by Christine Chettle
L.M.Montgomery’s Emily trilogy, in exploring the struggles of a developing writer (Emily Byrd Starr), examines the issue of balancing the international literary marketplace and the writer-heroine’s Canadian (and particularly PEI) identity. Though in Emily Climbs, New York-based journalist Janet Royal invites Emily to move to New York because ‘You mustn’t waste your life here [ . . .] You must have the [ . . .] training that only a great city can give.’ (303) Emily decides to stay in PEI, partly because she chooses to be ‘among her own people’, and partly because her independent nature rebels against the suggestion that she needs outside help to write. (313) In the final book, Emily’s Quest, Emily’s decision is validated when she achieves literary success with a book strongly rooted in the PEI community, and Janet Royal acknowledges that Emily’s independent instincts were right.
When attending a conference in PEI on L.M.Montgomery last summer (L.M.Montgomery and Cultural Memory), I talked to a modern PEI author about her experience of autonomy in the literary marketplace today. This conversation made me intrigued by the different ways in which two PEI authors have handled autonomy in the literary marketplace across a century through taking action towards independence, branding, and community. Patti Larsen is an award-winning author who has made use of the independent literary industry to gain success. L.M. Montgomery had her own struggles in the literary marketplace. By the time the Emily trilogy appeared (1923-1927), she had enjoyed continual success following the publication of Anne of Green Gables (1908), had been celebrated as a Canadian literary star, and then mocked as an old-fashioned writer of sentimental girls’ stories.
Frustrated with the traditional publishing industry’s focus on financial, rather than aesthetic, potential, Larsen looked for other ways to negotiate the marketplace. Rejecting publishing co-ops and self-publishers (which often operate as a vanity press), she decided to form an independent company. She explains, ‘‘I am a publisher. I am a business. I assign isbns to my books, and hire editors, proof-readers, marketers etc.’ Though she hires editors and proof-readers, she works with them on a basis of partnership: ‘We all work together as a team on each project and are like any other small business’. Montgomery drew on her own independent nature in fighting, and eventually winning, a long-standing lawsuit against her original American publishers (L.C.Page). As Carole Gerson explores in her essay “’Dragged at Anne’s Chariot Wheels’: The Triangle of Author, Publisher, and Fictional Character’, Montgomery’s choice to publish Anne of Green Gables with an American company was likely prompted by the fact that, at the turn of the twentieth century, Canadian writers struggled to support themselves through Canada’s smaller population and bookmarket; in addition, Canadian publishers had difficulty accessing American markets because of copyright restrictions. Gerson suggests that Montgomery chose L.C. Page because this American company had published other Maritime authors. (Gerson 52) When Montgomery, like other Canadian authors, became frustrated with Page’s aesthetic control and shady copyright dealings, she balanced her Canadian identity with the demands of the international marketplace by choosing the Canadian publisher John McClelland as a literary agent who could help her negotiate a partnership with a better American firm (Frederick Stokes). (Gerson 58)
Larsen creates a brand for herself in the literary marketplace through her readers’ affection for her texts: ‘I use my characters’ words as taglines.’ This affection transcends age boundaries. Her novels are paranormal young adult fiction, but both mothers and daughters read and share them, leading to fan comments like ‘I’m a 33 year old and I’m addicted; I took them from my daughter’so she describes them as being for ‘girls of all ages’,. Montgomery found that literary branding had both positive and negative resonances. Though she disliked the idea of only writing sequels to Anne(as Page wanted), Gerson notes that Montgomery’s internationally successful Anne ‘brand’ allowed her to negotiate good terms with her new publishers, McClelland and Stokes. Montgomery was, however, afraid of being overtaken by this brand, commenting in 1916 that, ’I am always haunted by the fear that I shall find myself “written out”. (quoted in Gerson 59) But the possibility of creating new connections of textual affection with her readers helped her to overcome some of these complications, as she wrote in 1920: ‘Today I wrote the last chapter of [ . . .] the Anne series. I am done with Anne forever – I swear it as a dark and deadly vow. I want to create a new heroine now – she is already in embryo in my mind – she has been christened for years. Her name is Emily. She has black hair and purplish gray eyes. I want to tell folks about her.’ (Selected Journals II: 390) Montgomery’s brand has also shifted over the years, as another Montgomery critic, Benjamin Lefebvre, has explored: though in her time, her books were presented as being for both adults and children, today they are often pigeonholed as being only for teenage girls (I can only feel such pigeonholing to be an unfortunate error of judgement) .
Larsen has a strong affection for her PEI community: ‘PEI offers an amazing artistic community, simply breeding creativity. There is a micro-cosm of every creative venture. The PEI community does not just look to the government for assistance, but creates industry for itself by enabling artists to promote themselves.’ However, as a twenty-first-century author, Larsen also roots herself in an online community. She has become a recognisable name in young adult fiction through guest posting, images, and interviews; ‘I communicate with my readers through my blog, online discussion, facebook fan pages, and through the behind-the-scenes pages in my books. I’m also extremely diligent in answering fanmail!’’ Of course, an online community brings its own complications: she has to be on guard for stalkers or trolls, but refuses to engage with such communication. Larsen also supports local writers, including young emerging writers, and recently facilitated the creation of a short story anthology with a local school. In a world without the instant communication that the internet offers, Montgomery created her own supportive writing communities, starting from her hometown of Cavendish, PEI, and then moving outwards. Montgomery-the-young-writer was active in the Cavendish Literary Society from the age of fifteen. Francis Bolger observes that she interacted with the society in a number of ways, through delivering recitations and papers, making use of the Society’s circulating library, and editing the Society’s journal from 1905-1906. (Bolger 178) When she moved to Ontario following her minister-husband’s posting to an Ontario town, Montgomery-the-successful-author found new supportive writing communities. She was active in the Canadian Authors’ Association, as E.Holly Pike observes: ‘Montgomery [ . . ] visited other women writers on her trips to Toronto[ . . ] she was one of the team of writers who organized Canadian Book Week in November 1921 [ . . .] she wrote letters and publicity materials for the event [ . . .] Montgomery was a popular figure at Canadian Book Week events, among the writers as well as with the public.’ (Pike 66) Despite her move to Ontario, Montgomery maintained – and still maintains – a strong PEI identity.
Lucy Maud Montgomery would have been thrilled with the increased potential for independence in the modern publishing marketplace, Larsen believes: ‘I really think that Montgomery would have had her own company in a heartbeat.’ Whether or not Montgomery would have preferred the twenty-first century publishing world to that of her own, a comparison of the two authors suggests that Montgomery would find her insightful skills in managing her contemporary literary marketplace extremely relevant today.
You can find out more about Lucy Maud Montgomery at the Lucy Maud Montgomery Research Centre and at the L.M.Montgomery Research Group. You can find out more about Patti Larsen at her website (http://www.pattilarsen.com/).
Bolger, Francis, The Years Before ‘Anne’. Halifax, N.S.: Nimbus, 1991.
Gerson, Carole,“‘Dragged at Anne’s Chariot Wheels’: The Triangle of Author, Publisher, and Fictional Character,” in L.M. Montgomery and Canadian Culture, edited by Irene Gammel and Elizabeth Epperly, 49–63. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999.
Larsen, Patti, Unpublished Interview, 24th June, 2012.
Lefebvre, Benjamin ‘Reviews of L.M. Montgomery 1908-1939: A Forgotten Public Narrative’ Conference Paper presented at L.M. Montgomery and Cultural Memory, University of PEI, June 2012
Montgomery, L.M. Emily Climbs. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1989, and
Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Volume II, 1910-1921. Toronto:Oxford University Press, 1985-1998.
Pike, E. Holly, “(Re)Producing Canadian Literature: L.M. Montgomery’s Emily Novels.” In L.M. Montgomery and Canadian Culture, edited by Irene Gammel and Elizabeth Epperly, 64–76. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999.