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At first, Jane doesn’t want to leave her mother to travel to Prince Edward Island—even though she dislikes living in Toronto—and she wishes the days wouldn’t fly by so quickly.

(If you missed the first post about L.M. Montgomery’s Jane of Lantern Hill, you can catch up here: “Back in Bonn with Bethie, #ReadingLanternHill.”)

As a very young child, Jane had once asked her mother if there was any way they could stop time, and her mother sighed, saying, “We can never stop time, darling.” Montgomery seems very aware of the passage of time in Jane of Lantern Hill, more than I’ve noticed in her other books. Once Jane gets to PEI, she loves it, and the idyllic life she finds there that first summer seems to go on forever. Then she has to endure nine months before she can return, and she ticks off the months one by one, and feasts on news from the Island.

Blackbush Island, PEI

Ferry to PEI

I love PEI with all my heart, but I have to say that I found some of the descriptions of the Island’s perfections a bit much. In Jane of Lantern Hill, it’s presented as a perfect world. It’s a place of delights, from the delectable food—“a box of doughnuts, three loaves of bread, a round pat of butter with a pattern of clover leaves on it, a jar of cream, a raisin pie and three dried codfish”—to the glorious landscape—“free hills and wide, open fields where you could run wherever you liked, none daring to make you afraid, spruce barrens and shadowy sand-dunes, instead of an iron fence and locked gates”—to the friendly and welcoming people. It’s a place where Jane “could do just as she wanted to without making excuses for anything.” Things happen so easily for her here! Unlike Anne Shirley, who after her arrival in PEI is always getting into “scrapes,” “Jane was very capable and could do almost anything she tried to do. … There was joy in her heart the clock round. Life here was one endless adventure.” Except it doesn’t sound like an adventure, not really, because it’s all so perfect.

My daughter took this photo at Dalvay Lake, PEI a couple of years ago

And it all happens quickly, too. Montgomery sounds to me impatient to make everything work out well for Jane. No one can stop time, but it’s as if she can’t slow down at all to dramatize any complications. Jane and her father set up house at Lantern Hill, and “By the end of a week Jane knew the geography and people of Lantern Hill and Lantern Corners perfectly.” Not only that, but she has a new “bosom friend,” Min. But since Min is only mentioned in passing, in the middle of a long paragraph about how well Jane settles in, we don’t get to see how the girls discover they’re kindred spirits.

While the secondary characters in Montgomery’s Anne or Emily novels are interesting as individuals, I found it hard to keep track of the assortment of characters who surround Jane and her father in their Island home, and I confess I sometimes ended up skimming passages. Jane may be able to “pick out Big Donald Martin’s farm and little Donald Martin’s farm,” but I can’t tell the difference. “Elmer and Min and Polly Garland and Shingle and Jane were all children of the same year and they all liked each other and snubbed each other and offended each other and stood up for each other against the older and younger fry. Jane gave up trying to believe she hadn’t always been friends with them.” I was left wondering why they liked each other, and how they snubbed or offended each other. There’s so much potential here—and I found I wanted more. She’s made friends fast, but they don’t seem like distinct characters to me, just names that appear in lists. “All Jane’s particular friends, old and young, came, even Mary Millicent…. Step-a-yard came and Timothy Salt and Min and Min’s ma and Ding-dong Bell and the Big Donalds and the Little Donalds and people from the Corners that Jane didn’t know knew her.”

I was relieved to learn that when Jane finds her father’s Distinguished Service Medal from the Great War, “breathless with pride over her discovery,” her father is dismissive and tells her to “throw it out.” Conflict at last!

When Jane is back in Toronto, desperate to return home to PEI again, we’re told “The Lantern Hill news was still absorbing,” but as a reader I didn’t feel absorbed in it, I guess because I didn’t feel invested in the characters there. More lists follow, full of news, none of it especially memorable. (I was reminded of the letters Anne Shirley writes in Anne of Windy Poplars, a novel I have always found excruciatingly dull.)

Even though I didn’t feel the same fascination with the news from home, I did feel a deep sympathy for Jane on her return to Lantern Hill, when she realizes “she had never been away at all. She had really been living here all along. It was her spirit’s home.” My heart breaks for her here, and for her creator, and for anyone who feels trapped in a place that isn’t their true home.

As I mentioned in my first post on this novel, Jane’s grandmother reminds me of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I was glad to find that near the end of the novel, Jane confronts Mrs. Kennedy and demands, “What happened to the letter father wrote to mother long ago, asking her go to back to him, grandmother?” Like Elizabeth Bennet, who refuses to obey Lady Catherine, Jane speaks up for herself and for the truth. She extracts from her grandmother an admission that she burned the letter, and she states clearly that she knows her mother and father love each other still. I was cheering for her and at the same time appreciating the dramatic impact of her grandmother’s decisive reply—“They do not”—but then when the chapter ended abruptly, I was left wondering why Jane’s mother, who was present during this conversation, said nothing at all. Even if Robin isn’t as outspoken as her daughter, it still seems strange to me that she’d be completely silent during this fight between her daughter and her mother.

Maybe Montgomery was dealing with so much conflict in her own life that she didn’t feel able to include more of it in this novel.

I knew, obviously, that in choosing to reread Jane of Lantern Hill as an adult, I might find that I didn’t love it as much as I had when I was young. I wanted to love it, and I did, sometimes, but not all the way through. The story seemed to me sometimes like a draft that would benefit from further revisions. More details about the characters and conflicts between them, more dialogue in key scenes of confrontation, and a little less perfection in the descriptions of PEI.

In the end, Toronto is shown as a place of possibility, not just misery, as Jane envisions a happy life with her reunited parents in the “little stone house in Lakeside Gardens,” during the winter, and then summers at Lantern Hill in PEI. Toronto is a more complex place than it seemed in the first pages of the novel; I guess I wish PEI could be shown as a similarly complex place, rather than just as a perfect heaven.

(And yes, I recognize that I’m showing only idyllic aspects of the Island in these photos…. They’re all holiday photos, taken over the last few years, all of them before the Island was damaged by Hurricane Fiona last fall.)

My sister Bethie and I watched the 1989 Lantern Hill movie earlier this week, and we agreed that in this adaptation there’s a little too much of Wuthering Heights and Northanger Abbey, and not nearly enough PEI. There isn’t even a speck of red dirt on those country roads, or on the north shore cliffs, either.

I’d love to hear what you think of the Island and its inhabitants, and the happy ending Montgomery bestows on Jane and her parents, and on Jody, too. And/or any other aspect of the novel (or the movie) that you’d like to discuss.

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.”