One of my favourite sounds in the world is the sound of footsteps ascending the staircase outside of the Wolf and Firkin on Elm Street in Toronto. One block north of Edward Street and my old haunt, the World's Biggest Bookstore.
You sit in our corner and wait and wonder, as you hear nearby footsteps through the window and then through the doorway, who will join you next!
It's not that the food is extraordinary----it is your typical Canadian import British pub fare and the atmosphere is that UK melange of Brit and Scot flags and tartans and plush seats and dark mahogany that so many Toronto pubs ascribe to. But, the company and the atmosphere and the remembrance of our laughter ringing to the rafters makes this place my favourite. Another home, per se. Another refuge.
I cannot think of a topic not discussed here over the rims of twinkling glasses laden with amber beer. I would be hardpressed to find a subject not delved into at full force --
Hockey games, Christmas and Birthday parties, a casual dinner with a few select people, I LOVE the FIRK
Last Sunday, I escaped the chill and settled into our booth a little earlier than the rest of my party. I sometimes love the moments approaching the Wolf and Firkin on the street --- the Elm lights casting odd little shadows and the lead up to the white-washed brick fortress, its merry yellow light inviting from the inside.
I love to steal inside. I love hidaways.
This same sense of place is vital to Pat in Pat of Silver Bush. Every nook and cranny is magical to her. Sure, the Wolf and Firkin fails to host the aesthetic pleasure of emeral d fields, russet roads and a sandy spanse of opal and blue ocean but it is not so much, for Maud and for the reader, the actual place as the conceptualization of how that place effects you.
I think one of life's most natural wonders ( miracles ) is one's ability to adapt, settle and appropriate their own decided home.
This home feeling may not strike two of the same people. What feels like home to me... a little pub on Elm Street, perhaps...will decidedly not grab you. But that, I argue, is part of the miracle.
The need to appropriate and fit into a place in an intrinsic human need. A sense of belonging has, for centuries, spurned wars, unravelled love and prompted combat and fighting.
In Pat of Silver Bush the reader best understands this notion not through Pat ( whose passion for Silver Bush will leave some readers confused with thoughts of you have to leave your house sometime!) but through Jingle and his soul's longing for a place he doesn't have.
Pat's love of Silver Bush is grounded, self-assured, flamboyant. Jingle's is heart-tuggingly graceful and ever so vulnerable. Jingle has to take what bits of Silver Bush are thrown to him. Jingle is relegated to slinking to the sidelines, like us, as an observer.
I feel Jingle is our mediator. Like the great literary mediators before him ( I think particularly of Watson in the Sherlock Holmes canon). Jingle links us to Pat and her intricate and tightly-woven Silver Birch world.
I love Jingle. He loves Pat for her love of home and decides, very early on, to ensure she always has a home. Even if he has to build it himself.
Jingle is one of Maud's heroes who shares a pension for place. Barney and Andrew Stuart being the other two who spring to mind.
In fact, Jingle is an anomaly as he is given the rare opportunity to christen a place... something usually afforded the heroine of a Montgomery tale.
Jingle is the one who christens their secret getaway, Happiness.
Like Perry Mlller of the Emily novels, Jingle introduces us to a complex sense of socal divide in turn-of-the-century PEI, but this only makes his long for home felt in a more acute sense.
I am eager to see how Mistress Pat makes me enjoy the "homes" I make for myself even more!
As LM Montgomery’s texts are pervading my personality, they are also pervading the rest of my life… including the different forms of media I enjoy partaking in.
I went to see the Toronto production of Jersey Boys, the phenomenal Tony-Award winning musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
I loved it. It ran like a musical “biopic” of one of the greatest pop groups of all time. You are thinking, of course, how does Montgomery tie into the Four Seasons? Well, the concept of home. A major motif in Jersey Boys is the idea of neighbourhood, of forged families ( like the four lead singers in the group ), going back to where you came from and how, in the case of a successful band, touring can throw you far from your surroundings and, thus, far from yourself.
The eponymous title suggests that home is an essential part of the make-up of each of the four singers in the group. Though their accumulative background forges their strong friendship, harmony, blue-collar sound and the subject of their material, it also makes it difficult for them to adjust outside of their surroundings. One they hit fame and the open road, their “Jersey” identity threatens to dissolve alongside their comradery.
At one point in the second act, a scene plays between Frankie and a reporter with whom he has been having a tour-long affair. They are arguing at her apartment as she packs and tells him that she is sick of their tenuous relationship. Frankie, who left a wife and three daughters at home in Jersey, does not hold a stolid argument. The scene was effective and hollowing. My imagination took me to an empty apartment or hotel room where two people who barely knew each other were trying to sculpt a circumstance of home miles from their surroundings.
If you are a result of your background and where you come from, as the Four Seasons evidently were, how do you sync that identity with uprooted surroundings, stages, hotel rooms, apartments?
Pat of Silver Bush seems to recognize she doesn’t stand a chance outside the radius of her beloved home. She never wants to get married. She never wants to spend the night at a friend or relative’s home. She belongs to Silver Bush as it belongs to her and this tight relationship cannot be infiltrated by change or motion of any kind.
Pat of Silver Bush (1933) is Montgomery’s ode to home. Maud never really felt she had a home of her own, so she gave one to Pat. And what a home it is!
It’s a rapturous, rambling old Victorian perfectly situated in Prince Edward Island ( all of Prince Edward Island is aesthetically pleasing, but Pat’s Silver Bush: modeled on Maud’s family haunt in beautiful Park Corner) is a natural stunner!
Last year, my sister and I did a drive across Prince Edward Island over two days with numerous stops ( PEI is smaller than even I could imagine ). …One to Priest Pond ( yes, Emily fans, Priest Pond actually exists which out the entirety of the Emily novels in interesting geographical context). And we happened upon the Island during a cold and rainy stretch of early May. Lucky for us, the Island was drained of tourists and we were able to see it pre-Summer as it thrives in its usual industry. I was awe-struck not by the “major” haunts like Cavendish, but by the pastoral and idyllic Maritime scenes, like lobster fisherman and boats and out-of-the-way churches.
But, it rained, and it WAS cold and windy. That is, until we got to Park Corner ( home of the Lake of Shining Waters, the Haunted Wood, Lovers’ Lane and various other Montgomery landmarks. As soon as we swooped over a large hill that immediately swooped down again into a valley: a stringing red road to the shore line, the sun came out.
It was like the universe, or providence, had fated that my trip to the most essential of the Montgomery sites in PEI be picture perfect.
Cavendish housed Maud but Park Corner held her soul. It was the closest she had to a home of her own: what with the laughter and uproarious antics of her Campbell cousins.
For Maud, a true home was far beyond four walls, beautiful brick and tender little haunts of landscape, it was the feeling of home and ostensibly of family.
Tossed from Cavendish with her strict Presbyterian grandparents to Prince Albert with her nonchalant father and his overbearing wife, to the years of manse-to-manse with Ewan, Maud was in continual search for home. I would argue that it is the most important theme threading her books together.
With home, naturally, must come family:
Montgomery’s construct of a perfect home would indubitably house parental figures. However, Maud seems out of her element when creating a perfectly happy pair in full detail. It seems much easier for her to deal with orphans ( like Pat’s friend Jingle, whose mom left for another man in Honolulu ) and to give Pat the role of a surrogate mother in Judy Plum: the acerbic and spicy Judy Plum.
Maud strains to construct the utopian family and yet it throws her so out of her element, she resorts to her age-old familiarities.
The idea of Maud and her relationship with her fictional families stuck me as something I wanted to reflect on. Especially because it was so essential to understanding her conceptualization of “home.”
I thought through Montgomery’s major novels to remember perfect families with fully-developed parents ( and not parents, like Pat’s, who are but shadowed cameos in a homespun portrait of love and security). I discovered that while parents in Montgomery’s novels can be complex and three dimensional characters, they are never so when part of the traditional family nucleus. Sure, Anne and Gilbert develop a happy family but no one would argue that they are the dimensional and complex characters they were nearing the beginning of the series (In fact, Gil was never dimensional at all. Cute, but cardboard) Think of the Story Girl and The Golden Road, for instance. Here, we have Uncle Alec and Aunt Janet King: the seemingly perfect head of a bumbling, happy household. If we revert to Sullivan’s Road to Avonlea, these two are fleshed out as perfect parental units. But, in the novel, these two are not given nearly the amount of screen time. Instead, they are a refuge and solace for the King children: primarily in the background.
A Tangled Web is quite dysfunctional. I cannot remember enough about Magic for Marigold ( which is part of the purpose of this project ) to determine what her family was like. Eric Marshall in Kilmeny only has a father, Valancy of the Blue Castle has but a mother ( and a thoroughly nasty one ), Emily’s dad dies, we all know what Anne’s situation is, Teddy’s mother ( in Emily of New Moon ) is insane, Jane has an amazing father but we get but a glimpse of him with her mother and so on and so forth….
Montgomery cannot write the perfect family because she never had one. So, in the case of Pat of Silver Bush, she grasps at straws while falling back on the old faithful devices that weave through her extensive body of work.
Even though the reader is not given enough insight into Pat’s cookie-cutter parents, we are immediately given the sense that home is a place to sink into. To fall back on. To wrap you up and hug you tightly.
I love thinking about Home and Pat spurned a stream of consciousness that warmly linked me to nights at my old home in Orillia reading cozily on the couch where the outside world was a severe nonentity.
Orillia. My Parent’s House. The traditional utopia of home.
But beyond that, I started thinking about surroundings and the homes we find away from its traditional function.
Whereas Orillia is home to my juvenile development and my formative years, Toronto has become my home now.
The other night after a meeting at the Harbourfront, I stepped out into the night air of the Queen’s Quay, looked up at the close skyline: the CN tower shooting blues and reds up its steep side, the ships and boats bopping at the harbourfront, the gothic spires of the Royal York, the iridescent streams of a zillion skyscraper windows casting odd shadows on the tarmac and I felt a sense of relief. I sighed. This was home. I love this city with an unnatural fervour and it is as home to me in places as Orillia is. I love to fall back on the city, to sink into it. It catches me. I can always count on Toronto because it is always there for me. In this sense, I can perfectly comprehend why Maud was so attached to places. In one sense, this is why she is, as previously mentioned, my literary doppelganger.
- Current Location:toronto
I have a closure problem. I make friends in my books. I carry them around with me in my imagination....Not unlike Kilmeny making friends with the trees or the lilies.
I latch on and I don't want to let go. I hate to be left with a sliver of a happy ending and then to wonder what happens ever after.
The happy ending leaves us satisfied, yes, but our minds continue to play out the adventures ---- from common to uncommon--- we want our book friends to experience.
It will soon ( if not already )be blatently obvious that my favourite Montgomery novel ( indeed, one of my favourite novels ) is The Blue Castle. Having spent years in this book's world, I have often wished scenes would play out beyond its happy ending.
I would like to see Valancy with a child ( she always wanted one ), or visiting the Alhambra ( the Blue Castle of her dreams).
Apparently, Maud liked to see "ever after" as well...as is evident in her plotted sequels and trilogy. In fact, Maud was plotting a sequel to Jane of Lantern Hill around the time of her death...
Post-Kilmeny happy ending was one instance where I was left wanting a little more.
The book becomes tied up rather quickly. Indeed, so quickly that Eric's doubtful father is reduced to surprise and shock at Kilmeny's beauty and all potential conflict is spurned.
Such a nice, neat little bow. But I wanted Eric and Kilmeny to be seen after she had regained her voice. I wanted them to sit under twilight and talk, talk about everything she had previously incessantly wrote down.
As well, I was eager to play out more of the friendship between Eric and his friend David Baker. It takes a gifted writer like Montgomery to make you care deeply for a character so far from the forefront of the novel. David is afforded a few well-played phrases. I loved David the moment the book told me that he loved Eric "with a love surpassing that of brothers."
Surpassing That is stern stuff indeed. Because the narrator cares for David then so does the reader. What is testiment to David's influential ( if small ) portion of the novel is his role in the climax before the happy ending. Whilst he plays a major role in Kilmeny's "cure", his relationship with Eric dwindles into nothing and poor, heroic, noble David, is not given the luxury of a line of closure... let alone a happy ending.
In order for loose ends to be tied, Kilmeny and Eric must wed. In keeping with the conventions of the day, their happy ending dictates that all issues be resolved.The temperamental Neil Gordon threatens Eric and Kilmeny is there to save him... thus breaking the spell.
This book harked on the idea of "Sleeping Beauty" for me. An enchantress in a beautiful wood who can only be roused to life by true love's kiss.
Eric wakes Kilmeny's voice up. For Maud, speech and vocal prowess and power were the core strength of women. She revered classic talkers, orators and speakers. The greatest gift Kilmeny's true love can give her is that of speech.
To prove that Maud is creeping into my daily routine and as evidence of this experiment's potent effect on my mind and thought processes, I was thinking of Kilmeny last night when I went to see the film The Duchess with friends. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, is a strong willed and independent female who certainly woos the "ton" with her quick tongue and acerbic wit, as well as her remarkable grasp of politics and the social infrastructure of her time. Georgiana finds love ( with the soon-to-be-prime-minister Charles Grey ) but is silenced in her love and forced into resignation.
The film finds her bait and prey to her indestructable husband. Georgiana, the beautiful and strong-willed trend-setter and heroine of the tale, is puppeteered by a male presence, a victim to her society and ultimately silenced. Kilmeny, on the other hand, gains a voice after she finds love. Love opens up the world to her and she finds the strength to speak as its outcome.
The traditional and Victorianistic view of Patriarchal society and marriage dictate silence in women after male conquest and submission. Montgomery likes to explore the possibility of a woman being strengthened by the love and attention of a male counterpart and subsequently given a voice.
Montgomery's fascination with the concept of preternatural kinships ( kindred spirits, if you will )believes that love cannot help but free the soul and loosen the tongue.
Perhaps because Maud's own marriage led to a stifled and subdued existence, marriage became the springboard from which some of her heroine's could open up.
Tricky, really ,because ( as aforementioned), we are left at the happy end. Who knows what Kilmeny might have said or done given a couple of scenes post-wedding. Instead, we are left with a regaled orchard and a silent woman. I guess our imaginations will have to do the rest.
As for the experiment, my colleagues noted that I have been extraordinary chipper and happy and talkative the last couple of days.
Maybe Kilmeny's silence has sparked me into exorcising my own vocal liberation.
There is an inscription in the front flap of my copy written by my friend Carol. She writes:" Happy Valentine's Day. I never could get into this one."
In many cases, I can see why.
Kilmeny of the Orchard was originally published as a magazine serialization entitled Una of the Garden. It is a sugary sweet and somewhat implausible melodrama that was pieced together for publication by LC Page on the heels of Montgomery's resounding Anne success.
In the spirit of my experiment, I woke up eager to get started. If Montgomery's work, indeed, has the power to change one's life perspective that this dreary, rainy day was the perfect place to reimagine life in purple hues.
The Monday morning subway commute began my sojourn into Kilmeny's world.
Inspired by the James Hogg balad, the eponymous Kilmeny Gordon is a mute girl with striking ebony hair, creamy ivory skin and deep violet eyes who captrues the heart of Eric Marshall, a visiting school teacher. The scene is Prince Edward Island, naturally, and Kilmeny and Eric's burgeoning romance is overseen by the tall, ominous trees of a phantom orchard where Kilmeny expresses her emotions with her violin.
You can basically deduce the entire plot ( and even the outcome ) by a glance at the back. There is comfort to that.
I googled the Amazon reader reviews of Kilmeny in an effort to discover what other Montgomery fans thought of this lesser known novel.
"Old fashioned." states one.
"A feminist's nightmare!" exclaims another."
another wipes it away with "Fairytale"
Another vehemently advises: "Skip this and read the Blue Castle"
"ho hum" yawns one reviewer
"No plot" surmises another
There were some reviews that describe it as "adorable" and "magical" escapism with little substance.
There really is little substance in Kilmeny but my attraction to the story on this dreariest of days was the well-crafted atmosphere that teleported me to Prince Edward Island and Kilmeny's enchanted orchard.
Montgomery had a great knack of turning extraordinary and magical things out of ordinary circumstances. To her, life had the possibility of being a fairytale; if only you were blessed, born of the "Race of Joseph" and kindred spirit enough to see it so.
As such, and as product of her love of nature, Montgomery infuses every page with colour and light and romance.
"The wonder of her grew upon him with every passing moment," the narrator relays of Kilmeny and Eric's budding romance.
This romance is set amidst beautiful, muted pastels: "It was just after sunset", the reader is told, " and the distant hills were purple against the melting saffron sky in the west and the crystalline blue of the sky in the south. Eastward, just over the fir woods, were clouds white and high heaped like snow mountains and the westernmost of them shone with a rosy glow as of sunset on an Alpine height"
Who doesn't want to sink into a world sharded completely in colours: tangible, tasty colour. It calms your mood just thinking about it and, for me, stripped away the nondescript grey of my office building to a rainbow world beyond.
The reader discovers that Kilmeny prefers to remain isolated in her orchard and the aforementioned landscape with her violin and her thoughts and you can really see why. Especially, when she uses her voice to infuse the lyrics and ginger sounds of nature: "She began playing an airy, delicate little melody that sounded like the laughter of daisies."
Maud was always brilliant with the turns of simile. Nature to Kilmeny, as to many of Maud's heroines, beomes a companion: the lilies, the wind, all her friends. This theme of nature as friend is oft delineated in the way the heroine either names the natural spots around her ( i.e. the Lake of Shining Waters, for an obvious example ) or becomes " of " that place in intricate connection, such as Kilmeny of the Orchard.
Because my mind is filled with wondrous caverns of Victorian literary knowledge ( mounting on obsession), I was delighted that my ramble in the world of Kilmeny hosted a Brotean reference. Exotic, Italian outside Neil Gordon: who is situated near Kilmeny and her adoptive guardians, longs and yearns for Kilmeny much in the way that dark outsider Heathcliff prowls Catherine's grounds. In one particularly melodramatic moment, Neil is described with "the untamed fury of the Italian peasant."
I enjoyed my visit to Kilmeny's world today and particularly relished the introductory chapters setting up Eric Marshall's close friendship with the elder David Baker. The novel begins in Halifax with a rather pointed description of the hills lining the harbour up to the Citadel. I can attest to these hills and love that Montgomery takes me right to places I have previously been in... and loved.
Perhaps magic fairyland is on my doorstep after all.
Did my time with Kilmeny change my perspective? Well, during lunch hour: whilst slurping soup and gazing dreamily, chin-in-hand at the font of this darling little book, I stumbled upon a quote I highlighted: "I have so many thoughts and it seems so slow to write them out... some of them get away." Kilmeny states this to Eric in reference to the fact that her speech impediment forces her to write her end of their conversation. But how true those words resounded to my imaginative-writer mind.
It set me to thinking that perhaps Kilmeny does not hold up to the other novels ( atleast at this part through ) because she is stripped of a voice. Emphatic, considering that Montgomery's beloved heroines were loud and vocal and independent. It was their tongues and words that beguiled the villages and men around them. In many cases, too, their voices as emblemized by their pens. I don't just refer to the fact that Kilmeny is mute but that she is, indeed, a feminist's nightmare: a pretty, silent innocent girl who, upon feeling Eric's possessive kiss, steps away from her child and the protective bounds of her gorgeous orchard.
I found myself momentary incensed by this telling silence until I took a step back into the language and colourful world. See, I promised as much as I could to shelf my modern sensibilities on the shelf. If Kilmeny's charming and utopic orchard exists and a dashing and compassionate hero like Eric finds her there, what need has she to assert a voicde? If not challenged, must a heroine need to lash out? Perchance her many musings with Eric over books and current events will be enough to sustain her.
Did my mood improve today as I sauntered through Kilmeny? Perhaps I would have been humming those strains of distant tune anyways
Perhaps the grey of my desk and the outside world ---out the window of my office and the Toronto skyline would have peeled to the possibility of enchantment beyond.
This daydreamer does know that today---paperclipping business cards to letters and licking envelopes and answering incessant emails --- redundant tasks all --- allowed her mind to escape elsewhere to a sleepy orchard world. I don't know if I want to be trapped in Kilmeny's world: I rather think it would be akin to being shaken in a snow globe ---- but, it is rather titillating to imagine what goes on.
She makes you see a fairyland just a step beyond the borders of your complacent normalcy.
I had an idea today. What if I were to primarily read all of LM Montgomery's books in a sequence of my choice and document how they effect my mood, routine, my every-day life.
I just finished reading the Magic of Wings : an excellent new biography by Montgomery scholar, Mary Rubio. It left me with Montgomery on the brain. In this state, I could not help but reflect on years of reading and imagining. So many formative kernels of thought have been planted by my literary love-affair with the dreamiest writer of them all.
Montgomery's work fascinates me in part because it is a key to understanding a complex woman. Like any other author who seemingly steals the words from your mind and imrpints them on the page ,my connection with Montgomery is deeply rooted; our thought processes, conceptualizations of romance and books and general world view are so similar.
She is my mental and imaginative doppleganger. Her books have a profound and tantalizing power on me. And, needless to say, on millions of readers. But, do the books have the power to sway a difference in my ordinary life?
What would one's moods be like if completely absorbed in Montgomery's fairyworlds for weeks on end?
This heavily student-loan indebted, 27-year old young professional in the Educational Publishing business is about to find out.
I have a long and academic history with LM Montgomery's canon, her journals, criticism, and life. I mean to shelve this as much as possible ( it will undoubtedly creep in ) to save room for literary experience.
Many of her novels have eluded me for years. I will touch upon the favourites I read perennially, but still make room for those oft shelved in dusty corners.
My setting finds me in Toronto, Ontario where my meagre budget allots me a relatively posh basement dwelling in Forest Hill.
Misplaced, imaginative, social and a consommate dreamer, I have all of the makings of a Montgomery heroine.
Can I transpose her sense of imagination, the purple fields of love and butterflies, into my own daily existence?
What will I sound like, feel like, talk like? I will not have russet red dirt beneath my feed nor the melodic strain of a whistle spiriting a nearby boy to my side.
I'll begin, then, reading and reflecting and communicating a hodge podge of thoughts intertwining my adventures in Montgomery's lands with my own musings and my own seemingly ordinary life.
But ordinary is relative, is it not, and Montgomery has made immeasurable readers strip back the veil to find a completely revitalized world of romance and possibility beyond.
To begin Kilmeny of the Orchard (1910)
- Current Location:Toronto