Montgomery’s Writing and Revising
Elizabeth R. Epperly
No matter where she wrote, Montgomery could withdraw from her surroundings and be completely absorbed in what she was creating. She lived what she was writing. On September 10, 1908, she wrote to pen-friend Ephraim Weber about the writing of Anne of Green Gables.
“Yes, I took a great deal of pains with my style. I revised and rewrote until I fairly bewildered myself.”
Most tellingly, among her replies to editor Arthur Hoffman’s questions from the 1920s, she said,
“When I read a story, I see when I write a story I am the people myself and live their experiences.” 1
She sometimes spoke lines out loud as she wrote them, testing words and rhythms.
Montgomery’s practice of balancing a portfolio on her knee or lap meant she could write wherever seasons or chores required. She preferred unlined paper and she wrote with pen and ink.
For many years Montgomery preferred to use a Waverley pen, a dip pen with a special nib that turned up rather than down and supposedly made the ink flow smoothly. Every few lines, Montgomery would need to dip her pen into an inkwell.
Pages in the manuscript show where the ink is thick and fresh and where it is running out.
Montgomery’s favourite place to write was her warm-weather upstairs bedroom in the Macneill house in Cavendish, her “dear den,” where she had privacy. But she could easily take her portfolio and inkwell to the kitchen when she needed to be there or when the weather turned cold, and she had to sleep downstairs.
She did not compose on a typewriter and wrote all her novels (and short stories) by hand. Like Virginia Woolf, Montgomery loved the act of writing itself. When she composed poetry, she used a school slate so she could erase and revise easily before she committed the words to paper. Her handwriting can be difficult to read and editors complained—so she purchased a typewriter but did not compose on it.
It took her weeks to type the final copy of Anne of Green Gables, bringing together the manuscript story pages and “Note” pages. The typescript was probably destroyed along with other papers when the L.C. Page Company in Boston was taken over by another company.
Montgomery often read over and revised earlier pages before she began the new day’s writing; sometimes she would go all the way back to the beginning of a manuscript before she wrote another new line, making improvements in wording and timing.
Montgomery made local and spontaneous revisions right on the pages themselves.2 For example, the following two sentences (from manuscript p. 62) show Montgomery writing speedily, striking through, and then including the deleted words in the next sentence: “Matthew Cuthbert, I can see plain as plain believe that child has bewitched you. I can see as plain as plain that you want to keep her.”
She added text later (and sometimes while she wrote), using an alpha-numeric scheme that worked this way: she inserted the word “Note” in her text, and then a capital letter, beginning with A; on a separate sheet of Note pages, she recorded the addition or change. Note A would be followed by Note B, right through to Note Z. She then began the alphabet again, using Note A1 through Z1, and so on, sometimes going through the alphabet as many as 25 times (in Emily of New Moon). The Notes end with S19 in Anne of Green Gables.
Montgomery dropped the word “Note” early on but sometimes picked it up again, running fairly smoothly through the alphabet scheme all the way to S19. The Notes are in order, though she sometimes repeated letters and numbers, and an evident re-copying of Notes may have led to the creation, for example, of two page 21s, one after another. As she typed up the manuscript, she usually made a large X, usually in pencil, through each Note.
Two of the longest Note additions in the manuscript occur in Chapter 16, “Diana Is Invited to Tea with Tragic Results.” They show Montgomery strategically enlarging Anne’s monologue. When Anne unwittingly gives Diana currant wine rather than raspberry cordial, she simply says,
“The last time I made a cake I forgot to put the flour in. Flour is so essential to cakes, you know. Marilla was very cross and I don’t wonder. I’m a great trial to her. Why, Diana, what is the matter?”
Into these spare lines, Montgomery inserted more than 100 words of [Note] Z8 and more than 400 words of [Note] A9. The two Notes not only extend Anne’s comic speech but also give Diana time to drink three sickening tumblers of currant wine. Timing and comedy are much improved. Interestingly, Montgomery had already used Z8 and A9 for Notes in the preceding chapter, “Tempest in the School Teapot,” where she mistakenly followed A9 with B8 and thus duplicated the whole sequence of B8-A9. She seems to have recognized her mistake, with Z8 and A9 of this chapter, and so numbered the Note pages as A and B. After her second A9, the numbering is again correct.
When revising the end of that same chapter, Montgomery made an even more significant and strategic change: she altered the comic ending to one of tenderness, deepening the portrait of Marilla. Originally, the chapter ended with Marilla laughing as she told Matthew about Anne’s antics with the wine. Then Montgomery added a final passage showing Marilla discovering that Anne had cried herself to sleep. The [Note] K9 addition ends with “Then she bent down and kissed the flushed cheek on the pillow.”
The 200 words of Note Y14 in Chapter 25, “Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves,” similarly enlarge the reader’s view not only of Mrs. Lynde’s kindly wisdom, but also of Matthew and his changed behaviour since Anne’s arrival at Green Gables. With Mrs. Lynde’s musings, Montgomery skillfully builds suspense about Anne’s and Marilla’s surprise over the puffed sleeve dress Rachel has made.
These enriching changes are legion in the manuscript. Everything may indeed have been mapped out ahead of time, but the artist’s spontaneous and considered changes transform a map into a full, rounded world.