L.M. Montgomery and Gender by E. Holly Pike and Laura M. Robinson

Best known for her Anne of Green Gables tales, beloved Canadian author L.M. Montgomery penned 20 novels, as well as over 500 short stories, 500 poems, and several essays. Despite this prolific output, Montgomery was at one time treated dismissively by academia. One researcher recalls a male academic telling her “not to pursue Montgomery studies because of the damage it would do to her career.” (p. 6) It was only in the 1980s that the elegance and depth of Montgomery’s writing began to be appreciated more broadly in the academic world.

Fast forward to the 2020s, with the release of the book L.M. Montgomery and Gender. This book, which saw its origins with the 2016 international L.M. Montgomery conference, includes 16 chapters dealing with different parameters of Montgomery’s work in the context of cultural mores of the time. The book is comprised of five sections, dealing respectively with themes like gender, domestic space, humour, intertextuality, and “being in time.” Largely written by academics and literary scholars, the majority of the chapters are heavily footnoted and provide a depth of analysis that frequently references other research and writings.

“Broad in scope, the book deals with Montgomery’s writing in the context of traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity, as well as other cultural constructs.”

Broad in scope, the book deals with Montgomery’s writing in the context of traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity, as well as other cultural constructs. One chapter deals with the “white feather” campaign of World War I, in which a white feather was used as a symbol of cowardice, and was used by women “to attack certain men’s masculinity in order to shame them onto the battlefield.” (p. 20) In addition to providing insight into the campaign itself and its effect on individuals, the chapter also explores the appearance of the campaign in Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside, in which Rilla’s older brother, Walter Blythe, is the recipient of a white feather.

Another chapter provides an in-depth look at adoption during the time period in which Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables was set. Adoption, of course, was the mechanism by which Anne came to Green Gables in the first place, but it enters into some of Montgomery’s other stories as well. In this chapter, the author talks about the ways children up for adoption were treated as commodities in the advertising of the time, such as “a 1927 item published in the Toronto Daily Star . . . headed ‘Nice Little Boys for People Who Want Them’.” (p. 127) The inclusion of photos of some of the adoption advertising of the times helps to illustrate the points. This chapter’s author, Mavis Reimer, dipped into the Ontario provincial archives to review the collections of John Joseph Kelso, “the first superintendent of neglected and dependent children in Ontario” for primary source research material. (p. 122)

One chapter provides an analysis of “a joint comedic diary Montgomery wrote with her friend Nora Lefurgey” (p. 174), while another deals with “Twins, Language, and Gender in L.M. Montgomery’s Short Fiction.” (p. 175) A chapter titled “Her Reader” by Jane Urquhart provides a more personal reaction to Montgomery’s works and how young women of the time might have related to them.

As noted in the book’s introduction, Montgomery’s “public and private statements create ambivalent messages about gender and gender roles.” (p. 3) Nonetheless, her works leave much to be unpacked and considered. L.M. Montgomery and Gender does just that, by analyzing not only Montgomery’s most famous writings, but also, as the editors note, some “that are often overlooked, such as her short fiction, playful diary writing, and novels such as The Blue Castle and Magic for Marigold.” (p. 12)

By its nature as a scholarly work, the book would be of appeal to Montgomery scholars as well as those interested more broadly in feminism and female writers. However, the book is not exclusively of interest to academics. Those who don’t mind a more scholarly writing style can also find enjoyment in the depth and breadth of the analysis here. Just beware: after reading the book, you might be seized by a sudden impulse to re-read some of Montgomery’s works, or to explore others you may not have previously been exposed to.

The book’s introduction references an anecdote about Montgomery being “pushed out of the Toronto Branch of the Canadian Authors Association,” (p. 4) as well as noting the dismissive view toward women writers, L.M. Montgomery included, before the 1970s. By providing in-depth analysis and cultural context, the contributors to L.M. Montgomery and Gender takes a step toward rectifying this lack of appreciation of a writer who created one of Canada’s cultural icons in the form of the irrepressible Anne of Green Gables.

E. Holly Pike, former associate professor of English at Memorial University of Newfoundland, is co-editor, with Laura M. Robinson, of L.M. Montgomery and Gender. Laura M. Robinson is dean of arts and professor of English and theatre, cross-appointed women’s and gender studies at Acadia University.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ McGill-Queen’s University Press (Nov. 15 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 416 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0228008794
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0228008798

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Lisa Timpf is a retired HR and communications professional who lives in Simcoe, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in New Myths, Star*Line, The Future Fire, Triangulation: Habitats, and other venues. Lisa’s speculative haibun collection, In Days to Come, is available from Hiraeth Publishing. You can find out more about Lisa’s writing at http://lisatimpf.blogspot.com/.