I am very pleased to announce that my paper proposal was accepted for the L.M. Montgomery Institute’s 14th Biennial conference in 2020! This is the premier Montgomery studies event in the world, gathering scholars and readers together from around the world for a four-day early summer conference in Prince Edward Island. Though I admitted in 2018 that I had some timidity in joining this crew–not least because there were few other male scholars there–I found the community warm and receptive and the talks of the highest quality.
I have been working on a trilogy of theological papers on the three Anne books Montgomery wrote entirely during WWI or in response to the war (you can see the timeline I made here): Anne’s House of Dreams, Rainbow Valley, and Rilla of Ingleside. In 2018, I presented a paper on spirituality and Rainbow Valley, titled, “In Her Own Tongue: L.M. Montgomery’s Spirituality of Imaginative Literature, with C.S. Lewis.” As I moved toward the paper, I found I had gone too broad in sketching out the topic. In rewriting the paper for print, I titled it “Rainbow Valley as Embodied Heaven: L.M. Montgomery’s Narrative Spirituality in Rainbow Valley.” I have submitted it to the peer-reviewed Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies, and am working on revisions this fall.
The second paper in my L.M. Montgomery trilogy focusses upon Anne’s House of Dreams, a very literary and intertextually rich story of contrasts set in Anne’s early married years. I’ve titled this paper, “Making Friends with the Darkness: L.M. Montgomery’s Popular Theodicy in Anne’s House of Dreams.” Here is the paper abstract:
Upon completing Anne’s House of Dreams in 1916, Montgomery recorded in her journal that she had never written “amid so much strain of mind and body” (193). Caught between the pressures of life as a minister’s wife, her writing, and her role as a mother, Montgomery admitted that WWI was “slowly killing” her (185)—a war bound up for Montgomery with the agony of the loss of her second son. What Elizabeth Epperly calls her “most unselfconsciously philosophic” novel (The Fragrance of Sweet-Grass 75), House of Dreams delves into painful issues of loss, suicide, bad marriages, ill-timed love, poverty, and the beautiful-terrible consequences of duty. The result is a complex and nuanced consideration of life lived faithfully as it excels in the “effects of light and shadow,” allowing for both “joy and sorrow” (Anne’s House of Dreams 84, 93). Filled with biblical and poetic references to the nature of life, and unwilling to look away from difficult themes, readers are left with the assurance that “Everything works together for good” (16, see Rom 8:28). Like Milton, Montgomery writes so that she may “justifie the wayes of God to men” (Paradise Lost I.26)—or at least allow herself and her reader to work through the great joys and deep pains of life that are somehow providential. This paper considers Anne’s House of Dreams as a popular theodicy. “There’s something in the world amiss,” Anne admits, quoting Tennyson, but it is unclear whether it will be fully “unriddled by and by” (162). Instead, with Leslie, there is some beauty to “the struggle—and the crash—and the noise” of life (64). Montgomery offers a complex and conflicted defense of goodness, which is a lived theodicy where we are invited to make friends with the darkness to appreciate the light.
I am pleased that I was selected to present from the blind review process–though I was encouraged to shepherd my presentation toward the 2020 theme, L.M. Montgomery and Vision. The conference is local to me, but it is highly rigorous and I did not make any presumptions about acceptance. For those who are joining us next June 25-28 at UPEI, I look forward to meeting you (or seeing you again!). For those who have missed this cycle and cannot attend the conference, I hope that you will consider 2022. Abstracts will be due in August 2021, so I will begin my work on the third part of this trilogy while I’m writing this paper. Rilla of Ingleside is an astonishing book as war literature, and will be for me the greatest challenge of the three papers.