I’ve been reading up on Lucy Maud Montgomery lately for a piece I’m writing. I’ve learned a few sad, surprising, and interesting things.
One, she didn’t write Anne until she was 30-years old. Her first novel (AGG) wasn’t published until she was 33-years old. This makes me feel like slightly less of a loser.
Two, she likely died by suicide, 75 years ago today. I remember when this news came out back around the Anne centennial in 2008 but I had put it out of my mind. Her life in Ontario seems quite lonely and full of hardships, mostly domestic.
Three, her archives are at the University of Guelph, 45 minutes from my door. I must pay a visit.
And four, the Emily series, my absolute favourite, was her most autobiographical work. Emily was a dark little weirdo writer I always strongly identified with as a young person. I recently re-read the whole series for the first time in 20 years and loved it just as much.
Thanks, Maud, you strange little Island weirdo, who made millions of us feel less alone.
At first I was worried that all the good motherhood stuff has been already written. But then I realized, just like every person writes about childhood differently – think David Sedaris vs Dorothy Allison – everyone can write about parenthood differently. There are a million ways be a child. Yes, there are shared responsibilities that link most parents across the board (the non-negligent ones, anyway), there are also a million ways to be a parent, and a million and a half feelings you can encounter along the way.
The question is, why I have internalized it any differently? Clearly when society devalues mothers they devalue their stories. Are fatherhood stories dismissed the same way? Unlikely.
This is why I should stop worrying and start writing.
and potentially foolish, but I did it for him, and my own sanity. We need to eventually talk about how expensive it can be to do the right thing, and how terrifying it can be to live a happy life.
The way Ann Patchett wrote about Lucy: I, and many others, loved it.
Some people very much didn’t like it. In an essay called “The Love Between Two Women Is Not Normal” from This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Patchett writes about the backlash she received when Truth and Beauty was assigned to incoming freshmen. A protest was planned.
My friends from New York offered to go with me to South Carolina, expecting a gladiatorial match I would surely win. My friends from home read drafts of my speech and howled over the ever-growing stack of newspaper clippings. My friend from Mississippi told me not to go. “Cancel,” she said. “Cancel, cancel, cancel.” Mississippians tend not to be cavalier about the dangers of bigotry in the Deep South.
And why the fuss? It doesn’t surprise me:
“The love between the two women is not normal.” The reporter and the seventeen-year-old had finally come out and said the thing that no one else had had the nerve to mention: Lucy and I must have been having sex with each other. That was the only explanation for our loyalty, love, and devotion. Sex was the payoff for a difficult relationship, and without the sex the whole thing made no sense.
She went, she gave her speech with a bodyguard there, and she notes there wasn’t much protest. She admits to spending a huge amount of time on her speech, hoping it would persuade young hearts and minds to avoid censorship, but ultimately doesn’t think she changed many minds, which is indeed a topic for another day.
In my better moments, I tell myself what happened was a noble battle between freedom and oppression, but I knot it is equally possible that nothing so lofty occurred. Some people find sex and suffering and deep friendship between women unpalatable subjects, and seeing these subjects bearing down on their children, they no doubt felt they had to try and stop it. They didn’t succeed, but I seriously doubt that anyone was harmed by completing the assignment. If I am the worst thing the students of Clemson have to fear, then their lives will be very beautiful indeed.