The Books: The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery: Volume V: 1935-1942

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Next book on the Memoir/Letters/Journals shelf is The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery: Volume V: 1935-1942

Here, sadly, is the final volume of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s journals. There are times when they are nearly unreadable. It makes me feel disloyal to even say that. However, during these years, she also managed to write Mistress Pat, Anne of Windy Poplars, Jane of Lantern Hill and Anne of Ingleside (not to mention a final book of short stories about Anne and Gilbert’s family, published as The Road to Yesterday). Not a bad output for a woman who seems to be suffering from a nervous condition, not to mention her husband having a huge breakdown (yet another one), and her compounding worries and stress about her now-grown-up sons. As well as the darkening situation in Europe which weighed heavily on her. Almost none of her old introspection goes into these final journals. It is as though she has no more energy left. The entries are mostly very short, and mostly talk about how she slept and how Ewan slept. She details their physical maladies, and usually ends each short entry with some bleak statement about how she can go on living. Then, when the entries are long, they are bizarrely long – like the 20 page entry about her cat Luck. I believe, if I remember correctly, the editors mentioning that there were more such entries – writing about her cat seemed to relax and soothe Lucy Maud – but I had an odd experience as I slogged through that 20 page biography of a cat. I love my cat, too. I find her little existence to be a fascinating and relevant thing, and I do my best to take good care of her, because I think she deserves it. She’s a good girl, and a creature I share the planet with, and if anything bad happened to her, I would be crushed. I love that damn cat. But I haven’t written reams and reams of entries about her in my journal. Maybe later, once she has passed away, I might find that comforting to do. But it is a strange experience to read that entry about Luck. She always was obsessed with the cat, writing about him a lot in her journal, but in these final years, it seems to turn into something else. I think the editors did not include all of the material about her cats, thinking (rightly) that readers would be bored out of their minds, but I am glad they included at least the one. It is not interesting reading, and a part of me kept thinking, “Okay, Lucy, wrap it up now.” But she can’t. This is her private journal. I’m not meant to be reading it anyway. Although she had some eye on posterity (and would rewrite her old journals, editing and cleaning up the prose), probably believing that one day they would be published … her mindset when writing in them was clearly private. And, in a weird way, reading that interminable entry about her cat Luck, felt like a violation of her privacy. She was writing it for her own reasons, obviously, and I respect her reasons. I have had many a dark season in my life. Times when the doors of introspection were closed to me. 2009 comes to mind. The things I wrote in my journal then are basically unreadable to me now. Panic and grief had made me a wild woman. When the worst of it subsided, pulling out like the tide (after four unending months), I felt quiet and almost chastened, afraid of how bad it had gotten, and instead of calmly writing in my journal about what had happened, “catching my journal up”, so to speak, I stopped writing altogether. So let’s say my journal was published. You would get wild prose of the bleakest stuff, raging on for MONTHS, and then …. nothing. The journal itself tells a very different story than what actually happened. It’s what is left OUT that is often the truth. With Lucy Maud Montgomery, what we have is what she wrote. Small entries about her sleep, worries about Ewan, and then worries of a greater nature – that she seems unable to express at all. She writes 20 page entries about her cat. She will scribble down panicked responses to the news from Europe, wondering if it were possible that the world would soon be at war again. At least from her journal, you get the sense that she resents her two sons for giving her so much worry. There is very little motherly fondness, at least in the pages of the journal. Just lashing out at how much trouble they have been, what a disappointment.

She seems to stop being able to get joy from nature, something that was always so intense for her, and yet I hesitate to make that statement, because if you look at the books that she wrote at that time, you see that the opposite is true. Jane of Lantern Hill is a love letter to P.E. Island, with lush descriptive prose about the sea, the red roads, the atmosphere. The two “Anne” books are lovely, comedic, and successful as stories. Lucy Maud was a woman who could pull herself together, when it came time for her real work. It is nearly impossible to imagine that the wild woman spouting how hopeless she feels in entry after entry would be capable of writing four novels during those years, but there you have it. The beauty, the mystery, of art.

So even though I found most of this volume to be boring and repetitive, I read every word, because I felt somehow I owed her that. She’s one of my idols. This was what was going on with her privately. I got to know her through her public persona, as the author of all of these wonderful books I have loved since I was little, and it is shocking and sad to hear what a bad time she had of it. It feels important to honor ALL of her, the wonderful author and the bleak fatalistic woman in these pages. It is all her.

Here’s an entry from 1937. She and Ewan had moved to Toronto to a house she really loved, called “Journey’s End”.

Excerpt from The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery: Volume V: 1935-1942

Saturday, Oct. 30, 1937
“Journey’s End”

I have spent a very miserable day. Tortured by a dreadful restlessness. I took a sedative Lane advised but it did not help. I went to Loblaw’s in the afternoon to do my weekly shopping. Chester as usual drove me but never spoke and looked very furious. I think he hates me.

In the later afternoon I walked to Bloor because I could not remain in the house. It was a lovely day – warm and sunny; the drive was dotted with the ethereal purple of Michaelmas daisies in the gardens. But there was no healing for me. Why, oh why? I have many faults and have made many mistakes but I have tried to do right – to be a good wife and mother. Why must I endure this endless hopeless misery?

Tonight everyone is out. My loneliness is terrible. My head feels as if an iron band were round it and my arms ache and burn. I can’t even read. If only Lucky were here, my dear comforting old companion! The cats we have mean nothing to me.

I am so tortured I don’t know where to turn or what to do. I have a return of claustrophobia tonight but cannot go out because the wind is too cold. I am really in a dreadful state and am making a little relief in “writing it out”. I can’t believe Lane was right when he said that bleeding did not mean anything serious. I feel I am doomed to die a terrible death of torture – I would welcome an easy death but not such a one as that. I cannot believe anything good will ever again come to me or anyone I love. Everything presents itself to me in the darkest hours. This is the state to which the child I have loved has brought me. I wish I could stop loving him. He could not torture me then. But this is my curse. I cannot.

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9 Responses to The Books: The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery: Volume V: 1935-1942

  1. roo says:

    Do you believe in notions like an ill wind? If there is such a thing, it was blowing in 2009.

    Your comments about journaling are apt. After all, sometimes the best that writing has to offer is to give an outlet to the stupid, dark, repetitive thoughts, to make room for something better. Maybe LMM never would have been able to write what she did without 20-page entries about her cat. And so forth.

    Actually, a month or so ago I decided to go ahead and ditch– ten? a large number of journals, mostly written within the context of “The Artist’s Way” morning pages (I’m guessing you’re familiar.) I realized that the act of writing was what those journals had to offer me– that there was nothing really I felt I needed to save for posterity in what was recorded therein.

    I was scared to toss them, at first ( sometimes, being the daughter of a librarian shows up in my archiving instincts.) But actually, it felt freeing.

  2. sheila says:

    Roo – Yes, it is one of the reasons why I love things like journals and letters – because they aren’t meant to tell the whole truth. The full narrative is often between the lines, or left unsaid entirely. This is what life is often like.

    I admire you for tossing those journals. I have thought that I should get rid of the 2009 journals. I picked them up to look thru them in 2010, thinking I was past it enough to see what I had actually written – and I was horrified, and it acted like a magnet. Clearly not past it enough yet – I closed them quickly and haven’t looked at them since.

    I am such an archivist myself … it’s hard for me to throw stuff away – I might be able to “use it” someday.

    I love your thought about LMM perhaps clearing the way for her “real” writing with 20 page entries about her cat. There is definitely something going on in those entries – something powerful for her – it doesn’t translate to us, the reader, because, frankly, it’s boring to hear other people rave about their pets or kids (at least interminably). But when most of the entries for these years are a paragraph only, a 20 page entry – which probably took her a month to write (or, who knows, maybe only a night – it’s possible) – really stands out.

  3. Magda says:

    Hello, Sheila :) I recently found the site of yours and saw that you have posted some extracts from L. M. Montgomery’s diaries. I’d love to read them all but in my country, Poland, only the 1st one was published and I can’t find any latter volumes online, in an ebook format. Nevertheless, I saw you posted several fragments and I wondered whether you typed them yourself, looking at the open pages of the diaries you have on your shelves, or maybe if you – as I hope – had them as e-books and just copied the e-book content. If you have them as e-books, where did you find them? I thought they were nowhere on the net but maybe I am wrong? Because I don’t think you would want to type everything and suspect you pasted the entries from the e-books.

  4. sheila says:

    Magda – I am so sorry but yes, I did type the entries myself! I’m a crack typist! I wish I had a solution for you – Is there a way for a local library to get their hands on them or something?

    I have noticed that in the US they are also hard to find – at least on the shelves at bookstores. I am pretty sure that I ordered most of mine online.

  5. sheila says:

    Oh, and good luck finding them – I hope you do!

  6. Magda says:

    Ah, what a pity :(

    I already hoped for getting the whole rest of them. Unfortunately Polish libraries rather don’t order books in English and I can’t find those journals online so it seems they are unavailable as e-books, what a pity. In Poland only the first volume was published in Polish; divided into 2 volumes entitled “The Landscape of Childhood” and “The Trapped Soul”.

  7. Magda says:

    I have a question, Sheila: might it be possible for you if you have a scanner, of course, to scan some pages of Montgomery’s diaries other than those of the first volume and post online? Because the Polish fans like me have absolutely no access to her journals – only the first one was published and the journals in English are NOWHERE on the net as e-books? Would it be possible for you to do it(if you have a scanner and my wish isn’t too bold)?

  8. Maya says:

    Im from Poland too, looked for journals everywhere…but got them on Amazon last year – have 3 volumes

  9. Magda says:

    Maya, do you have a scanner to put them online?

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