Friday, June 22, 2018

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg, 2018

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An affecting biography of the author of Anne of Green Gables is the first for young readers to include revelations about her last days and to encompass the complexity of a brilliant and sometimes troubled life.

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Maud who adored stories. When she was fourteen years old, Maud wrote in her journal, "I love books. I hope when I grow up to be able to have lots of them." Not only did Maud grow up to own lots of books, she wrote twenty-four of them herself as L. M. Montgomery, the world-renowned author of Anne of Green Gables. For many years, not a great deal was known about Maud’s personal life. Her childhood was spent with strict, undemonstrative grandparents, and her reflections on writing, her lifelong struggles with anxiety and depression, her "year of mad passion," and her difficult married life remained locked away, buried deep within her unpublished personal journals. Through this revealing and deeply moving biography, kindred spirits of all ages who, like Maud, never gave up "the substance of things hoped for" will be captivated anew by the words of this remarkable woman.

(352 pages)

I've always loved the story of Anne of Green Gables, ever since I first saw the CBC tv version when I was so young I barely understood what was going on. Few things make me feel more nostalgic than popping in the old DVD and watching Megan Follows sitting in her attic bedroom, gazing into her reflection and musing about kindred spirits. Once I got a little older, I found the L.M. Montgomery books at my local library and worked my way through quite a few of the many Green Gables books. I even picked up Emily of New Moon, though by that point I was pretty oversaturated on Montgomery's books.

While I love the premise and execution of the Anne of Green Gables series, I always felt like the series dragged on way too long. So it's very interesting to learn that Maud was never really interested in or planning on writing such a long series–she really just meant to write a standalone, but it was so popular and lucrative that she was pushed to write more and more over the years.

Really, it's just so sad to read about Maud's life. In many places, she actually feels more like a character from one of her books than a living, breathing person. Her childhood was extremely similar to Anne's, as she was raised by emotionally distant grandparents on stunningly beautiful Prince Edward Island. However, Maud was not an outsider to the island; rather, she was descended from the closest thing to "royal families" the island had–and was related to basically everyone else on the island. And while she loved her grandparents, their emotional distance was much harsher than Marilla and Matthew's was from Anne. Because she was female, Maud's grandfather even tried his absolute hardest to block her from getting an education. She managed to go to college despite him, with her grandmother's help, but it was a very hard road.

Once she reached adulthood, Maud's path became no easier. She shuffled around teaching in one-room schoolhouses, finding various happiness in the different towns. Over the course of her adolescence and early adulthood she had many suitors or almost-romances, but they were all nipped in the bud for one reason or another (often by her own choice). Her love life was truly tragic, and her life as a whole became darker and sadder the further along the story went. By the end of it, I felt choked and angry from even imagining myself in her shoes. She may have been one of the rare early female writers who found fame and relative fortune through her writings while still alive, but that just can't balance out the rest of her terrible life.

Maud was a victim of her own decisions as well as her upbringing. She was quite the coquette at times, and she flirted extremely close to sleeping with a man while engaged to somebody else. It was certainly enlightening to lift back the curtain on L.M. Montgomery's life, and depressing to see how a delicate kindred spirit can be crushed when it is not properly nourished by a wonderful support system like Anne's. I appreciated the chance to learn Maud's story, even if it is depressing, but I am also glad that I didn't learn it until I was out of my childhood. Please, whatever you do, don't pass House of Dreams on to any young readers who are still in the process of falling in love with Green Gables. Don't ruin the magic for them.

Now I need to go back and rewatch the tv show to recapture some of that magic for myself. Let's do that here, too: if you've seen or read any of the Anne of Green Gables installments. what's your favorite scene?

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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