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L.M. Montgomery and Canadian Culture

by Irene Gammel and Elizabeth Epperly, eds.

At first glance Irene Gammel and Elizabeth Epperly’s new collection of essays, L.M. Montgomery and Canadian Culture, may seem an odd idea. Montgomery’s most famous creation, Anne Shirley (of Anne of Green Gables fame) may be a must-read for every Canadian schoolgirl, but Montgomery hasn’t been included in the Canadian literary canon. Putting her up there with Alice Munro, W.O. Mitchell, or even Susannah Moodie just doesn’t sound right.

But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t had an impact on Canadian culture, or that she can’t be used as a barometer of her times, as this book sets out to show.

Well-known CBC television journalist Adrienne Clarkson’s foreword sets the tone and gives a sense of direction to the book. When Clarkson came to Canada as a young girl, she read the Anne books and says that they “gave her a profound understanding of what Canada is.” The Cuthberts, who adopted Anne, were “Canadians at their most characteristic – repressed, silent, and strictured, but decent, open-hearted, and capable of adapting to circumstances.” According to Clarkson, “If that isn’t a metaphor for Canada as a country that receives immigrants, I don’t know what is.”

The essays in this book are set out in a clearly structured format that allows the lay person to follow the argument for looking at Montgomery as a writer of enduring literary quality. Essays are grouped under headings like “Canadian Nationalism,” “Shaping of Canadian Culture,” “Motherhood, Family, and Feminism.” Most of the writers in the collection are academics, with the notable exception of Margaret Atwood.

The choice of writers says something about this book – fundamentally, it’s an academic study. Even though its goal is to show how a writer who has been pooh-poohed as merely “popular” can be taken seriously, it’s not a populist work. But then again, it’s not trying to be.