This is good news! Over the weekend, it was announced that I am the recipient of the 2020 Elizabeth R. Epperly Award for Outstanding Early Career Paper for my paper, “Making Friends with the Darkness: L.M. Montgomery’s Popular Theodicy in Anne’s House of Dreams.” It isn’t the Avery Award, but for me, it’s the next best thing!
The L.M. Montgomery Institute’s Elizabeth R. Epperly Award for Outstanding Early Career Paper
For the last 27 years, the L.M. Montgomery Institute (LMMI) has encouraged researchers from around the world to share their work at its biennial conferences. These conferences have also become a welcoming place for new scholars from across disciplines. In 2018, to celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary and to recognize the outstanding work of these voices, the LMMI created an award for outstanding paper by a student or an early career scholar (within three years of terminal degree completion).
Dr. Elizabeth R. Epperly is a leading L.M. Montgomery and Victorian literature scholar. She was critical to the founding of the L.M. Montgomery Institute, and continues to serve the scholarly community as a mentor and scholar. Her The Fragrance of Sweet-Grass: L.M. Montgomery’s Heroines and the Pursuit of Romance (1992; 2014) is a foundational text, probably the first literary-critical monograph on Montgomery and essential to the development of the discipline of Montgomery studies. It is also beautifully written, which is not always true of works of literary criticism.
The winner of the Elizabeth R. Epperly Award will be recognized on the Vision Virtual Conference Space (on the Journal of L.M. Montgomery website) and will receive a certificate, expedited peer review of her/his paper for possible publication in the Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies, and complimentary full registration at the 2022 biennial conference. The winner’s name will also be engraved on a plaque to be placed in the LMMI space in Robertson Library.
A panel of four judges (Lesley Clement, Kate Scarth, Bonnie Tulloch, and Emily Woster), appointed by the LMMI Management Committee, received six very strong papers. representing a diverse range of disciplines, from six different counties (three continents).
Given the unique circumstances of 2020 and the cancellation of the onsite June conference, early career presenters were asked to submit papers prepared for journal publication, rather than for presentation at the conference as they would normally have done. The judges then decided which of the six papers best demonstrated “both thoughtful engagement with past Montgomery scholarship and an original, compelling argument.”
- “This paper related to the theme of vision through its exploration of the significance of darkness and light in Montgomery’s Anne’s House of Dreams. The author made a notable effort to engage with a substantial corpus of Montgomery scholarship and positioned the essay in dialogue with Elizabeth Epperly’s ideas in particular.”
- “Beautifully written, scholarly informed reflection on Anne’s House of Dreams drawing on a tension central to Montgomery between darkness and light.”
- “The argument flows nicely…asking pertinent and engaging questions along the way.”
- “Beautifully argued, a unique reading of Anne’s House of Dreams with a nicely contextualized final argument/conclusions that invite comment and conversation going forward – just what an essay like this should do!”
Making Friends with the Darkness: L.M. Montgomery’s Popular Theodicy in Anne’s House of Dreams
In this piece I was taking a few risks. In reading and rereading Anne’s House of Dreams, I began to discern a rather sophisticated approach to darkness and trouble. House of Dreams seems to me, of the Anne books, to have the most sophisticated mix of lovely and terrible moments, of light and darkness. And yet, Montgomery never seems to negate either the value of good, beautiful things or of the heart-rending difficult moments of suffering. Because Epperly’s Fragrance of Sweet-Grass is such an influential text, I wanted to dialogue with her thesis about Anne’s House of Dreams, where she argues that “all things harmonize” in this text. Her metaphor of “harmony” works well as a tool for analysis, but I wanted to trouble it a little bit. Can light and darkness ever really harmonize? Or is something going on in the core experiences of the characters and Montgomery’s consideration of how such pain and suffering can exist in a providential world? This paper is my attempt to consider that question. Here is the abstract of the draft that I submitted:
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, 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 Montgomery’s “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 faithfully lived as it excels in the “effects of light and shadow,” allowing for both “joy and sorrow” (Anne’s House of Dreams 84, 93). As a novel filled with biblical and poetic references to the nature of life, and as a story unwilling to look away from difficult themes, readers are left with the assurance that “Everything works together for good” (Anne’s House of Dreams 16; see Rom 8:28). In dialogue with Epperly’s treatment—both accepting the basic argument but interrogating the metaphor of “harmony” in order to generate new analysis—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 defence of goodness, which is a lived theodicy where readers are invited to make friends with the darkness in order to see the light.
I have submitted the piece for peer-review in The Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies, and my hope is to complete a video presentation this fall. My free-access article “Rainbow Valley as Embodied Heaven: Initial Explorations into L.M. Montgomery’s Spirituality in Fiction” was recently published in the Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies, which you can read about here. I am also the host and founding producer of The MaudCast: The Podcast of the L.M. Montgomery Institute, and I hope there will be a new episode out soon.
My thanks to the organizers of the Epperly Award! As an emerging scholar, it is gratifying to know that people would commit so much time to providing support for the next generation of readers.