books, Carolyn E. Jones, castles, Fiction, Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery, Mary Henley Rubio, motherhood, photography, spring flowers, The Rhine
My sister Bethie and I are reading L.M. Montgomery’s Jane of Lantern Hill and I hope you’ll join us! As I mentioned here a couple of months ago, my friend Naomi and I are hosting a readalong for Jane of Lantern Hill, and we plan to post about it at least a couple of times this month—maybe more. Please join the conversation in the comments here on my blog, on Naomi’s blog, Consumed By Ink, on social media (#ReadingLanternHill), and/or on your own blog.
Bethie and I are also planning to watch the 1989 Jane of Lantern Hill movie while I’m in Germany. Have any of you seen it?
L.M. Montgomery started writing Jane of Lantern Hill in May of 1936 and completed it in February of 1937. As Caroline E. Jones outlines in an essay on “The New Mother at Home: Montgomery’s Explorations of Motherhood” (in L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys), these months were difficult for her, as she worried about her sons Chester and Stuart, mourned the loss of her cat Lucky, and endured an event on January 29, 1937 that she never explained, aside from recording in her diary that “On that day all happiness departed from my life forever.” It seems this event may have had something to do with her son Chester, though no one knows for sure. Jane of Lantern Hill was published later that year, twenty-nine years after Montgomery’s first and most famous novel, Anne of Green Gables, appeared in print. The novel is dedicated to the memory of Lucky, “The charming affectionate comrade of fourteen years.”
In her magnificent biography of Montgomery, Mary Henley Rubio describes the pace at which this novel was written. In September of 1936, Montgomery wrote in her diary that she was writing up to five hours a day, working quickly to try to finish the book. The following winter, because of the challenging circumstances of her personal life, she found it extremely difficult to write the ending. Eventually, Rubio says, “she steeled herself to finish Jane of Lantern Hill … , managing to do so through sheer grit.”
Jones writes that in these later years, Montgomery “wrote her final books and reflected on a life that she believed had failed.” In her novels, however, “she offers her protagonists a wide sense of family and empowers them with the ability to find both their own mother figures and shape themselves as mothers.” Jane, for example, is always looking for ways to take care of others. When she first meets her neighbour Jody, who’s “sobbing bitterly” beneath a cherry tree, Jane’s first instinct is to ask “Can I help you?” and we learn that “those words were the keynote of her character.”
(I missed the cherry blossom festival in Bonn; only a few spots of pink remain on the trees.)
Jane’s mother, Robin, made me think of Maria Bertram in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. As Jones says, “Jane’s mother is depicted as a bird in a cage from which she envisions no escape, caught in a round of dances, parties, and afternoon teas.” During the visit to her fiancé’s estate, Sotherton, Maria Bertram—who is in love with another man—says that while “the sun shines, and the park looks very cheerful,” the iron gate and the ha-ha give her “a feeling of restraint and hardship. ‘I cannot get out,’ as the starling said.”
I know I read Jane of Lantern Hill when I was young, but I didn’t really remember much beyond a vague sense that I loved it, and the fact that at the beginning, Jane lives in Toronto with her mother and grandmother, but then travels to Prince Edward Island and starts to get to know her father. When I read it back then, I knew Montgomery had moved to Ontario after she married Ewan Macdonald, but I didn’t have any idea of just how difficult her life became, as both she and her husband struggled with mental illness and she worried about her sons and her career. I also didn’t know that she had considered writing a sequel to the novel, which was to have been called Jane and Jody.
I’m interested in what Rubio says about how the parallels between the novel and Montgomery’s own life are obvious. “Maud herself believed in the Island’s remarkable restorative powers, particularly with respect to her own complicated life in Toronto. She also knew that she was herself partly trapped in Toronto by her own ambitions. Furthermore, Jane’s grandmother bears uncanny similarities to the woman Maud could sometimes be: a mother who meddled in her children’s romantic affairs, who tried to break up relationships she considered unsuitable, and who had fierce ambitions for her offspring.” As Rubio says, in this novel, Toronto is a “miserable” place, contrasted with “magical” Prince Edward Island.
I’m curious to hear from those of you who are reading the novel with us. What do you think of the contrasts between Toronto and PEI? I was struck by the way Jane’s grandmother’s attachment to the Toronto house, 60 Gay Street, is described. She arrived there as a bride when the house was new and grand, and although it’s “hopelessly out of date,” she is going to “live there the rest of her life.” But then we’re told “Those who did not like it need not stay there”—even though neither Jane nor her mother Robin seems to have much choice in the matter.
What do you make of Jane? Lesley McDowell remarks that “Some may find this heroine, conjured up in 1937 by the author of the relentlessly cheerful Anne of Green Gables, a little too keen on being good, too.” Is Jane too virtuous? (Fanny Price, the heroine of Mansfield Park, is often accused of the same thing.)
I thought more than once of the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh, from Pride and Prejudice, while reading about Jane’s grandmother, Mrs. Kennedy. In the early pages of the novel, when her grandmother speaks, Jane obeys. Jane says she was “running just for the fun of it,” her grandmother says, “I wouldn’t do it again if I were you, Victoria,” and “Jane never did it again.” (How frustrating it must be to be called Victoria or Victoria Jane when you know in your heart that your real name is Jane!)
It doesn’t take long, however, for Jane to stand up to her grandmother. Unable to do so for herself right away, she can nevertheless speak up for her friend Jody when her grandmother forbids her to play with Jody, calling her “riff-raff.” “You are not fair,” Jane says, looking directly at her grandmother. I was pleased to see Jane standing up for her friend—and then a little disappointed that we don’t get to hear her grandmother’s response to this speech. The two girls just walk away.
I’ll stop there for now, and write more next week about the idyllic world Jane discovers when her father sends for her and she goes to spend the summer with him in Prince Edward Island.
I’ve posted many photos of PEI on my blog over the years, and I suppose I could search through old photos that would illustrate some of the Island’s many beauties. Maybe I’ll do that for next week’s post. Since I’m in Germany at the moment, I’ll include some photos from here instead. I like to think Jane and her father would approve, given their shared fascination with history and geography, and his promise to take her to see the world someday, including “castles on the banks of the Rhine.” I haven’t seen any castles on this trip (yet), but Bethie and I walked to the Rhine yesterday, and then we talked about Jane of Lantern Hill on the walk back to her house.
In the distance, in the photo above, “The castled crag of Drachenfels / Frowns o’er the wide and winding Rhine” (Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage).
Here’s the castle in Cochem, on the Mosel River, that we visited when I was here last fall:
I can’t resist adding some photos I took this week, of flowers and trees in springtime, plus photos of Bethie and me having “coffee with Beethoven” in the Münsterplatz:
For further reading:
“Announcing a Readalong of Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery” (on Naomi’s blog, Consumed by Ink)
“The New Mother at Home: Montgomery’s Explorations of Motherhood,” by Caroline E. Jones, in L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys: The Ontario Years, 1911 – 1942, edited by Rita Bode and Lesley D. Clement (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2015).
Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings, by Mary Henley Rubio (Anchor Canada, 2008).
If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll consider recommending it to a friend. I’m always interested to read your comments and messages. If you’d like to subscribe and receive future posts by email, you can sign up on my website, www.sarahemsley.com. Thanks for reading!
Updated to add a link to Rebecca Foster’s blog post “Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery (1937) #ReadingLanternHill”: she writes that “It’s full of the magic of childhood. What struck me most, and will stick with me, is the exploration of how the feeling of being at home (not just having a house to live in) is essential to happiness.”
I love that picture of you with the “bookwoman” t-shirt! And is Bethie wearing a “Home” t-shirt?
Spring in Germany is beautiful!
I have been reading Jane of Lantern Hill today and wondering about some of the very same things… the contrast between Toronto and PEI, Jane’s nurturing instincts, and whether or not her character seems authentic after years of being belittled and smothered by her grandmother. But she did always have the love of her mother. I do think it’s rather convenient that she *wants* to do for her father everything he doesn’t know how to do, and that these things are traditionally considered women’s work anyway. These are all things I wouldn’t have thought about when reading the book as a child. Except I did grow up believing that Toronto was a big, scary city – I wonder if I got that from reading this? (I’ve since been to TO a few times, and don’t feel that way about it at all.) It’s so sad to think about LMM feeling sad and trapped and longing to go home.
Have a fabulous visit with Bethie! 🙂
Sarah Emsley said:
Bethie is delighted that you recognized the “Home” t-shirt! She also has a matching Bookwoman shirt.
Good point about how it’s convenient that Jane wants to do those domestic tasks—when I was ten or eleven, I didn’t think much about that, either. Or about the way Toronto is shown as a kind of prison. So sad to think of LMM feeling trapped there. And for such a long time!
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Elisabeth Lenckos said:
Dear Sarah, What a beautiful post! Say hello to Bonn for me. I am so very glad that the reason for your visit is a joyous one. Enjoy your time with your sister. To be reading good literature together, followed by a scenic walk along the Rhine–what a lovely time to celebrate spring. Enjoy! Elisabeth
Sarah Emsley said:
Thanks, Elisabeth! I’ve been thinking of you and your sister on these walks around the city. It’s a beautiful place and I’m grateful for the opportunity to visit again in springtime. All best wishes to you and your sister.
Nili Olay said:
Sarah, what a treat to be reading “Jane” with you. In someway this book reminded me of Blue Castle – which has become my favorite LMM book read as an adult. In the case of Blue Castle, she is called by a nick name, Doss instead of her name, Valancy. Here she is called what her grandmother wishes to call her. In both cases the heroine is unloved by relatives. In Blue Castle, by Valancy’s entire family, here by the grandmother. In both books Valancy and Jane make a female friend that they “take care of” Just some thoughts. Can’t wait for your next post.
Sarah Emsley said:
Hi Nili! Thanks so much for joining us to read Jane of LH. These are such interesting parallels between the two novels—thank you. I had forgotten Valancy’s (extremely unpleasant!) nickname. Both heroines, with great difficulty, also manage to break free from a kind of prison, and find solace in nature (though in different provinces).
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