be said about connections with Austen in Emily Climbs and the other two books. And connections with the Brontës. Someday it would be interesting to spend more time researching what LMM scholars have said about the writers who influenced her.
The places where the narrator addresses the reader directly are a bit jarring, aren’t they? I don’t remember anything quite like that in the Anne books. Nothing as abrupt as this, for example: “This book is not going to be wholly, or even mainly, made up of extracts from Emily’s diary; but, by way of linking up matters unimportant enough for a chapter in themselves, and yet necessary for a proper understanding of her personality and environment, I am going to include some more of them.”
Looking forward to reading your post on Emily Climbs!
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Your mention of Summerside reminds me – where do you think Shrewsbury is?
And juliae1 posed a good question in the comments of my Emily of New Moon post: Do you think it’s changed much that women are not considered successful unless they are married?
Sarah Emsley said:
I don’t know about Shrewsbury. Good question.
And I don’t think those expectations have changed all that much, after all. Even after nearly a hundred years. I wonder what LMM would think of our world in 2017.
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When I really think about it, I have to agree that it hasn’t changed all that much! Eek.
I don’t know why, but I’ve been picturing Shrewsbury as Summerside and Blair Water somewhere around Malpeque Bay. I could be way off. But one place I remember her mentioning in the book is Malvern Bay, which I took to be Malpeque Bay. But in Anne of Windy Poplars, she calls Summerside Summerside.
Sarah Emsley said:
Those seem like reasonable guesses. It would be interesting to read an article about the choices she made when fictionalizing Cavendish as Avonlea and Halifax as Kingsport, but keeping references to Summerside and Charlottetown. I’m sure someone has written about these things at length. If I come across anything I’ll be sure to let you know. (These questions are certainly relevant to our Project Bookmark discussions as well!)
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Yes! I would love to know!
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Wonderful post! I’ve been struck by the literary references and allusions on this read-through as well. When I was a young reader – although already, I think – well acquainted with Emily, she inspired me to read Keats, as Anne inspired me to read Tennyson. I also felt the spirit of Emily when I read Thoreau at around the same time – while I don’t recall him being mentioned, I feel sure she would have loved him.
Now I’m going to be on high alert for book recommendations as I finish this read of “Emily Climbs” and move on to Emily’s Quest.”
Sarah Emsley said:
Thanks so much, Jaclyn! It’s great to hear that you enjoyed reading this. How wonderful that Emily and Anne led you to Keats and Tennyson. I know LMM visited Concord, MA when she went to Boston to visit her publisher in 1910, and she mentions Hawthorne, Emerson, and Louisa May Alcott in her journal, but I don’t recall if she mentions Thoreau there, or in the novels. But that same deep appreciation for the natural world is certainly present in her writing.
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Thank you. LMM was one of my favorite authors growing up during my y/a years. I tend to still use the terms: “kindred spirit” and getting into “scrapes,” because I loved Anne of Green Gables and read the series. So I need to read more of her work, and the idea of Jane Austen references in her other books are a great motivation. About 15 years ago or so, I just kept getting into little scrapes or accidents, a had to go to the emergency room a few times, during the last visit, I told that the intake nurse I was having some sort of phase and/or a lot of Anne of Green Gables type scrapes and she said, “But you didn’t go up and try to climb on the roof or anything?” Yes kindred spirit in the ER.
Sarah Emsley said:
How lovely to find a kindred spirit at the hospital! I’ll have to tell your story to my husband, who’s an Emerg. doctor. LMM’s terms have stayed with me over the years, too. Good to know that your injuries still fell into the category of “scrapes” instead of something more serious. Hope you enjoy exploring more of Montgomery’s work!
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Wonderful post, Sarah; I learned so much from it.
Perhaps as Emily is new to me, I did as you did when you first read the books and focused on her as a writer rather than a reader. Since I’ll certainly be reading the books again I’ll be looking out for the books you referenced – such a fascinating part of your post. Emily did a fair amount of crying herself, I thought, and though I can’t reference it right now, I’m fairly confident she did cry – and sometimes longed to cry – to relieve her own feelings. So her laughing at the crying in the book she reads makes me smile now I’m connecting it all together. (Oh dear – such a lot of laughing and crying in my last sentence!)
Good luck with the revisions and plans for your own novel. I too, wrote stories from a young age some of which were well-regarded by adults at the time. But I lacked – and still lack – Emily’s persistence and grit, so my writing now remains for my own pleasure 🙂
Sarah Emsley said:
Thanks very much, Sandra. Good point about Emily’s own tears. She often tries very hard not to cry, and she gets impatient with people who cry without a good reason — “There’s nothing more aggravating” (Ch. 8) — but when she feels humiliated she does allow herself to give way to tears (as in the chapter called “‘As Ithers See Us,'” when writing it all down in her diary after she’s finished sobbing helps her take a “less distorted view” of the situation).
The writing you do for your blog gives pleasure to many readers, I think. Thanks for your good wishes about the novel!
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LIke you, I was much more interested in Emily’s writing than her reading, But, then, I don’t think I would have had the experience to even recognise that what she was reading were “real” books (not invented ones) let alone whether they might be something I’d’ve been interested in. At that time, I was much more keen on Harriet the Spy and Lois Duncan’s novels, Jean Little and Lyn Cook (for Canadian kids’ books) and Phyllis Whitney mysteries and anything about time-travel in which girls fell through mirrors or ponds or attic walls!
I’m so glad you found The Magic Island interesting; I’ve been back to it a few times and am always amazed at what I discover there which I missed before (just so much information!) Recently, I’ve been thinking about rereading her journals and making a more concerted effort with the “readers” which have been published more recently.
Congrats on your finished draft and your first set of rewrites. Do you also rewrite as you go, or are you determined to simply get the words on the page and then revise at the end? I’m always freshly amazed by how differently writers work with revision and edits nowadays, compared to LMM/Ann/Emily-style writing. Of course, with computers not typewriters, which makes all the difference! (And, hey, you can say you were first published at the age of 10! That’s amazing!)
Sarah Emsley said:
That’s a great point about not necessarily recognizing the names of authors and books Emily refers to. The same was true for me at age 10, for sure. I, too, was reading quite a few novels about time-travel — Janet Lunn’s The Root Cellar comes to mind. I hadn’t yet discovered the Brontës and Jane Austen, let alone Regina Maria Roche.
I’ll have to return Magic Island to the library later this week, but I can tell it’s a book I want to own, so I can consult it when I revisit LMM’s other novels. Thanks again for the recommendation!
For my own novel, I’ve been revising as I go, for several years now. I suppose I tend to go back and revise at the end of every chapter, or after I have a few new pages. I’d be interested to hear about your approach to revisions. I had a first draft of the whole thing about seven years ago, and I’ve revised many times since then, sometimes on my own and a couple of times with advice from writer/editor friends. In this most recent round of revisions, I’ve been working with notes from my agent. It’s exciting to be at a new stage with this project!
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Oh, I loved loved loved The Root Cellar. My copy is so worn. And I did reread it a couple of years ago and it held up fairly well. Did you ever read Lyn Cook’s novels? I used to alternate with The Root Cellar and Samantha’s Secret Room (even though there was no time travel in it).
You will be glad to have a copy of The Magic Island; I refer to mine often. Lately I’ve been contemplating rebuying the more complete versions of LMM’s journals from OUP. But it’s difficult to justify the shelf space, when I simultaneously can’t seem to think of discarding the pretty colourful volumes.
It sounds like we have a similar approach to the revision process. I’ve tried just “moving on” but I seem to need to start a few pages back each day, as a reminder that it can BE polished, which allows me to continue with the imperfect first draft, trusting that I can come back to fix it too (not that a single revision ever feels like enough for me). I hope the process of working with an agent continues to be exciting and encouraging; I can imagine that would be something of an adjustment, but one in a positive direction, especially when you’ve been working away quietly for so many years!
Sarah Emsley said:
Yes! I loved Samantha’s Secret Room!!! I haven’t reread that one or The Root Cellar but would love to do so. I just went looking for my copies of both — even looking at the covers and flipping through the first few pages brings back great memories. “My name is Sam Wiggins and I live in a very big twenty-room house on Penetang Bay. … Who’d want to be a girl anyway? … Dishes, dusting, mending. Boys had all the fun and all the interesting things to do.” Well, now I want to keep reading! Great to hear The Root Cellar held up well. Looking at my autographed copy reminds me of the wonderful afternoon I spent at Woozles bookstore, sometime in the 1980s, listening to Janet Lunn, Barbara Smucker, and Monica Hughes talk about their writing.
The shelf space is always a challenge. I own the first two volumes of Selected Journals and one of the OUP volumes (The PEI Years, 1901-1911). I’d like to own both sets but I don’t know where I’d put them. First, I’ll have to find a spot for Magic Island — and for The Gift of Wings, which I’ve borrowed from the library countless times since I first read it in 2009.
I like the way you describe going back over what you’ve written so that you keep reminding yourself that it can be polished. I don’t think I could imagine writing a full draft of an essay, or a book, without doing at least some of the revising along the way. I do try not to get stuck on a particular sentence or paragraph, because I know I can go back to it again and again. Conversations with other writers — and now with my agent as well — are so helpful during the revision process. I’m always searching for a good balance between the quiet days of writing and the conversations that help inspire further revisions.
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Peggy Pilkey said:
This is a wonderful blog post, Sarah. Brought back a lot of memories for me, since LMM’s Emily was one of my earliest inspirations for wanting to become a writer, too. (Also Jo in Alcott’s Little Women.) I’m still revising my second novel based on two separate evaluations–one freely provided by a former Transatlantic Literary Agency agent (now Managing Editor at Simon & Schuster Canada), and the other by freelance editor Marianne Ward…a friend of yours. I appreciated both for their constructive criticism. It’s easier for me to edit or offer suggestions on improving someone else’s manuscript, than it is to revise my own!
Sarah Emsley said:
It’s great to hear that you’re partway through revising your novel, Peggy, and that you’re finding the comments and suggestions from these two readers helpful. Marianne is an excellent editor. Glad to hear you enjoyed reading about Emily Climbs. I, too, was inspired by Jo March, around the same time that I was reading the Emily series. All best wishes to you for the revisions!
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