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Posts Tagged ‘L.M. Montgomery’

pei sandstone cliffs

The shore road was “woodsy and wild and lonesome.” On the right hand, scrub firs, their spirits quite unbroken by long years of tussle with the gulf winds, grew thickly. On the left were the steep red sandstone cliffs, so near the track in places that a mare of less steadiness than the sorrel might have tried the nerves of the people behind her. Down at the base of the cliffs were heaps of surf-worn rocks or little sandy coves inlaid with pebbles as with ocean jewels; beyond lay the sea, shimmering and blue, and over it soared the gulls, their pinions flashing silvery in the sunlight.

“Isn’t the sea wonderful?” said Anne, rousing from a long, wide-eyed silence.

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

pei north rustico harbour

On our recent return to PEI, the hubs and I stayed in a tiny village on the Island’s north shore. We were just a few minutes’ walk from the beach in one direction and the harbor (above) in the other. And though we did a bit of driving around the Island (lunch in Summerside one day, dinner in Charlottetown another night), we spent most of our time as close to the water as possible.

“You’ve made a beach bum out of me,” J said recently. I laughed and pointed out that I didn’t do anything: our trips to San Diego and PEI are wholly responsible for that change. The red beaches of PEI’s north shore, in particular, have completely captured our hearts.

pei north shore beach prince edward island canada

The Island’s north shore is quieter than the south; there are fewer towns, more long, unbroken stretches of beach. These comprise plenty of soft red sand (the Island soil contains so much iron that it oxidizes on contact with the air), and an occasional outcrop of sandstone cliffs (as in the photo at the top of this post).

I love visiting both the sand shore and the rock shore that L.M. Montgomery writes about in Anne’s House of Dreams and Rilla of Ingleside, but for spending an afternoon, the sand shore is my favorite. The sky is wide and open, the far red cliffs topped with lush green. As for the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I have to quote Jane Stuart: “I never thought anything could be so blue.”

gulf of st lawrence beach pei

We took a guided kayaking trip around the north shore one night, which was exhausting but wholly enjoyable, and a couple of late-evening walks to watch the sunset. But mostly we sprawled out on the sand with our books, getting up occasionally to splash in the shallows or toss the Frisbee. We came home with sand in the folds of our shorts and tote bags, but I didn’t mind. Those hours on the north shore, walking through the foamy waves and sinking into the sand, restored my soul.

katie pei beach

More PEI photos and stories to come.

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anne books blue chest

Like many young girls, I read the Anne of Green Gables books over and over when I was growing up. My mom put the first three into my hands, and I devoured them, then went on to read the other five books in the series. I later came to love L.M. Montgomery’s other novels: The Story Girl, Jane of Lantern Hill, the three books featuring Emily Byrd Starr. And I was thrilled, a few weeks ago, to return to the land from which they sprang: beautiful, bucolic Prince Edward Island.

My husband was a good sport about touring Green Gables when we first visited PEI in 2014. I loved every second of that visit, but I wanted to explore another Anne-related site this time (there are several on the Island). So we drove to the Anne of Green Gables Museum in Park Corner.

silver bush anne of green gables museum pei

This house was owned by some of L.M. Montgomery’s relatives. As you can see in the photo, she dubbed it “Silver Bush” and used it as the setting for several books (Pat of Silver Bush, The Story Girl, and their respective sequels). Like Green Gables, it has been lovingly maintained, and it is full of artifacts from Montgomery’s life. I could just imagine Maud and her cousins, or the clan of King children, popping popcorn by the parlor fire or gathered in the kitchen after dinner.

Maud was married in Silver Bush’s parlor in 1911, and it looks much as it might have then:

silver bush parlor anne of green gables museum pei

(I love the geranium on the side table, which reminded me of Anne naming the flowers and trees at Green Gables, including a geranium she called “Bonny.”)

There are also bookcases stuffed with beautiful first editions of Montgomery’s books:

silver bush bookcase anne of green gables museum pei

The whole house is filled with similar treasures: letters, linens, china from New Moon Farm (!), photographs and newspaper articles related to the Montgomery/Macneill families and the time period. It felt as though Maud herself – or Anne – might come around the corner at any moment.

My favorite part of the museum, though, is at the top of this post: a stellar collection of Anne books, in editions old and new, sitting on the actual blue chest from The Story Girl.

The chest’s contents are on display upstairs, but seeing the chest itself – the one I’ve read about so often – gave me goosebumps.  I half expected to see Sara Stanley perched on top of it, peeling potatoes as she regaled her cousins with the story of Rachel Ward’s handsome, dissolute groom who never showed up to their wedding. Maud changed the names and a few details when she wrote about it, but as with so much of her writing, the inspiration was drawn straight from real life.

Silver Bush and the blue chest reminded me – again – that this woman whose work I love so deeply was real. Her characters are longtime friends of mine: their words, after so many readings, live deep in my bones. They were real to her, too, as she notes in this journal entry about Anne:

anne quote silver bush pei

We finished off our time at Silver Bush with a stroll through a woodland path near the farmhouse. Perfection.

birch path woods silver bush pei

More PEI photos and stories to come.

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dish rack kitchen

Well, let’s tackle this pile of greasy plates and look as if we liked it.”

“I do like it…I’ve always liked washing dishes. It’s fun to make dirty things clean and shining again.”

“Oh, you ought to be in a museum,” snapped Nora.

—L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Windy Poplars

I thought of these lines last week as I pulled on my rubber gloves to tackle yet another sinkful of dirty dishes, pots and silverware. Even with just the two of us at our house, I’m constantly surprised by the amount of time I spend in front of the kitchen sink, scrubbing and rinsing. (The hubs usually dries and puts away.)

With a full-time job, lots of other things on my mind and no dishwasher, there are definitely times I empathize with Nora Nelson, above. (Though she and Anne Shirley were tackling the aftermath of a big wedding supper – which isn’t on my usual to-do list.) But even if I start out grumbling, I’ve often come around to Anne’s perspective by the time I turn off the hot water. There’s something tangible and satisfying about this work: scrub, soap, rinse, fill the dish rack. I’ve even been known to turn to it as a form of stress relief, like Pacha’s wife in The Emperor’s New Groove. (“I gotta go wash something!”)

I’ve written before about how pottering around the house can lower my blood pressure, or get me out of my head and back into my body after a long day of sitting and clicking at the computer. I am not an immaculate housekeeper and I am fiercely proud of having a career outside the home – which is (still!) not an option for so many women everywhere. Sometimes I find it a bit ironic that I come back to the computer to extol the virtues of housekeeping. But as Kathleen Norris has famously noted, laundry and other household tasks offer instant, visible results – and that is nothing to sneeze at.

Also, crucially, washing dishes is something I choose to do. It is necessary in a sense: we need dishes to eat on, and the dirty plates would eventually take over the kitchen. But I also believe this is part of the work of adulthood, no matter your gender or occupation: making and caring for a home. I chose this life (and these dishes, for that matter) – so I also choose to participate in the work of caring for them.

I’m still not above a hearty Nora-like growl once in a while. But like most people, I love to see the fruits of my labor – and a kitchen full of clean dishes (and, preferably, delicious food) is a pretty good way to do that.

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jane of lantern hill book tulips

Can I help you?” said Jane.

Though Jane herself had no inkling of it, those words were the keynote of her character. Any one else would probably have said, “What is the matter?” But Jane always wanted to help.

—Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery

I’ve been thinking about this quote lately, partly because I’ve been rereading Jane’s story again. It is the perfect early spring book: the story of a young girl discovering, and falling completely in love with, a new life on Prince Edward Island with the father she never knew.

I love watching Jane come into her own as she goes, like Dorothy Gale, from a black-and-white existence in Toronto (where her imperious grandmother rules the roost) to the Technicolor world of the Island, where new friends and experiences are waiting around every corner. (The hubs and I drove to PEI a couple of summers ago, and it is as gorgeous as I always imagined, from years of reading L.M. Montgomery’s rapturous descriptions.)

Jane is a dreamer with a kind heart and a wide practical streak, who takes a deep delight in the joys of everyday life and work. In the scene quoted above, she hears a neighbor girl crying and goes to investigate. Elsewhere in the book, she pitches in to help her neighbors with everything from arranging flowers to shingling the barn roof. But when I reread this scene, it struck me that Jane’s attitude is key. She always wants to help. And she asks if she can help.

I am still settling into a new work routine, and some of my responsibilities are clear, while others are more ambiguous. Sometimes I get nervous about stepping on my colleagues’ toes, or figuring out exactly where I fit in the scheme of things. But most of the time, when I ask if I can help with a story or project, my colleagues respond with gratitude – sometimes even delight. (I tend to respond the same way when someone asks if they can help me.) The key, so often, is remembering – and being brave enough – to ask.

Sometimes, I admit, I’m too wrapped up in my own frustrations (or too overwhelmed by the demands of the to-do list) to think about helping other people. And often I am the one who needs to ask for help. But I am trying to take a leaf out of Jane’s book and remember to ask. Because I want to be a person who helps.

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rilla of ingleside book tulips

I’ve been thinking about Rilla Blythe lately.

Rilla is Anne Shirley Blythe’s youngest daughter, the last of the six children who grew up at Ingleside in the golden years before World War I. In August 1914, she’s nearly fifteen: pretty, pampered, a little spoiled, but still sweet. She’s never had to do many disagreeable things, apart from the occasional household chore. But when war erupts in Europe, it upends her entire world.

Rilla of Ingleside is the story of how the women of Ingleside – Rilla, Anne, their faithful cook-housekeeper Susan, and Miss Oliver, the local schoolteacher – grit their way through the dark days of war. It’s one of the lesser-known Anne books, but it’s one of my favorites. I’ve read it a dozen times, and I love it so much.

As I make my way through both winter and the job hunt, a few lines from Rilla’s story keep coming back to me.

“I finished my sixth pair of socks today,” Rilla writes in her diary one evening. “With the first three I got Susan to set the heel for me. Then I thought that was a bit of shirking, so I learned to do it myself. I hate it – but I have done so many things I hate since 4th of August [when war was declared] that one more or less doesn’t make any difference.”

When war comes, both Susan and Rilla resolve, separately but with similar motivations, to be “as brave and heroic and unselfish” as they can be. Rilla’s declaration comes with italics and drama (she is fifteen, after all); Susan’s comes with a plain, old-fashioned sense of duty. They, and the entire village of Glen St. Mary, spend the next four years adjusting to new realities and, in the face of tragedy, simply doing what must be done.

They are no saints: they get frustrated, tired and worn down, and Rilla shares her troubles with the reader as she blows off steam in her diary. Even Miss Oliver says one day, in a rare moment of desperation, “There’s nothing heroic about me today. I’ve slumped.” But they always pick up courage and go on, helped in no small measure by letters from their boys at the front, and by one another.

I am in the middle of a few long, hard struggles, notably winter (we are now in the grit-your-teeth phase) and the continuing job hunt. I have to do a lot of things I’d rather not do, these days. But often, thinking about Rilla and her umpteen pairs of socks (and the many other tasks of wartime) helps me pluck up a bit of gumption to keep going. As she says to herself on a particularly difficult evening, “I must stay here and see things through.”

I’ve written often about how my fictional heroines keep me company or inspire me when things are rough. Do you have any fictional characters (or good words in general) that you draw on when you need wisdom or strength?

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more new books sign brick wall

More of all these things? Yes, please. (Spotted at The Bookstore in Lenox, MA.)

Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho
I heard about this fantasy novel on the All the Books podcast, and then Jaclyn raved about it. I did not love it quite as much as they did, but still enjoyed it. Unruly mermaids, issues of race and class, the magical education of women in Regency England and a fast-paced, clever plot add up to a lot of fun.

A Curious Beginning, Deanna Raybourn
Left alone in the world when her spinster aunts die, Veronica Speedwell plans to pursue her passion for lepidoptery. But a break-in and attempted abduction plunge Veronica into the mystery of her own identity – and into close quarters with a very interesting man. A rip-roaring historical mystery that sparkles with witty dialogue. So fun.

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery
I picked up this old favorite because I needed a few evenings with Anne and the girls at Patty’s Place. I love their college adventures and the cozy home they make together. Always a treat.

The Secret Chord, Geraldine Brooks
Musician. Warrior. Poet. Adulterer. Divinely anointed, yet undeniably human. King David was a man of deep contradictions, and Brooks explores them all in this richly imagined novel, narrated by the prophet Nathan. I loved Brooks’ language – vivid and lyrical – though I still found David himself unknowable. Gritty and compelling.

Georgia, Dawn Tripp
Though Georgia O’Keeffe is best known today for her stunning outsize flowers and Southwestern landscapes, there was much more to the woman, and to her art. Tripp explores O’Keeffe’s evolution as an artist, her long and prickly marriage to the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and her complicated relationship with the publicity and recognition she received. Gorgeously written; immersive. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 9).

Murder Most Malicious, Alyssa Maxwell
December, 1918, Foxwood Hall, England. When a visiting marquess is murdered, Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her maid, Eva, put their heads together to investigate. I’ve enjoyed Maxwell’s Gilded Newport mysteries. This first book in her new series had promise (and a Downtonesque setting), but I didn’t love it.  To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 29).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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fall books window mcnally jackson nyc

(Window display at McNally Jackson in NYC)

The Genius of Language: Fifteen Writers Reflect on Their Mother Tongues, ed. Wendy Lesser
A fascinating, varied collection of essays by writers – most of whom write in English – on the (often fraught) relationship between English and their native tongues. Found at McNally Jackson on our NYC trip.

Anne of Windy Poplars, L.M. Montgomery
I have read this book so many times, but I always reach for it in the fall. I love Anne’s adventures in Summerside – befriending the proud Pringles, doing a bit of matchmaking, spending many quiet evenings in her wonderful tower room.

Lila, Marilynne Robinson
I adore Gilead and Home, Robinson’s previous two novels. This book views some of the same characters from a different angle, telling the life story of Lila, Reverend John Ames’ wife. Heartbreaking and beautiful, and an unflinching look at Dust Bowl poverty.

Death in Four Courses, Lucy Burdette
Key West food critic Hayley Snow’s second adventure (I recently read book #5) finds her at a food writing seminar where the star speaker turns up dead. Full of backstabbing foodies, yummy meals and quirky characters.

Sidney Chambers and the Problem of Evil, James Runcie
Newlywed priest Sidney Chambers continues solving crimes in 1960s Cambridge and musing on the universe’s big questions. The cases are slow-paced and never too hard to solve, but still enjoyable.

The Song of the Lark, Willa Cather
A gorgeous, sweeping novel telling the life story of Thea Kronborg, a Colorado girl who becomes a famous opera singer. So much here about art and passion, love and striving. And I love Cather’s lyrical prose.

Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
I read this book years ago and fell in love with the gorgeous language and unusual storyline. I reread it for book club and found it as beautiful and heartbreaking as ever.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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