Montgomery’s Imagining and Mapping
Elizabeth R. Epperly
Montgomery did what she called “spade work” for months, outlining and making notes. She “brooded up” her central character, inventing events, dialogue, and details about setting, all to feature character. In the 1920s, when answering questions along with more than a hundred contemporary authors, Montgomery said
Montgomery explained, “In my own writing character is by far the most interesting thing to me – then setting. In the development of the one and the arrangement of the other I find my greatest pleasure . . . .” Character guided the novels; with short stories, the reverse was true. An incident would generate the character and setting needed to dramatize the central event. Anne of Green Gables established her pattern: all of her novels are character driven.
Notebooks and Outlines
Early in her writing career, Montgomery developed what she called her “note-book habit.” She filled and kept these notebooks (though none have survived), consulting them for inspiration and details. Anne of Green Gables was inspired by a decade-old entry in her notebook, made when Pierce and Rachael Macneill of Cavendish adopted a little girl: “Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy. By mistake a girl is sent them.” In real life, the orphanage sent the requested boy, but they also unexpectedly sent along his younger sister.
In her outlines, Montgomery divided a story into sections, some of which became chapters, and jotted down exactly what was going to happen, including some dialogue and descriptions. Only when the whole story was fully planned did she enjoy the real pleasure of the process, writing freely but also guided by her outline.
The “blocking out” and “brooding up” outlines for Anne of Green Gables no longer exist, but Montgomery preserved some story-outline pages in the manuscript of Rainbow Valley (1919), which she paid someone else to type, and Mistress Pat (1935). With Rainbow Valley, Montgomery, a busy mother and minister’s wife in Ontario, had someone type up portions of her handwritten outline and notes, and then used the handwritten and typed outline pages themselves as scrap paper for composing sections of the novel.
Inspired by Nature
Like one of her favourite novelists, Anthony Trollope, Montgomery walked to help her plan and compose. She rehearsed and puzzled out many parts of Anne’s story while she walked through what, in 1914, she called “my favorite object in Nature”: Lover’s Lane in Cavendish. Montgomery even introduced Lover’s Lane into Anne’s story, making it one of Anne’s favourite places, too. She photographed the lane for years, acknowledging it as a vital place for her imagining.
The green arches, alluring bends, and framed vistas of Lover’s Lane inspired the “bend in the road” image at the end of Anne of Green Gables, a metaphorical image that featured in many of her works.2
Reading and Planning
An avid reader from such a young age that she could not even recall when she began to read, Montgomery devoured books and articles, poetry, and novels all her life. In Cavendish, she read an astonishing number of magazines to keep abreast of the writing markets.3 She clipped images and pieces from magazines and colourful catalogues for her memorabilia scrapbooks.4
While planning and writing Anne’s story, Montgomery consulted her scrapbooks, finding there many of the flowers, kinds of verses, and fashion plates—especially puffed sleeves!—Anne admired. She reminisced about her findings in a long journal entry on July 30, 1905, as she would do again years later on November 22, 1926.