Though fans of L.M. Montgomery will usually take whatever they can get from her, critics are not always satisfied by the Anne of Green Gables sequel, Anne of Avonlea (1909). Montgomery herself was not terribly satisfied, distressed that she was writing under the pressure of her publisher, L.C. Page. She wanted the story to come to her organically, rather than have her pen trained to the task. Publishing a bestseller like Anne of Green Gables must have been marvellously satisfying–both because of the energy of the book itself, but also because she had been writing to pay her way for nearly a decade and Anne of Green Gables was an exercise in artistic freedom. Montgomery’s journal captures her feelings about her early work with Anne of Green Gables, before it became big:
They took it [Anne #1] and asked me to write a sequel to it. The book may or may not sell well. I wrote it for love, not money–but very often such books are the most successful–just as everything in life that is born of true love is better than something constructed for mercenary ends (Selected Journals I, May 20, 1908, pp. 331).
10 days after Anne of Green Gables came out–Montgomery described it by quoting her lead character’s great phrase, “an epoch in my life”–she admitted that she was struggling with the sequel:
“I’m working at it but it will not be as good as Green Gables. It doesn’t come as easily. I have to force it (Selected Journals I, May 30, 1908, pp. 335-6).
You can see Montgomery’s Aug 3, 1908 journal entry, where she finishes the book and repeats the sentiment. After 9 months of writing, but with the prospect of revision ahead of her, Montgomery admits to falling prey to worry about her work, but that when writing, she very much enjoyed the process. This is a sentiment that Montgomery would repeat in her journal throughout her life.
It is true that Anne of Avonlea is not a “great” work, like Anne of Green Gables is. But I believe it is a good book. And as a teacher, it is a satisfying one, for Avonlea is Anne’s teaching tale. Anne became the Avonlea schoolhouse teacher for a couple of years after her certificate at Queen’s and before moving on to complete her degree (in Anne of the Island). The Green Gables sequel, then, is full of little anecdotes about teaching, as well as Montgomery’s philosophy of education–embedded in story form a decade since she had stepped up to a chalkboard herself. Having once read Anne of Avonlea in tandem with her three years of teaching diaries in the late 1890s, I enjoyed how much Montgomery drew from her own experience in shaping this more humble–but still satisfying–sequel. One of these anecdotes I record in my piece, “L.M. Montgomery’s Schoolmarm Visit to the Archibald MacKay Mansion.”
For the whimsey of the thing–and to tempt the teacherly readers amongst you to read or reread Anne of Avonlea–I’m going to include here some notes from chapter 11, “Facts and Fancies.” This is a letter that Anne writes to an old friend, Stella, about her students in Avonlea. You should know that St. Clair DonNELL is really Jake DONnell, and has promised to whip anyone who calls him the pretentious name, St. Clair. I presume that “carded rolls” are battons of cotton rolls, but I don’t know. They are flammable, in any case. And Paul Irving is Anne’s favourite student. She presumes him to be a genius in the making.
Avonlea is, after, a remarking little PEI town for developing genius.
“Teaching is really very interesting work,” wrote Anne to a Queen’s Academy chum. “Jane says she thinks it is monotonous but I don’t find it so. Something funny is almost sure to happen every day, and the children say such amusing things. Jane says she punishes her pupils when they make funny speeches, which is probably why she finds teaching monotonous. This afternoon little Jimmy Andrews was trying to spell ‘speckled’ and couldn’t manage it. ‘Well,’ he said finally, ‘I can’t spell it but I know what it means.’
“‘What?’ I asked.
“‘St. Clair Donnell’s face, miss.’
“St. Clair is certainly very much freckled, although I try to prevent the others from commenting on it . . . for I was freckled once and well do I remember it. But I don’t think St. Clair minds. It was because Jimmy called him ‘St. Clair’ that St. Clair pounded him on the way home from school. I heard of the pounding, but not officially, so I don’t think I’ll take any notice of it.
“Yesterday I was trying to teach Lottie Wright to do addition. I said, ‘If you had three candies in one hand and two in the other, how many would you have altogether?’ ‘A mouthful,’ said Lottie. And in the nature study class, when I asked them to give me a good reason why toads shouldn’t be killed, Benjie Sloane gravely answered, ‘Because it would rain the next day.’
“It’s so hard not to laugh, Stella. I have to save up all my amusement until I get home, and Marilla says it makes her nervous to hear wild shrieks of mirth proceeding from the east gable without any apparent cause. She says a man in Grafton went insane once and that was how it began.
“Did you know that Thomas a Becket was canonized as a SNAKE? Rose Bell says he was … also that William Tyndale WROTE the New Testament. Claude White says a ‘glacier’ is a man who puts in window frames!
“I think the most difficult thing in teaching, as well as the most interesting, is to get the children to tell you their real thoughts about things. One stormy day last week I gathered them around me at dinner hour and tried to get them to talk to me just as if I were one of themselves. I asked them to tell me the things they most wanted. Some of the answers were commonplace enough . . . dolls, ponies, and skates. Others were decidedly original. Hester Boulter wanted ‘to wear her Sunday dress every day and eat in the sitting room.’ Hannah Bell wanted ‘to be good without having to take any trouble about it.’ Marjory White, aged ten, wanted to be a WIDOW. Questioned why, she gravely said that if you weren’t married people called you an old maid, and if you were your husband bossed you; but if you were a widow there’d be no danger of either. The most remarkable wish was Sally Bell’s. She wanted a ‘honeymoon.’ I asked her if she knew what it was and she said she thought it was an extra nice kind of bicycle because her cousin in Montreal went on a honeymoon when he was married and he had always had the very latest in bicycles!
“Another day I asked them all to tell me the naughtiest thing they had ever done. I couldn’t get the older ones to do so, but the third class answered quite freely. Eliza Bell had ‘set fire to her aunt’s carded rolls.’ Asked if she meant to do it she said, ‘not altogether.’ She just tried a little end to see how it would burn and the whole bundle blazed up in a jiffy. Emerson Gillis had spent ten cents for candy when he should have put it in his missionary box. Annetta Bell’s worst crime was ‘eating some blueberries that grew in the graveyard.’ Willie White had ‘slid down the sheephouse roof a lot of times with his Sunday trousers on.’ ‘But I was punished for it ‘cause I had to wear patched pants to Sunday School all summer, and when you’re punished for a thing you don’t have to repent of it,’ declared Willie.
“I wish you could see some of their compositions . . . so much do I wish it that I’ll send you copies of some written recently. Last week I told the fourth class I wanted them to write me letters about anything they pleased, adding by way of suggestion that they might tell me of some place they had visited or some interesting thing or person they had seen. They were to write the letters on real note paper, seal them in an envelope, and address them to me, all without any assistance from other people. Last Friday morning I found a pile of letters on my desk and that evening I realized afresh that teaching has its pleasures as well as its pains. Those compositions would atone for much. Here is Ned Clay’s, address, spelling, and grammar as originally penned.
“‘Miss teacher ShiRley
p.e. Island can
“‘Dear teacher I think I will write you a composition about birds. birds is very useful animals. my cat catches birds. His name is William but pa calls him tom. he is oll striped and he got one of his ears froz of last winter. only for that he would be a good-looking cat. My unkle has adopted a cat. it come to his house one day and woudent go away and unkle says it has forgot more than most people ever knowed. he lets it sleep on his rocking chare and my aunt says he thinks more of it than he does of his children. that is not right. we ought to be kind to cats and give them new milk but we ought not be better to them than to our children. this is oll I can think of so no more at present from
edward blake ClaY.’”
“St. Clair Donnell’s is, as usual, short and to the point. St. Clair never wastes words. I do not think he chose his subject or added the postscript out of malice aforethought. It is just that he has not a great deal of tact or imagination.”
“‘Dear Miss Shirley
“‘You told us to describe something strange we have seen. I will describe the Avonlea Hall. It has two doors, an inside one and an outside one. It has six windows and a chimney. It has two ends and two sides. It is painted blue. That is what makes it strange. It is built on the lower Carmody road. It is the third most important building in Avonlea. The others are the church and the blacksmith shop. They hold debating clubs and lectures in it and concerts.
“‘P.S. The hall is a very bright blue.’”
“Annetta Bell’s letter was quite long, which surprised me, for writing essays is not Annetta’s forte, and hers are generally as brief as St. Clair’s. Annetta is a quiet little puss and a model of good behavior, but there isn’t a shadow of orginality in her. Here is her letter.—
“‘I think I will write you a letter to tell you how much I love you. I love you with my whole heart and soul and mind . . . with all there is of me to love . . . and I want to serve you for ever. It would be my highest privilege. That is why I try so hard to be good in school and learn my lessuns.
“‘You are so beautiful, my teacher. Your voice is like music and your eyes are like pansies when the dew is on them. You are like a tall stately queen. Your hair is like rippling gold. Anthony Pye says it is red, but you needn’t pay any attention to Anthony.
“‘I have only known you for a few months but I cannot realize that there was ever a time when I did not know you . . . when you had not come into my life to bless and hallow it. I will always look back to this year as the most wonderful in my life because it brought you to me. Besides, it’s the year we moved to Avonlea from Newbridge. My love for you has made my life very rich and it has kept me from much of harm and evil. I owe this all to you, my sweetest teacher.
“‘I shall never forget how sweet you looked the last time I saw you in that black dress with flowers in your hair. I shall see you like that for ever, even when we are both old and gray. You will always be young and fair to me, dearest teacher. I am thinking of you all the time. . . in the morning and at the noontide and at the twilight. I love you when you laugh and when you sigh . . . even when you look disdainful. I never saw you look cross though Anthony Pye says you always look so but I don’t wonder you look cross at him for he deserves it. I love you in every dress . . . you seem more adorable in each new dress than the last.
“‘Dearest teacher, good night. The sun has set and the stars are shining . . . stars that are as bright and beautiful as your eyes. I kiss your hands and face, my sweet. May God watch over you and protect you from all harm.
“‘Your afecksionate pupil,
“This extraordinary letter puzzled me not a little. I knew Annetta couldn’t have composed it any more than she could fly. When I went to school the next day I took her for a walk down to the brook at recess and asked her to tell me the truth about the letter. Annetta cried and ‘fessed up freely. She said she had never written a letter and she didn’t know how to, or what to say, but there was bundle of love letters in her mother’s top bureau drawer which had been written to her by an old ‘beau.’
“‘It wasn’t father,’ sobbed Annetta, ‘it was someone who was studying for a minister, and so he could write lovely letters, but ma didn’t marry him after all. She said she couldn’t make out what he was driving at half the time. But I thought the letters were sweet and that I’d just copy things out of them here and there to write you. I put “teacher” where he put “lady” and I put in something of my own when I could think of it and I changed some words. I put “dress” in place of “mood.” I didn’t know just what a “mood” was but I s’posed it was something to wear. I didn’t s’pose you’d know the difference. I don’t see how you found out it wasn’t all mine. You must be awful clever, teacher.’
“I told Annetta it was very wrong to copy another person’s letter and pass it off as her own. But I’m afraid that all Annetta repented of was being found out.
“‘And I do love you, teacher,’ she sobbed. ‘It was all true, even if the minister wrote it first. I do love you with all my heart.’
“It’s very difficult to scold anybody properly under such circumstances.
“‘You said we might write about a visit. I never visited but once. It was at my Aunt Mary’s last winter. My Aunt Mary is a very particular woman and a great housekeeper. The first night I was there we were at tea. I knocked over a jug and broke it. Aunt Mary said she had had that jug ever since she was married and nobody had ever broken it before. When we got up I stepped on her dress and all the gathers tore out of the skirt. The next morning when I got up I hit the pitcher against the basin and cracked them both and I upset a cup of tea on the tablecloth at breakfast. When I was helping Aunt Mary with the dinner dishes I dropped a china plate and it smashed. That evening I fell downstairs and sprained my ankle and had to stay in bed for a week. I heard Aunt Mary tell Uncle Joseph it was a mercy or I’d have broken everything in the house. When I got better it was time to go home. I don’t like visiting very much. I like going to school better, especially since I came to Avonlea.
“Willie White’s began,
“‘I want to tell you about my Very Brave Aunt. She lives in Ontario and one day she went out to the barn and saw a dog in the yard. The dog had no business there so she got a stick and whacked him hard and drove him into the barn and shut him up. Pretty soon a man came looking for an inaginary lion’ (Query;—Did Willie mean a menagerie lion?) ‘that had run away from a circus. And it turned out that the dog was a lion and my Very Brave Aunt had druv him into the barn with a stick. It was a wonder she was not et up but she was very brave. Emerson Gillis says if she thought it was a dog she wasn’t any braver than if it really was a dog. But Emerson is jealous because he hasn’t got a Brave Aunt himself, nothing but uncles.’
“‘I have kept the best for the last. You laugh at me because I think Paul is a genius but I am sure his letter will convince you that he is a very uncommon child. Paul lives away down near the shore with his grandmother and he has no playmates . . . no real playmates. You remember our School Management professor told us that we must not have ‘favorites’ among our pupils, but I can’t help loving Paul Irving the best of all mine. I don’t think it does any harm, though, for everybody loves Paul, even Mrs. Lynde, who says she could never have believed she’d get so fond of a Yankee. The other boys in school like him too. There is nothing weak or girlish about him in spite of his dreams and fancies. He is very manly and can hold his own in all games. He fought St. Clair Donnell recently because St. Clair said the Union Jack was away ahead of the Stars and Stripes as a flag. The result was a drawn battle and a mutual agreement to respect each other’s patriotism henceforth. St. Clair says he can hit the HARDEST but Paul can hit the OFTENEST.’”
“‘My dear teacher,
“‘You told us we might write you about some interesting people we knew. I think the most interesting people I know are my rock people and I mean to tell you about them. I have never told anybody about them except grandma and father but I would like to have you know about them because you understand things. There are a great many people who do not understand things so there is no use in telling them.’
“‘My rock people live at the shore. I used to visit them almost every evening before the winter came. Now I can’t go till spring, but they will be there, for people like that never change . . . that is the splendid thing about them. Nora was the first one of them I got acquainted with and so I think I love her the best. She lives in Andrews’ Cove and she has black hair and black eyes, and she knows all about the mermaids and the water kelpies. You ought to hear the stories she can tell. Then there are the Twin Sailors. They don’t live anywhere, they sail all the time, but they often come ashore to talk to me. They are a pair of jolly tars and they have seen everything in the world. . . and more than what is in the world. Do you know what happened to the youngest Twin Sailor once? He was sailing and he sailed right into a moonglade. A moonglade is the track the full moon makes on the water when it is rising from the sea, you know, teacher. Well, the youngest Twin Sailor sailed along the moonglade till he came right up to the moon, and there was a little golden door in the moon and he opened it and sailed right through. He had some wonderful adventures in the moon but it would make this letter too long to tell them.’
“‘Then there is the Golden Lady of the cave. One day I found a big cave down on the shore and I went away in and after a while I found the Golden Lady. She has golden hair right down to her feet and her dress is all glittering and glistening like gold that is alive. And she has a golden harp and plays on it all day long . . . you can hear the music any time along shore if you listen carefully but most people would think it was only the wind among the rocks. I’ve never told Nora about the Golden Lady. I was afraid it might hurt her feelings. It even hurt her feelings if I talked too long with the Twin Sailors.’
“‘I always met the Twin Sailors at the Striped Rocks. The youngest Twin Sailor is very good-tempered but the oldest Twin Sailor can look dreadfully fierce at times. I have my suspicions about that oldest Twin. I believe he’d be a pirate if he dared. There’s really something very mysterious about him. He swore once and I told him if he ever did it again he needn’t come ashore to talk to me because I’d promised grandmother I’d never associate with anybody that swore. He was pretty well scared, I can tell you, and he said if I would forgive him he would take me to the sunset. So the next evening when I was sitting on the Striped Rocks the oldest Twin came sailing over the sea in an enchanted boat and I got in her. The boat was all pearly and rainbowy, like the inside of the mussel shells, and her sail was like moonshine. Well, we sailed right across to the sunset. Think of that, teacher, I’ve been in the sunset. And what do you suppose it is? The sunset is a land all flowers. We sailed into a great garden, and the clouds are beds of flowers. We sailed into a great harbor, all the color of gold, and I stepped right out of the boat on a big meadow all covered with buttercups as big as roses. I stayed there for ever so long. It seemed nearly a year but the Oldest Twin says it was only a few minutes. You see, in the sunset land the time is ever so much longer than it is here.’
“‘Your loving pupil Paul Irving.’
“‘P. S. of course, this letter isn’t really true, teacher. P.I.’”