Biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Author of "Anne of Green Gables"

Montgomery's books brought joy to millions, even when joy escaped her

Photo of Lucy Maud Montgomery
Lucy Maud Montgomery, circa 1920-1930 (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons).

Better known as L. M. Montgomery, Lucy Maud Montgomery (November 30, 1874–April 24, 1942) was a Canadian author. Her most famous work by far is the Anne of Green Gables series, set in a small town on Prince Edward Island in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Montgomery’s work made her a Canadian pop culture icon, as well as a beloved author around the world.

Fast Facts: Lucy Maud Montgomery

  • Known For: Author of Anne of Green Gables series
  • Also Known As: L.M. Montgomery
  • Born: November 30, 1874 in Clifton, Prince Edward Island, Canada
  • Died: April 24, 1942 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • Selected Works: Anne of Green Gables series, Emily of New Moon trilogy
  • Notable Quote: "We miss so much out of life if we don't love. The more we love the richer life is—even if it is only some little furry or feathery pet." (Anne's House of Dreams)

Early Life

Lucy was an only child, born in Clifton (now New London), Prince Edward Island in 1874. Her parents were Hugh John Montgomery and Clara Woolner Macneill Montgomery. Sadly, Lucy's mother Clara died of tuberculosis before Lucy turned two years old. Lucy's devastated father Hugh could not handle raising Lucy on his own, so he sent her to live in Cavendish with Clara’s parents, Alexander and Lucy Woolner Macneill. A few years later, Hugh moved halfway across the country to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, where he eventually remarried and had a family.

Although Lucy was surrounded by family who loved her, she didn’t always have children her own age to play with, so her imagination developed rapidly. At age six, she began her formal education at the local one-room schoolhouse. It was also around this time that she made her first forays into writing, with some poems and a journal she kept.

Her first published poem, “On Cape LeForce,” was published in 1890 in The Daily Patriot, a newspaper in Charlottetown. That same year, Lucy had gone to visit her father and stepmother in Prince Albert after finishing her schooling. The news of her publication was a pick-me-up for Lucy, who was miserable after spending time with a stepmother she did not get along with.

Teaching Career and Youthful Romance

In 1893, Lucy attended Prince of Wales College to get her teaching license, finishing an intended two-year course in only one year. She began teaching immediately after, although she did take a one-year break, from 1895 to 1896, to study literature at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. From there, she returned to Prince Edward Island to resume her teaching career.

Lucy’s life at this point was a balancing act between her teaching duties and finding time to write; she began publishing short stories in 1897 and published around 100 of them over the next decade. But from the time she was in college, she fielded romantic interest from an array of men, most of whom she found thoroughly unimpressive. One of her teachers, John Mustard, attempted to win her over, as did her friend Will Pritchard, but Lucy rejected both—Mustard for being terribly dull, and Pritchard because she only felt friendship for him (they did remain friends until his death).

In 1897, Lucy, feeling that her marital prospects were dwindling, accepted the proposal of Edwin Simpson. However, she soon came to loathe Edwin, meanwhile falling madly in love with Herman Leard, who was a member of the family she boarded with when she was teaching in Lower Bedeque. Although she was strictly religious and refused premarital sex, Lucy and Leard had a brief, passionate affair that ended in 1898; he died the same year. Lucy also broke off her engagement with Simpson, declared herself to be finished with romantic love, and returned to Cavendish to help out her recently widowed grandmother.

Green Gables and World War I

Lucy was already a prolific writer, but it was in 1908 that she published the novel that would ensure her place in the literary pantheon: Anne of Green Gables, about the youthful adventures of a bright, curious young orphan and the charming (if occasionally gossipy) small town of Avonlea. The novel took off, gaining popularity even outside of Canada—although outside press often tried to depict Canada as a whole as a romantic, rustic country in the vein of Avonlea. Montgomery, too, was often idealized as the perfect female author: undesiring of attention and happiest in the domestic sphere, even though she herself admitted that she looked upon her writing as a true job.

Lucy Maud Montgomery did, in fact, have a “domestic sphere." Despite her earlier romantic disappointments, she married Ewan Macdonald, a Presbyterian minister, in 1911. The couple moved to Ontario for Macdonald’s work. The couple were somewhat mismatched in personality, as Macdonald did not share Lucy's passion for literature and history. However, Lucy believed it was her duty to make the marriage work, and the husband and wife settled into a friendship. The couple had two surviving sons, as well as one stillborn son.

When World War I broke out, Lucy threw herself into the war effort wholeheartedly, believing it was a moral crusade and becoming nearly obsessed with news about the war. After the war ended, though, her troubles escalated: her husband suffered major depression, and Lucy herself was nearly killed by the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Lucy became disillusioned with the aftermath of the war and felt guilt over her own zealous support. The character of “the Piper,” a slightly sinister figure luring people, became a fixture in her later writings.

During the same period, Lucy learned that her publisher, L.C. Page, had been cheating her out of her royalties for the first set of Green Gables books. After a lengthy and somewhat costly legal battle, Lucy won the case, and Page’s vindictive, abusive behavior was revealed, resulting in him losing a great deal of business. Green Gables had lost its appeal for Lucy, and she turned to other books, such as the Emily of New Moon series.

Later Life and Death

By 1934, Macdonald’s depression was so bad that he signed himself into a sanatorium. When he was released, however, a drug store accidentally mixed poison into his antidepressant pill; the accident nearly killed him, and he blamed Lucy, beginning a period of abuse. Macdonald’s decline coincided with Lucy’s publication of Pat of Silver Bush, a more mature and darker novel. In 1936, she returned to the Green Gables universe, publishing two more books over the next few years that filled in the gaps in Anne’s story. In June 1935, she was named to the Order of the British Empire.

Lucy's depression did not cease, and she became addicted to the medicines that doctors prescribed to treat it. When World War II broke out and Canada joined the war, she was anguished that the world was again plunging into war and suffering. She planned to complete another Anne of Green Gables book, The Blythes Are Quoted, but it was not published until many years later in a revised version. On April 24, 1942, Lucy Maud Montgomery was found dead in her Toronto home. Her official cause of death was coronary thrombosis, although her granddaughter suggested, years later, that she may have intentionally overdosed.

Legacy

Lucy Maud Montgomery's legacy has been one of creating lovable, touching, and charming novels with unique characters that remain beloved around the world. In 1943, Canada named her a National Historic Person, and there are several national historic sites preserved that are connected to her. Over the course of her life, L.M. Montgomery published 20 novels, over 500 short stories, an autobiography, and some poetry; she also edited her journals for publication. To this day, Lucy Maud Montgomery remains one of the most beloved English-language authors: someone who brought joy to millions, even when joy escaped her personally.

Sources

  • “About L. M. Montgomery.” L.M. Montgomery Institute, University of Prince Edward Island, https://www.lmmontgomery.ca/about/lmm/her-life.
  • Heilbron, Alexandra. Remembering Lucy Maud Montgomery. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2001.
  • Rubio, Mary. Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings, Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2008.
  • Rubio, Mary, & Elizabeth Waterston. Writing a Life: L.M. Montgomery. Toronto: ECW Press, 1995.