March 27, 2010

The Blythes are Quoted, by L.M. Montgomery

I was intrigued when I saw this at Chapters- a book delivered to her publishers the day L.M. Montgomery died (allegedly by her own hand)! Meant to be the ninth Anne book! Unpublished for almost 70 years! Surprisingly dark, with themes like adultery and death! I was like, #1 Anne of Green Gables fan when I was a kid, so with some hesitation at my illusions being shattered, I got it from the library.

I seriously think people are making a way bigger deal about this than it deserves. Okay, so maybe the people who wrote the foreword and afterword are scholars and professors who have studied the life and work of L.M. Montgomery, but really. First of all, this was already published, in a very edited version, in 1974 under the title The Road to Yesterday, which I've read. What they did in 1974 was jumble up the order, remove the longest story for some reason, take out all the poems and short vignettes of the Blythe family at home that connected the stories, and edit for grammar etc. (Apparently she was a big ellipsis fan.) Second of all, I do not at all agree that this counts as an Anne book. Yes you've got the vignettes, and the poems are meant to be by Anne and her son Walter, and the Blythes are indeed quoted quite vigorously, but the stories are not about the Blythe family, they just take place around them. Thirdly, I didn't find the themes overly shocking. I guess it was a bit dark, but lots of her books have had dark elements- unhappy childhoods, broken love affairs, death.

I had a bit of a quibble with just how often the Blythes are mentioned. It's like Anne and Gilbert are the patron saints of the town. I don't see how they could realistically figure so prominently in so many hearts and minds. It's all "her eyes reminded him of Mrs. Dr. Blythe's" this and "Dr. Blythe is the only man with any sense in this town" that.

Another thing that was a bit of a shock was the sexism. I marked a few spots for illustrative purposes.

"Anne: ...To think I'd prefer any career to marrying you!"

"'Exactly- just like a woman,' riposted the doctor."

"...while writing poetry is a very good amusement for a woman it is no real occupation for a man."

There's also quite a bit of instant falling in love and getting engaged on the spot, as well as men declaring women to be theirs forever at the first kiss. I know that it's meant to represent the views of the time and not necessarily the views of the author, but it's still a bit of a shock to read such airily written lines.

All that being said, the works of L.M. Montgomery really fired up my imagination and inspired me in my youth, and I will always appreciate her for that. This was a fine read, just a little overhyped, and I think I'll try to reread her books sometime soon.

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