Thursday, June 12, 2014

L.M. Montgomery's Theology and Later Anne Literature

Oh, no. She's not going to write about L.M. Montgomery again, surely?

Well, yes, I'm afraid I have to. When you immerse yourself in a literary series, you can't just drop the characters with the snap of your fingers, anymore than you can drop your best friend.

Nor, I'm finding, can you drop the author quickly. One needs closure.

Montgomery and Her Critics

While the reading public, and some other writers, loved Montgomery's material, especially her Anne, literary critics didn't agree that Montgomery was amazing. Anne's character, they complained "was the same at the end of the novel as she was at the beginning." Critics love a character who evolves, not just one who delights and charms your socks off.

The critics dismissed Montgomery's work as "mere children's literature", as though that were a bad thing. Never mind that some of her genius, like some of Mark Twain's, manifested in the writing of dialogue. This woman could weave a tale, flesh out multiple unforgettable characters, and make them say the funniest things, page after fascinating page.

And to me at least, her dialogue never seems contrived, though it's often funny or profound social commentary. Her work displayed plenty of genius...and what's not to love about children's literature, anyway? It certainly isn't second-class literature! Critics can be downright pompous.

Montgomery didn't disagree with her critics. She thought her work was well done for what it was, but not deep. The one great novel never came for her, in her opinion. If it didn't, possibly it was because she was a true working mother, and needed to produce work that would generate a regular income--thus, her 500 short stories, in addition to her 21 novels. Her family needed her income, especially during the Great Depression. The pressure and her husband's mental illness, and her own depression, stifled some creativity, I'm sure, but personally, I find her work fulfilling and excellent, and meant for adults as much as for older children.

Later Works in the Anne Series (there are 9 Anne of Green Gables books)

Lucy felt her talent was in writing young characters, so books 7 and 8 barely mention Anne and Gilbert. I've finished books 7, Rainbow Valley (about Anne's 6 children growing up at Ingleside and meeting new friends), and 8, Rilla of Ingleside (about their youngest child, Rilla, who starts the novel at age 15) of the Anne of Green Gables series, which were not quite as wholesome as the earlier ones, but still plenty moral. (I'll explain the bit of unwholesomeness further down.) They are for older teens and adults.

The 9th and final book The Blithes Are Quoted, was delivered to the publisher on the day Lucy died, April, 1942, but the publisher felt the anti-war sentiment was too strong to warrant a publishing during World War 11. After the war, the manuscript collected dust for years in a vault. (While I've read numerous reviews, I don't have this 9th book yet).

While Rilla of Ingleside (book 8), a World War 1 novel, was patriotic, Lucy apparently changed her views by World War ll, and a futility-of-war sentiment made its way into her final volume. It was finally removed from the vault and published in 1974--32 years later--in a highly cut form, entitled The Road to Yesterday. Only in 2009 did Lucy's original work come out in an unabridged form with the original title, The Blithes Are Quoted. It's a Canadian issue book and will not be easy to find (more expensive); nevertheless, I do want it for closure.

Not a traditional novel, The Blithes Are Quoted is a collection of many poems attributed to Anne and her son Walter, as well as numerous short stories that mention the Blithes as distant neighbors, but are not about the Blithe family. Most of the poems and short stories were previously published in magazines, but Lucy put them together in this format, connecting them to the Blithes in some way. Weaved around the short stories, which are darker in theme than her other works, Anne reads her or her son's poetry to members of her family seated around her, and the family discusses the poems and reminisceses. That's how the reader catches up on Anne and her children, and learns about the grandchildren. Anne and Gilbert end the book in their seventies.

Not so satisfying as a novel--not the same level of detail about the character's lives--but an original format and an attempt from Lucy to branch out with different literary styles. There are some problems with the piece in that dates don't match up and children's names aren't quite right, so it's somewhat apparent that Lucy was under the influence of prescription drugs when she wrote it. The name and date inconsistencies were not edited out, but perhaps in a later edition they will be.

Montgomery's Theology

After a little more research, I've learned that L.M. Montgomery was not a Christian. In fact, she had a conflicted relationship with religion all her life, having been raised by very strict religious grandparents who were all rules but no heart.

In conjunction with the religious conflict, Lucy Montgomery, among many others in the early 20th century, became intrigued with occult-like ideas, such as playing with Ouija boards and contemplating ghosts and apparitions. A lot of Lucy's later books have premonitions/apparitions and "prophetic" dreams in them--enough to make the Christian in me squirm. In fact, I won't let my children read beyond book 7 until their late teens. I've read recently that Montgomery's Emily trilogy also has some ghostly themes, although I'm sure there's plenty of wholesomeness in it too. The Blithes are Quoted has some ghost tales as well.

Montgomery's books are moral, but not Christian. She intersperses Scripture and theology in them, but if you read carefully, you see that absolute Truth is not upheld; there's definitely some humanism in there. She became more disillusioned with religion and faith as she aged; the two World Wars may have had something to do with that. She took them very hard.

To be fair, the years from 1914-1918 (World War One), followed by the Great Depression from 1930 to the end of World War Two in 1945, were some of the darker times in world history. They were bunched together, not giving people much time to recover their hope and joy. Not to mention all the death from disease during these same years! I can't imagine living through these decades unscathed. Even those who weren't clinically depressed could easily become so while trying to survive.

The Roaring 20's weren't so roaring for those who mourned a son, a husband, a brother, or a sweetheart from the war.

Back to Lucy's theology....If you read carefully, you see religious conflict in her books. Most of them poke fun at church-goers, specifically at the hypocrisy and the emphasis on outward appearances rather than the heart. She did not raise her two boys as Christians, and she only married a clergyman because he was a B.A., which meant something really grand to her. She didn't love him, but she started out with respect for him. Her own education didn't include a B.A., and that's something she always regretted.

If you need proof she wasn't a Christian, you'll find it in her personal journals, which have all been published. I am saddened by reading this, as you will be. One can only wonder the beauty that could have been, had Christ released her from darkness. If you are saved, be thankful. Our open eyes are such a gift. I don't understand why some and not others, Lord, but I trust you.

Here is an excerpt from her journal entry dated Tuesday, February 3, 1920:
Lucy Maud Montgomery's words:"I believe in a God who is good and beautiful and just - but not omnipotent. It is idle to ask me to believe in a God who is both good and omnipotent. Given the conditions of history and life the two things are irreconcilable. To believe that God is omnipotent but not purely good - well, it would solve a good many puzzling mysteries. Nevertheless, it is a belief that the human soul instinctively shrinks from. Well, then, I believe in God who is good but not omnipotent. I also believe in a Principle of Evil, equal to God in power - at least, at present - opposing hideousness to His beauty, evil to His good, tyranny to His justice, darkness to His light. I believe that an infinite ceaseless struggle goes on between them, victory now inclining to the one, now to the other. So far, my creed is the old Persian creed of the eternal conflict between Ahrimanes and Ormuzd. But I did not take it over from the Persian. My own mind has compelled me to it, as the only belief that is in rational agreement with the universe as we know it.

I believe that if we range ourselves on the side of good the result will be of benefit to ourselves in this life and, if our spirit survives bodily death, as in some form I feel sure it will, in all succeeding lives; conversely, if we yield or do evil the results will be disastrous to us. And I admit the possibility of our efforts aiding to bring about sooner the ultimate victory of good.

That victory will come - perhaps not in the time of our universe - perhaps not for the duration of many such universes - but eventually evil, which is destructive, will be conquered by good and remain in subjection for age-long duration. Perhaps forever; and perhaps all eternity devoid of all evil would be tiresome even to God, who, like us, may find in struggle a greater delight than in achievement - a greater delight in contest with his peers that in unquestioned supremacy over vanquished foes. Perhaps alternate light and darkness - the alternate waxing and waning of evil must follow each other through the unnumbered, the unnumberable cons of Eternity, even as night and day follow each other in our little system.

This is my creed, it explains all which would otherwise puzzle me hopelessly; it satisfies me and comforts me.

Orthodox Christianity says reproachfully, "Would you do away with my hope of heaven?" The hope of heaven is too dearly balanced by the fear of hell and the one thing implies the other. I believe in neither: but I believe that life goes on and on endlessly in incarnation after incarnation, co-existent with God, and Anti-god, rejoicing, suffering, as good or evil wins the upper hand. To me, such an anticipation is infinitely more attractive than the dull effortless, savorless existence pictured to us as the heaven of rest and reward. Rest! It is a good thing; but one does not want an eternity of it. All we ask rest for is to gain fresh strength for renewed effort. Reward! Even in this life reward once tasted, soon loses its flavor. Our best reward is in the joy of the struggle."



Anonymous said...

How sad to believe that the only motivation some people have to be Christian (or rather, how sad that some of those who are unbelievers perceive that this is the only thing believers have) is a life focused on the hereafter and the need to 'avoid' hell. How sad to think of the enormity that is missing in a life solely focused on winning its 'reward'.
Lucy's ideas sound remarkably like some modern opinions that have drifted West from Hinduism and Buddhism - wishy-washy kinds of ideas about the nature of God and about reincarnation. In my humble opinion (I say that because one never knows the journey another person is on) those things are distractions from the radical, earth-shattering nature of God-become-man, which is only found in Christ. And not only did God become man, but He made Himself akin to 'the least of these'. I can't help but be in awe when I think of this. Jesus turns everything upside down, again and again! Thank you for sparking off my thoughts, this was very interesting reading :-)
Sandy x

Viola said...

I told a priest that I rather liked the idea of reincarnation and he said that Jesus said that: "In my house there are many mansions." I think that L.M. was a Christian but just not an orthodox one.