In reading through L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books last year, I began to sense some trends in her work–subtle currents of thought and image that began to come into focus for me. One of the beautiful parts of being a student of literature is that each reader brings a unique set of questions to texts. As a C.S. Lewis scholar, I began to see things in Lucy Maud’s work–particularly her Avonlea stories and Emily of New Moon (things she wrote before the mid-20s)–that resonated with Lewis’ understanding of Joy, or sehnsucht. I began writing those thoughts down, shaping them into a paper, and I’m pleased that the work has turned into a couple of conference presentations.
I am pleased to announce that I have had a paper accepted for the 13th Biennial L.M. Montgomery Institute Conference. Though I am on the “home team”–the conference is held every second June here in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island–the blind review process is intense. I had to have my proposal in August 2017 for a June 2018 conference. Besides being a rigorous conference, it is also a prestigious one–not only the most important conferences on Mongomery’s work, but critical to the study of Canadian literature, women’s literature, and romance. My proposal from this conference–attached below–suggests that the Anne stories leave for us a trail of breadcrumbs into fairyland. This constant conversation with faërie, I believe, teaches us something about Montgomery’s Christian spirituality. My PEI conference paper makes some of those links using Montgomery’s short story, “Each in His Own Tongue,” where she plays a bit outside the genre of realistic fiction.
One aspect of this conversation that I wasn’t able to address in the PEI paper was Emily’s experience of “the Flash” in Emily of New Moon. L.M. Montgomery admitted that Emily was more like her own personality–as much as we might want to read Anne into Maud’s life–and so the Flash is an autobiographical moment. Montgomery touches on this inspirational experience in her memoir of the craft, The Alpine Way. A friend hinted to me that Emily’s Flash had a connection to Lewis’ sehnsucht, his philosophy of Joy. I think this connection is there, and at the Taylor conference I will use Lewis’ more critical writing about the “stabs of Joy” he experiences to think about Montgomery’s moments of the Flash.
I have attached both of the paper abstracts below. Neither adequately shows the conversation that is at play in the academic world already, or the sharp contrasts of light and darkness between the Anne and Emily books. Still, it has been fun working on them. I would love any comments you have and I hope to see you in Charlottetown or Upland!
In Her Own Tongue: L.M. Montgomery’s Spirituality of Imaginative Literature, with C.S. Lewis
The L.M. Montgomery Institute’s Thirteenth Biennial Conference, University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, PE, 21-24 June 2018
L.M. Montgomery uses a diversity of characters to explore various options for doctrine and spirituality: Rachel Lynde the legalistic Calvinist, Davy the conscience-ridden rebel, Dora the unimaginative and obedient soul, the Allans with their robust and generous ministry, Abel Blair’s authentic hypocrisy, and cautious Marilla, whose headaches occur most frequently on Sunday. In doing so, Montgomery invites the reader to walk with Anne along various pathways of personal faith. Anne chooses to navigate between these Christian perspectives, creating for herself a spirituality of Joy brought together from two canonical sources: the broad Protestant Christian tradition and the fantastic world of faërie and adventure.
This spirituality resonates with another imaginative author, C.S. Lewis. As an Oxford atheist of the 1920s, reason and romanticism were combative factors in Lewis’ mind. Long before his invention of Narnia, Lewis admitted that, “the two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast” (Surprised by Joy 162). What brought these hemispheres together was his experience of Joy fulfilled in Christian conversion—what he called sehnsucht, the longing for that which he knew not. In conversation with Montgomery scholars Monika Hilder, Julie Rae Golding Page, Ann F. Howey, Kirstie Blair and William V. Thompson, this paper explores how Montgomery and Lewis—though apparently unaware of each other’s work—craft a comparable spiritual theology of joy that bridges the worlds of the reasonable root of Christian tradition with the risk of the romantic—evidenced in the fairy tales that Anne loved to read and that Lewis would go on to write. This paper traces the development of Anne’s imaginative spirituality in the first three Anne novels before turning to the 1910 Avonlea story that bridges the hemispheres of the fantastic and the rationale, “Each in His Own Tongue.”
C.S. Lewis’ Theory of Sehnsucht as a Tool for Thinking About L.M. Montgomery’s Experience of “The Flash”
The 11th Biennial Frances W. Ewbank C.S. Lewis & Friends Colloquium, Taylor University, Upland, IN, 31 May-3 June 2018
As Surprised by Joy is a philosophical treatise on Joy, so L.M. Montgomery’s autobiography, The Alpine Path, is a reflection on her experience of “the Flash.” As Lewis’ concept of sehnsucht weaves through his entire corpus, so Montgomery invites her reader into a spirituality of Joy. Montgomery does this by bridging two main sources: the broad Protestant literary spiritual tradition and the fantastic world of faërie—a bridging that echoes Lewis’ conversation about “the two hemispheres of my mind” (Surprised by Joy 162). The third source for this literary spirituality is her experience of “the Flash.”
Though sometimes reduced to mere literary inspiration (Tausky, 8), Montgomery’s Flash is much more complex and nuanced. While she writes of the experience in The Alpine Path, and the Anne books express the essence of this experience with Anne’s relationship to nature (Brennan, 252) and faërie, it is Emily in the New Moon series who works out the spiritual, relational, and imaginative dynamics of the Flash. Admittedly autobiographical, Emily’s “flash” is a “moment of joy, of pure recognition” (Alice Munro). Beginning with Emily of New Moon, this paper uses C.S. Lewis’ philosophy of sehnsucht to press in on definitions of Montgomery’s “Flash.”
This sounds wonderful. I’ve been following your blog for a while and have printed out several posts for reference and inspiration, and I heartily wish I could attend this conference and hear your presentations! Thank you for sharing the abstracts with us.
“This sounds wonderful” – it does!
Do, please, keep us updated – especially about any published versions!
“Each in His Own Tongue” – a good title to introduce us to, with Pentecost coming up in 10 days! I don’t think I’d ever heard or it – or paid attention, if I did (for I now see someone reads it aloud at LibriVox.org). (I don’t see it as a title of any of the episodes of Avonlea in the seven seasons as listed at IMDB: do ‘we’ happen to know if they drew upon it for any of those dramatizations?)
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I don’t know if “Each in His Own Tongue” ever became a Road to Avonlea episode, but the characters aren’t in any of the Anne films. Road to Avonlea drew on the Story Girl collections, but I think also dipped into other short stories too. I just don’t know enough, but I doubt it. This story is a religious one, and the Kevin Sullivan didn’t know what to do with that.
Thanks so much for this nice response! I’ve added your blog to my reader, and let me know if you every use anything from my blog in your work.
Thank you! I will.
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I’ve read L.M. Montgomery’s novels and her journals numerous times. I’ve always felt Emily’s “Flash” is a glimpse into the Afterlife. It’s as simple as that. 🙂
Hmmm, I like the sentiment dyane, but I’m not sure it is that simple. I think it is a living reality, a devotional one, a design element, and a vocational one–all with the mystical element. A “glimpse of heaven” for LMM was as much about earth as anything after.
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Brenton, you are far more erudite than I am. (And I knew that before I read your bio!) I will admit that your reply had me somewhat perplexed. As you’ll know, in “Emily of New Moon” Montgomery wrote,
“It couldn’t be described — not even to Father, who always seemed a little puzzled by it. Emily never spoke of it to anyone else.
It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could rmember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside — but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond — only a glimpse — and heard a note of unearthly music”
Sorry, Brenton, II pressed “send” by accident. I’ll blame it on the cup of coffee I just enjoyed.
Please excuse my typos as well!
I wrote about L.M. Montgomery’s profound influence upon my life in my memoir “Birth of a New Brain—Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder.” I also wrote about how much Madeleine L’Engle’s writing and faith inspired me. I didn’t know she shared the same birthday as C.S. Lewis until now! And there’s a L’Engle Q&A she did with Scholastic students, which I hope you’ll find interesting:
“Scholastic student: Has your fiction for children ever been compared with that of C. S. Lewis?
L’Engle: Yes, it has. I think that the main difference is that C. S. Lewis has more answers and I have more questions. I wasn’t the right age to read him when he was being published. But my children grew up with him. I spent time this past summer at Oxford and Cambridge for a C. S. Lewis conference.”
I was incredibly fortunate to attend two of L’Engle’s writing workshops.
Anyway, from Montomgery’s “The Flash” description which I copied in my previous comment, I thought Montgomery implied it was the afterlife because of the word “unearthly” and the presence of the “thin curtain” between this world and the “the enchanting realm beyond.”
I’d be deeply grateful if you could consider going into professorial mode and explain a little more about your thoughts, as I find them quite intriguing.
Take good care,
Hi Dyane, I have a piece I have written up about this, based on a paper at a conference. What I am arguing is that the Flash isn’t just one thing, but a collection of images of the numenous (God, the divine, the Spirit), and a sense of vocation, and some other things.
The description is here: https://apilgriminnarnia.com/2018/05/10/sehnsucht-faerie-flash/. I can send it to you if you drop me an email: junkola[at]gmail[dot]com
Cool L’Engle stories. I would have liked to have been there.
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I’d absolutely love to read it, Brenton! Thanks for the speedy reply.
I’ll email you a bit later on; my stir-crazy Scottish collie is begging me to take her for a walk.
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