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Lucy Maud and the Cavendish Cat

by Lynn Manuel, Janet Wilson, illus.

The Annotated Anne of Green Gables

by Wendy E. Barry, Margaret Anne Doody, Mary E. Doody Jones, eds.

On May 2, 1907, L.M. Montgomery wrote, in a letter to a prairie homesteader she had been corresponding with, of the good news that her book manuscript had been accepted by a publisher. In this letter she tempers her obvious delight with a humble description of the book: “a juvenilish story, ostensibly for girls.” It wasn’t long after the publication of Anne of Green Gables that Lucy Maud realized that the book was a gold mine. What nobody could have predicted was that this lode would continue to be mined to the end of the millennium.

Lucy Maud and the Cavendish Cat is a kind of collection of nuggets. Author Lynn Manuel has gathered, from the journals of L.M. Montgomery, a cluster of references to Maud’s beloved cat, Daffy, and has shaped these details into a story. It is the classic pet narrative. In this case, woman finds cat (Maud chooses Daffy from the litter in farmer Macneill’s barn), woman loses cat (Maud and Daffy are separated when Maud marries and moves away), and woman finds cat (Daffy is sent via rail to Maud’s new home in Ontario). The background music to the story is the scratching of Maud’s pen and the eventual acceptance of the Anne manuscript.

Manuel and illustrator Janet Wilson certainly capture the Montgomery spirit. Real quotations from the journals (“The only real cat is a grey cat”) are woven into invented detail such as Daffy’s role in the publication of Anne. And if Maud never described mental depression as “fold[ing] in upon herself, corner-to-corner and end-to-end,” it is precisely the sort of thing she might have said. Wilson’s illustrations add immensely to the text, showing a wild-eyed Daffy, possibly one of those cats that only an owner could love. The illustrations also provide context. One lovely impressionistic painting of Maud walking down a sun-dappled, treed lane captures completely the emotional pitch of Lucy Maud’s (and Anne’s) reaction to nature.

Does the book work if you’ve never heard of Anne of Green Gables? Not really. Some details are a bit abrupt. This is a book for insiders. However, in this case the group of insiders is so huge and so inclusive of children, that the story is a literary game well worth playing.

Conscientious reviewer that I am, I went foraging in The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery for references to cats. I wasn’t two entries into these remarkable books before I was re-addicted to them. They are fascinating and moving, an amazingly open portrait of one woman’s life – honest, entertaining, poignant, and surprising. I discovered, for example, that while Maud was as soppy about cats as I am myself, she quite cheerfully chloroformed a neighbourhood stray when he got too pesky. (Cavendish Cat Two: The Dark Underside?) I think the journals represent L.M. Montgomery’s best writing although I realize that in suggesting this, I risk being strung up by the thumbs should my feet ever touch the red soil of Prince Edward Island. I find I am finally much more interested in the raw material for Anne than in the books themselves. I am therefore the ideal reader for The Annotated Anne of Green Gables.

This capacious volume, edited by Wendy E. Barry, Margaret Anne Doody, and Mary E. Doody Jones, is great for browsing. The main body of the book consists of a newly edited text of Anne, based on the manuscript, with notes. The notes fall into two basic categories – answers to potential questions and tangents that the reader might find interesting. Among the first type of notes are explanations of the fabrics “wincey” and “gloria,” the botanical name for the flowers that Anne calls “Bouncing Bets,” a reproduction of the “chromo” that Anne gazes at in the Cuthberts’ sitting room, the origins of the phrase “Parthian shaft,” and clarification of what the Sunday School practice of “reciting a paraphrase” involved.

The tangent notes include a description of a Marilla-like character in a novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, the role of pull taffy in courtship, a short history of electric lighting on Prince Edward Island, and the delightful discovery that the photo on which Montgomery based Anne was actually a photo of the infamous Evelyn Nesbit, focus of a highly publicized and racy murder trial in 1906.

Best of all, and worth the price of admission all on their own, are identifications of literary and Biblical quotations. The editors identify the quotes and reproduce many complete poems in an appendix. Having these quotes identified gives one a strong sense of the voice of L.M. Montgomery and, indeed, of life in her era. One realizes that this was a time of shared culture and of what the editors call “public poetry.” Elocution, recitations, the memorization of poetry from school readers, all these contributed to the rhythm of ordinary speech and public discourse. In identifying these allusions, the editors assist the reader in experiencing Anne in a way that is closer to that of the original audience. It gives a different flavour to the book, more humorous and ironic than I had realized.

The notes are exhaustive but they constitute only half the volume. The front and end matters include biographical information, a chronology, scholarly notes on text, more great byways into such subjects as the significance of red hair and amethysts, and appendixes on the history of Prince Edward Island, the domestic arts, education, and botany. We are treated to book reviews, and to the words and music for the songs Anne refers to. It is a little overwhelming but probably only book reviewers and the obsessed would read it cover to cover. For the rest, whether they be Anne fans, those interested in women’s history or the history of education, writers, heritage gardeners, or readers who have always wondered what that unfortunate “anodyne liniment” really was, this is a volume to dip into and savour in parts.


Reviewer: Sarah Ellis

Publisher: Tundra


Price: $17.99

Page Count: 32 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-88776-397-9

Released: Oct.

Issue Date: 1997-9

Categories: Children and YA Fiction, Picture Books

Tags: ,

Reviewer: Sarah Ellis

Publisher: Oxford


Price: $39.95

Page Count: 496 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-19-510428-5

Released: Aug.

Issue Date: September 1, 1997

Categories: Children and YA Fiction, Picture Books