Behind the Making of the “Kitchen Animation”

Elizabeth R. Epperly

So Lillian Xie could create this simple-seeming animation of a few seconds in the writing of the opening paragraphs of Anne of Green Gables, we needed to provide her with many details about Montgomery, the Macneill home, and where she chose to write that day; then Lillian needed to imagine a storyline that would make the details come alive. 

Lillian did research, and we told her things to be sure to include: what Montgomery looked like in 1905 (pince-nez rather than conventional glasses, hair up; how she liked to dress; that she was right-handed); her writing habits and process; what kind of pen and paper she used; where she was sitting that day; what the Macneill house looked like and how it was oriented; the furnishings of the kitchen; the importance of the kitchen (as a post office) and how visitors would have approached it; and the possible slant of light through the western window. 

Lillian studied photographs of Montgomery and of the Macneill house, including the one existing photograph of the kitchen interior. Thanks to the research of Dr. Donna Jane Campbell, we were able to provide Lillian with a sketch of the possible layout of the interior. We paced out the old kitchen building, newly returned to the Macneill property. 

Hearing of Montgomery’s passionate attachment to cats, and seeing the cat in Montgomery’s kitchen photograph, Lillian was inspired to create the storyline from the cat’s perspective. The tabby cat leads the viewer into the kitchen and challenges Montgomery’s first moments of writing. 

Adam Gallant created sound for the animation. He wove together the cat’s padding and eventual purring, the crackling of a wood-stove fire, the kettle boiling, and some gentle piano chords, and he included birdsong from the species we had determined could have been present. We wanted a dramatic bird song to open the animation, and we consulted Eric Edward of Macphail Woods, who suggested a Swainson’s Thrush.

Montgomery was explicit about the circumstances and location for writing the opening passages of Anne of Green Gables even if she was not accurate about the year. Reminiscing in 1914 about what she called an evening “ten years ago,” would have meant this was June of 1904. But, as Cecily Devereaux explained in the Broadview edition of Anne, Ewan Macdonald began to board in Cavendish in 1905; he had just moved there and gone for his mail on the evening Montgomery describes. Never one to care much about dates or numbers, she instead sets the stage with time of day and place and draws attention to one really unusual circumstance—underlining the words. She had sat “on the end of the table” with her feet on the sofa. 

We had to invent things. Where in the room was the table Montgomery sat on? Where exactly would the sofa and table have been in relation to each other, when, in the south-west corner of the kitchen, there was a trap door that could not have been covered over? Did Montgomery somehow face the window? How? Or sit sideways to it? We know that Montgomery preferred a Waverley pen, but what did her inkwell look like? What could the kitchen sofa have looked like? (We used an old couch from Green Gables Heritage House as a model.) We did not reproduce her portfolio, though we imagine it was simply a stiff folder rather than something more elaborate.

We are especially grateful to

  • David Macneill, current owner and operator of the Site of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Cavendish Home, who allowed us to photograph the kitchen interior and measure the flooring, and whose mother and father (Jennie and John Macneill) lovingly created the Site, dedicating the heart of it to the Canadian people, and readers of the world, for a National Historic Site;
  • Lillian Xie for paying such careful attention to detail and for re-creating the scene from the beloved tabby cat’s perspective;
  • Dr. Donna Jane Campbell for sharing her research, measurements, and drawings concerning the Macneill kitchen and house. To present one possible solution for the puzzle about where the table could have sat (in relation to the western window and sofa), we used the drawings Dr. Campbell made for scale-model builder, Edward Powell, when she commissioned him to create a scale model of the Macneill homestead, as a gift to the L.M. Montgomery Institute, on its tenth anniversary in 2003; 
  • Adam Gallant for ingeniously mixing and creating sounds;
  • Eric Edward of Macphail Woods for suggesting the use of the magnificent call of the Swainson’s Thrush as part of the ambient sound;
  • Constance Parrish, Wordsworth and Isabella Lickbarrow scholar, for the antique ink well featured in the animation.