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L.M. Montgomery, the books/life disconnect, and blogs

I can’t remember if it was during the Teen Book Fest or afterwards that livygrrrl told me that L.M. Montgomery’s journals were published. It took me a while to track down the first two volumes, and I haven’t yet read the last three, but Montgomery has been on my mind, and I wanted to write while my experience of reading the first two volumes is fresh.

I wrote here not long ago about how much I loved the Emily of New Moon series. I was pleased to see that passages I remembered from both the Emily and the Anne books were taken verbatim from Montgomery’s journals. (I’ve done the same thing, btw. There’s a paragraph in Empress that first appeared in the journal I kept when I was fifteen.)

And I was saddened to see that Montgomery’s life didn’t match her heroines’ — far from it. Then I remembered: her journal wasn’t the first place I’d learned that truth. When I was fourteen, soon after I’d fallen in love with Montgomery’s work, I watched a TV special about her life. Here’s what I wrote about it in 1985:

A new pencil for what will be a long entry. Strangely, the author of Anne is what prompts it. I have just seen a biography show about her. Horrible! Violins are wonderful, but not on murkily rising tremolos, repeated time and again to the figure of Lucy, walking alone. I refuse to believe she had such a tragic life…I don’t believe in reincarnation, but I think that she will live joy in every young writer like me who writes solemnly…No writer could be so wryly and sweetly humorous with a tragic life. Perhaps she overdramatized herself.

She didn’t. One reason I’ve been thinking about her so much is that her heirs, as part of a campaign to increase awareness of and support for people with mental illnesses, have revealed that her chronic depression led her to suicide.

It fascinates me now to think about how absolutely sure I was that happy books could only come from a happy life. It didn’t occur to me that writing books, like reading them, could be a way to escape unhappy circumstances, or that a writer could, while still striving to be true to her characters, also take her fans’ expectations into account. I would never have expected to read a passage like this one, from January 7, 1910:

Today I have spent on the sofa all the time I was not doing necessary work. I was too weary to lift my head. I lay there — and thought and thought. I seem to have been living over my whole past life today, from my earliest recollections. I have been haunted and tortured by old memories. I do not know which hurt the most — the pleasant ones or the unhappy ones. I think the former. My mood is very morbid.

Would fourteen-year-old me have been more willing to believe the bleak truths in the journal, sans murkily tremoloing strings? What would it have meant to me to know that someone whose work I valued so highly didn’t have the life I imagined for her? There’s no way of knowing, but I hope that instead of making me recoil, coming to understand more about Montgomery’s life would have expanded my mental universe.

It makes me wonder what it’s like to grow up reading authors’ blogs — to absorb, in addition to their books, whatever authors choose to share online about their lives. Not that a blog is exactly like a private journal — nor should it be — but it’s beyond what past generations have had as a way to connect with authors. I would have loved it — and I do, I certainly read a lot of other authors’ blogs — but I think that as a teen, I would have really loved it.

When something’s always been part of your reality, I know it’s hard to analyze its significance, but I’d be really curious to hear from any of you who are teens, or at least significantly younger than me, about what you get out of reading authors’ blogs, especially if you’re writers yourselves. (Which is not to say you shouldn’t comment if you’re my age or older!)

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