Anne of Green Gables – The Original Manuscript

This time of year when the trees are blossoming always reminds me of Anne of Green Gables. Anne declared Prince Edward Island “the bloomiest place ever,”

and there are numerous references to them in the book, from the Snow Queen and the cherry orchard right outside Anne’s bedroom window to the White Way of Delight, where the overarching trees created an avenue of bloom on the buggy ride home from the train station, to a simple arrangement of apple blossoms in a chipped blue jug on the table. Anne Shirley was a fan of nature, and so was her famous creator, Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Last summer I had the delight of re-reading this favorite children’s class, and I enjoyed it just as much as when I first read it as an eleven year old girl, the exact same age as Anne.

My 1965 childhood edition had several illustrations.

This month’s Literary Salon pick – Anne of Green Gables – the Original Manuscript was released by Nimbus Publishing in Halifax in July of 2019.

The Publishers Blurb:

This fascinating book presents the original text of Montgomery’s most famous manuscript, including where the author scribbled notes, made additions and deletions, and other editorial details. For example: Diana was originally called Laura, and then Gertrude, before the author settled on Diana. L.M. Montgomery scholar Carolyn Strom Collins offers a rare look into Montgomery’s creative process, providing a never-before-published version of the worldwide phenomenon.

Differing from previous versions of Anne, this book provides a transcription of the text and notes from Montgomery’s original manuscript, and shows how they were integrated to form the full novel.

Discussion:

As a life long fan of Lucy Maud Montgomery, our most famous of Canadian authors, being given permission to scan all 844 pages of the original handwritten manuscript must have been a labor of love for editor, Carolyn Strom Collins.

The manuscript is kept in the archives at the Confederation Centre for the Arts, in Charlottetown PEI, in a dark room with no photography allowed as befitting an object of such literary reverence. It is 116 years old now, and Maud kept it all her life, (in her journal she proudly proclaimed it “mine,mine,mine” the day the first copy arrived in the mail), although the typed copy she submitted to the Page Publishing company in Boston in 1907 has since been lost.

The manuscript is in two parts, the main body of 709 pages and 135 pages of notes, some of them misnumbered.   Maud wrote quickly and sometimes overlooked punctuation, especially in the notes section.  The pages measure 8.5 X 6.5 inches, considerably smaller than the average typed page, and are about 3 inches thick in total.

In this newly released edition, there is a scanned copy of the first handwritten page at the beginning of each chapter.

Maud was a schoolteacher so her handwriting was fairly easy to read. Paper was scarce so she wrote on both sides, and sometimes on the backs of bills and other stories.

The editor decided to place the changes and additions Maud made in the notes beside the corresponding pages for easy viewing.

I was amazed at how few changes Maud made to the handwritten copy. Likely her stint working as a copy editor and columnist for a Halifax newspaper came in handy. As the typewritten copy she submitted has not survived, it’s unclear whether final changes in the book were made by Maud or the editors, or both. Mostly they had to do with punctuation. Although this was her first book, Maud was an experienced author by then, having published well over 300 short stories and poems in the previous decade, enough to provide a source of income, but I suspect she was also one of the lucky ones whose words just flowed out of her head.

Although she records in her journals “brooding” up her heroine and and blocking out chapters and incidents, if there are any written copies of this prep work they are long gone.

The story behind the book and it’s publication is an interesting one, and lucky for us it didn’t stay in a hatbox.

Anne of Green Gables began as an idea jotted down in a notebook many years earlier, “Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy.  By mistake a girl is sent them.”  In the spring of 1905 Maud was searching through the notebook for suitable ideas for a seven-part serial for a Sunday School paper, but as the story progressed Anne took possession of her, and casting morals and lessons aside she decided to write a whole book about her instead.  Many of Maud’s own childhood experiences and dreams were worked into it’s chapters. Didn’t we all sigh over Gilbert Blythe who was based on one of her school-chums? Many of the scenes of Avonlea in the book – the Lake of Shining Waters, Lover’s Lane – were based on locales in the small farming community of Cavendish where she lived.

Journal entry – Aug 16 1907

After sketching out the plot outline, she began to write in May 1905, finishing it eight months later, in January 1906. She wrote for a few hours a day, mostly in the evenings after the rest of her work was done, and in longhand with a pen that had to be dipped in ink.   “It was a labor of love and nothing I have ever written gave me so much pleasure to write.”   She then typed it up on her second-hand typewriter, which didn’t print w at all.  (I saw the typewriter, set up on the kitchen table, when I visited the Anne of Green Gables museum many years ago.)  

She mailed the typed manuscript out to four American publishers (one new firm, one “betwixt and between” firm, and two old established firms, MacMillan and Henry Holt “some merit but not enough to warrant acceptance”) over the course of 1906, with universal rejection, so she gave up and stored it in a hatbox, where it remained until the winter when she decided to try again, this time with the Boston publisher L.C. Page and Co, a company she admitted she knew nothing about.   It was close to rejection again, but a staff member who was from Prince Edward Island, advocated for Anne. 

Journal Entry Aug 16 1907

Maud signed a contract for a paltry royalty and five years of any future work, which she agreed to reluctantly, thrilled to have the book accepted, and promptly began work on the sequel – Anne of Avonlea – which was published a year later in 1909.   I remember her journals being full of legal disputes with Page & Co. in later years when she had switched to McLelland and Stewart in Toronto.

She was pleased with the final appearance of the book, “lovely cover design, well bound, well printed. Anne will not fail for lack of suitable garbing at all events.”

The  book sold well right from the beginning,  went through seven printings and 20,000 copies by the end of the first year 1908, and has never been out of print since, with 50 million copies worldwide and over forty translations. 

She recorded in her journal, “I can’t believe that such a simple little tale, written in and of a simple P.E.I. farming settlement, with a juvenile audience in view, can really have scored out in the busy world.”

She produced seven more Anne books, ten other novels, two collections of short stories, a book of poetry and many stories, essays and articles before her death in 1942, but it is her first novel that remains the most famous.  “It was born of true love and often such books are most successful.”

I enjoyed reading the story again and taking a peak into the author’s creative process. It was interesting to see how a book goes from an idea jotted down to a few chapters to a completed manuscript to a printed copy….with all it’s many sequels. She never seemed to run out of ideas. I can’t imagine having to dip your pen in ink every few lines – we have it so much easier today. But I also wonder when things are so quickly deleted if we will lose this recording of how a book comes about….for it did not spring fully formed, even though her words may have flowed easily.

What lessons can aspiring novelists learn from this?

The best writing is a labor of love.

If you should be so lucky as to be published, don’t be too eager to sign everything away.  Research a bit first.

Just to begin, for that is often the hardest part, even for Maud. 

“Of late years I have been thinking of it seriously but somehow it seemed such a big task I hadn’t the courage to begin it. I have always hated beginning a story. When I get the first paragraph written I feel as though it were half done. To begin a book therefore seemed a quite enormous undertaking. Besides, I did not see just how I could get time for it. I could not afford to take time from my regular work to write it.”

And most importantly perseverance – many books have been written in just a few hours a day. I hope you have found this tale of how Anne came to be inspiring.

PS.  The manuscript will be online in 2022, as part of a digital exhibition entitled Exploring a National Treasure: LMM’s Anne of Green Gables Manuscript, curated by the Confederation Centre Art Gallery and the L.M. Montgomery Institute at the University of PEI. It’s nice they gave the editor of this book, Carolyn Strom Collins, a few years to profit from her efforts.

PS.  Next week in Part Two I will blog about The Journals of L.M. Montgomery, published fifty years after her death, which provide a fascinating insight into her successful but often tormented life.   Plus a bit about my trip to Cavendish, Prince Edward Island – holy ground for Anne fans – if I can find the photos.