Jane Austen, Fiction, Poetry, L.M. Montgomery, books, Alberta, rug hooking, cross-stitch, Jane of Lantern Hill
Let’s read Jane of Lantern Hill! Thanks to everyone who commented—here, on social media, in letters and emails, and in person—in response to last week’s post about Reading L.M. Montgomery Together. Based on the responses we received, Naomi and I have decided to read Jane of Lantern Hill this spring, and we hope you’ll join the conversation. We’re planning to write about the novel in May. (And maybe we’ll turn to Kilmeny and/or Pat later on. We also took note of the votes for Rilla and Emily. Thank you for your enthusiastic response to all these books!)
If you’re interested, you might like to subscribe to Naomi’s blog, Consumed By Ink, as well as mine. We’ll link to each other’s posts about the novel, and to posts by others, too, so please do send us details and links if you decide to write about your experience of reading/rereading the novel. Let’s use #ReadingLanternHill as our hashtag.
My title for today’s post comes from Molly of the Mall, by Heidi L.M. Jacobs, rather than from Jane of Lantern Hill. More on Molly below—for now I’ll just say that I think she and L.M. Montgomery’s heroines would be kindred spirits.
So far, I’ve read the first chapter of Jane of Lantern Hill, and I’m keen to read more, about the huge brick house on Gay Street with its “towers and turrets wherever a tower or turret could be wedged in,” and gates “that were always closed and locked” at night, “giving Jane a very nasty feeling that she was a prisoner being locked in.” I want to learn more about Jane, who knows very clearly that her name is Jane even though everybody calls her Victoria. Even her mother calls her Jane Victoria. I know I read the novel when I was ten or eleven, but I don’t think I’ve read it since then, and I’ve forgotten almost everything, aside from a vague sense of having loved it a great deal, in the same way that I loved nearly all of Montgomery’s books (aside from Anne of Windy Poplars, which I didn’t like back then, and didn’t like when I reread it a few years ago).
Have any of you seen the 1990 film adaptation of Jane of Lantern Hill, starring Mairon Bennett, Sam Waterston, and Sarah Polley? I haven’t (yet). Maybe we could discuss it as well, in May.
Inspired by L.M. Montgomery, I’m still working (as I mentioned last week) with the idea that my blog is a kind of scrapbook. Here are a few things I’d like to “paste” in to share with you.
First, a blog post by Shawna Lemay on how to “re-frame, retrain our brains, how to shift or jostle or shine up our thinking.” Her blog, “Transactions with Beauty,” is always inspiring, and I’ve long admired her work as a photographer, poet, and novelist. We knew each other many years ago when we were both undergraduates in the Honors English program at the University of Alberta, and it’s been wonderful to reconnect with her online over the past several years. I’m reading her novel Everything Affects Everyone right now and I love it. I’ll probably write about it in more detail here once I’ve finished it. I agree whole-heartedly with what Shawna says in this post from last week about a key source of creative inspiration:
“I myself think a relatively easy shortcut to changing or enlivening our thinking is pretty much always going to be: read more poetry.”
I chose this scarf for the background because it was a gift from a friend who lives in Edmonton, and because in the opening paragraph of the novel, the narrator, Xaviere, speaks of choosing to wear a scarf she could imagine her friend Daphne “reaching over and touching—she’d have admired the texture and colours and would have leaned over and delicately fingered the knotted fringe.”
Sticking with an Alberta theme, and the topic of handmade scarves, I want to share this lovely piece by Angela of Neatnik Yarns, in Edmonton, Alberta, called “Making Things to Feel Better.” It’s from the winter of 2021, written in an earlier stage of the pandemic, but I discovered her website only a few days ago, and I think what she says about the healing power of making things with our hands is just as true now as it was then. She writes that for many, “the attention required while we make these things results in a sort of meditative state,” and that “the fibre arts provide both tactile and mental comfort.”
One of my accomplishments over the first couple of years of the pandemic was that I finally completed a cross-stitch kit I had purchased in the gift shop of the Bodleian Library in 2002, with the goal of giving the finished product to my mother for Mother’s Day that year. It was a glasses case, with a pattern based on a design of strawberries and flowers embroidered for Queen Victoria by her mother. This was only the second cross-stitch project I had ever attempted in my life, and I worked on it a little at a time year after year. Last winter, I finally finished it, and I presented it to my mother as a very belated Mother’s Day 2002 present. I guess I could have said it was a few months early for Mother’s Day 2022, but I stuck to the truth.
After I had completed that project, my daughter and I spent several pleasant hours last winter working on rug hooking kits we had purchased in the summer of 2021 from Deanne Fitzpatrick’s studio in Amherst, Nova Scotia. My daughter worked quickly, and completed her Wild Rose Field within a couple of days. It took me longer to complete my Lost Sheep kit—about a week—but I must say, it was tremendously satisfying to complete a kit in under twenty years. My daughter gave the wild roses to me, and I gave the sheep to her. We haven’t framed them yet, and for now, they’re on display in our kitchen, hanging from a curtain rod we’ve used for years as a place to display drawings and paintings, or Christmas ornaments. I like them this way, with the titles visible.
It was fun to try something new. I’ve worked on many sewing projects over the years, including two Regency gowns for my daughter, who wore them at JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) conferences we attended together. I enjoyed my experiments with both cross-stitch and rug hooking, and I agree with what Angela says about how the act of working with our hands on projects like these can provide comfort during challenging times. Deanne Fitzpatrick says something similar about rug hooking, which can be “joyful, powerful and transformative.” I felt grateful to be able to create something small, something beautiful, to give as a gift to someone I love, regardless of how long it took to make it.
Here’s a photo of my daughter in the gown she wore for the Regency Ball at the JASNA AGM in Montreal, in 2014 (shared here with her permission):
Another addition to my scrapbook, again with a connection to my Alberta theme: I want to recommend Molly of the Mall: Literary Lass and Purveyor of Fine Footwear, by Heidi L.M. Jacobs, which I finished reading yesterday. I’m not sure how I missed this book when it came out in 2019, but I’m delighted to have found it at last, thanks to Naomi. (If you’ve read the last few posts on my blog, you’ll know already that Naomi is an excellent source for book recommendations.) I’m rarely up to the minute on book news—usually I’m somewhere in the 19th Century, instead of the 21st—and I like tracing the often-circuitous routes through which I make new discoveries.
I absolutely loved Molly of the Mall, and not just because it took me right back to the early nineties, when I, like the fictional Molly (and my friend Shawna, as mentioned above), was an English major at the University of Alberta. I also, again like Molly, worked in a mall in Edmonton, although in my case it was a fabric store in Kingsway Mall, rather than a shoe store in West Edmonton Mall. And I visited the same cafés and bars on Whyte Avenue and the U of A campus, including Java Jive and Dewey’s.
The silk scarf in the background was a gift from our family’s dear friend Janet. My parents met her in Edmonton when they were graduate students.
The view from my dorm room in my first year at the U of A:
Kerry Clare says in her review that she is “besotted” by Molly of the Mall, and while she acknowledges that it might not be for everyone, “if you came of age in the 1990s, worked in a shopping mall, longed for a literary life, ever felt a bit weird about your dad’s devotion to Robbie Burns, dreamed of a romance that was swoon-worthy, felt confused in university English classes, and let 19th century novels play perhaps too great a role in informing your perspective on … everything—then you will not be sorry.”
Edmonton in the summer of 1991:
Sometimes I actually felt as if I were reading about my own life as the child of graduate students in the English Department at the University of Alberta. I thought of my own first name when Molly, who is named for Moll Flanders (and whose siblings are named Tess and Heathcliff), says that “The next generation of departmental children had solid Old Testament names.” When I read about Molly’s mother defending her master’s thesis on Botticelli just two days before Molly was born, I thought of my mother defending her master’s thesis on Malcolm Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano less than a month before I was born.
Like Molly, I have wondered “why there are no lovely poems about Edmonton.” (The only Edmonton poem I can think of at the moment is the one by Margaret Atwood that begins “So this is it / flat Edmonton….”) Molly remembers imagining that by the time she turned twenty, she’d be living “like one of Mum and Dad’s grad-student friends in one of those walk-up apartments off Whyte Avenue with misleadingly elegant names like The Alhambra or The Loch Lomond”; when I was nineteen, I sublet a friend’s apartment in one of those buildings, which—coincidentally—was the same one my parents had lived in when they were graduate students. Same building for sure, and, we think, possibly the same apartment.
I took a picture of the building, El Rancho, several years after I had moved out:
I enjoyed reading Molly’s letters to Miss Austen: “As you know, I am a young woman not only living in the south of Edmonton, but selling low-to-mid quality footwear in Canada’s largest shopping mall. Where am I to find three or four families in a country village? Without three or four families in a country village, will I ever be able to write fiction?” And I was amused by the answer she imagined receiving: “Perhaps given your situation, three or four shoe stores in a prairie city might instead be the very thing.” I love the mix tape Molly creates for Pride and Prejudice, which includes “You’re So Vain,” “If I Could Turn Back Time,” “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” and “Hard To Say I’m Sorry.”
I almost forgot to mention Molly’s love of A Room with A View. She says the Princess Theatre (oh, how I loved that theatre!) shows the movie every six months, and she always goes with her friend Genevieve, who was with her when they saw it for the first time, as high school students.
The Princess in 2010:
Molly says, “We never talked with each other about how this movie has changed our lives; it’s just understood. Maybe we don’t want to pull too hard on its magic in case it crumbles before our eyes. If pressed, I think I would say this movie reminds me of beauty. And sunshine. And hope. And places other than Edmonton.” Each time they watched it together, “Everything but Italy, truth, and beauty ceased to exist.”
What would we do without A Room with a View? What would we do without books and movies, and poetry, and sewing, rug hooking, cross-stitch, or other creative projects?
I love the passage in which Molly exclaims “Oh, novels! What would I do without you?” She’s just spent an evening with Jane Austen’s Emma. “I love re-reading,” she says, “while trying to pretend I don’t know Emma will end up with Mr. Knightley. The suspense nearly kills me every time.”
I’ll pause, for now, with my new scrapbooking project, and leave you with a photo of a bouquet of tulips that my daughter brought home last week, which brightened our house during some cold and snowy winter days.
Beautiful beautiful post, Sarah!
I just read this and directly purchased a copy of both Jane of Lantern Hill and Molly of the Mall. I will be reading with you!
Sarah Emsley said:
Thanks so much for your kind words, B! I knew I could count on you. I knew how it would be. I tried hard to make the post beautiful and I’m glad it was not all for nothing. I’m keen to hear what you think of Jane and Molly!
Marianne Ward said:
Where to begin? So much of this post resonated! I, too, love the Princess Theatre in Edmonton, which is almost certainly where I first saw Room With a View, to this day one of my favourite movies. (Honestly, where would we be without it!) I am very keen now to read Molly of the Mall, though I was in the Honours English program at U of A in the 1980s, not the 1990s (close enough, right?). And I too will be joining you for the reading of Jane of Lantern Hill (I was hoping you’d pick that one!). I’ll be reading my childhood copy, the same edition as in your photos. Hooray for novels (and Montgomery in particular)!
Thank you for this, Sarah. (And kudos to you on your various textiles projects!)
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Sarah Emsley said:
Oh, of course you would have seen A Room with a View at the Princess! I think I saw it in Halifax, at Wormwood’s, possibly making use of my Princess membership? I think the two theatres had some kind of reciprocal agreement, though it’s a vague memory. Maybe it was a different E.M. Forster adaptation that I saw at Wormwood’s, possibly Where Angels Fear to Tread. I could check my diaries for those years.
The 80s are definitely close enough. Except I can’t help but wish you and I had been at the U of A at the same time, and I wish I had met Heidi L.M. Jacobs there too!
I’m so glad you’ll join us to read Jane of LH. Thank you, as always, for all the conversations about books. Let me know if you want to borrow my copy of Molly at some point. I’m going to lend it to my mother (and I know you won’t want it immediately because I know what your current reading list looks like).
I was so happy to complete the cross-stitch project! I started a second kit from Deanne’s studio, but haven’t made much progress with that one yet. (Probably because I devote so much time to novels.)
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I love all the coincidences between your life and Molly of the Mall… That is so much fun! And now you’ve made me want to read it again! I also love this entire post – so lovely. Your rugs, your 20-year-old mother’s day gift, your memories, your photos, the dress you made for your daughter, all the great quotes…. It’s been so long since I watched Room With a View that now I feel I NEED to watch it again. I was also thinking of watching Jane of Lantern Hill – I’m pretty sure I only saw it the once when it came out. Not like the Anne movies that I practically memorized.
I love hooked rugs, and made a small one of a star once. I have a good friend who is a hooker and her “Judy” rugs are up right now at the Acadia University Art Gallery. (I had to put this in the comment because I’m so proud of her.)
I can’t wait to get started on Jane! 🙂
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Sarah Emsley said:
That’s fabulous that her rugs are on display at Acadia! I’ve often admired her work online. Do you still have the star you made?
Thank you for reading yet another LMM novel with me. I’m really looking forward to this.
Yes, definitely, it is time to watch A Room with a View again! Every six months at the Princess sounds about right to me.
Glad to hear you enjoyed the coincidences. And thank you again for recommending Molly!!
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Thank you so much for the nice post, Sarah. I really loved seeing the photos of vintage Edmonton and all the other comments about A Room With a View. Enjoy the tulips! Heidi LMJ
Sarah Emsley said:
Thanks very much for visiting, Heidi, and thank you for your wonderful novel!
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