At the Altar by L.M.Montgomery

I thought I’d read everything Lucy Maud Montgomery had ever written, but came across this one at the Ottawa Public Library book sale the other weekend. Apparently, several unpublished stories of Montgomery’s languished in her PEI house until Rea Wilmshurst stumbled upon them, grouped them by theme, and had M&S publish these collections. At the Altar, which deals with marriage, was published in 1994, and suffers a bit from the sameness of the stories. As assortments go, this one is sugary even by LMM’s standards; not an unhappy ending to be found in any of the eighteen stories. But like all sugary treats, this one too is addictive; I read the book in one sitting.

Upon reflection, I think the book suffers from the editor’s obvious devotion to LMM. The sole criterion for publication seems to be the authorship rather than literary merit, which leads to a wide variation in story quality. I looked for depth in “Them Notorious Pigs” and in ” Miss Cordelia’s Accommodation” and came up disappointed. “What Aunt Marcella Would Have Called It”, featuring a pining heroine and indifferent hero who is finally ensnared when the heroine pretties herself up, should have been buried in decent obscurity, IMO.  Of course the argument can be made that we are reading a record of the time, and ought not let our modern feminist sensibilities influence the process of selection in the interests of historical accuracy, but as far as I’m concerned, the weaker stories bring down the tenor of the whole book.  I wish some of these stories had been reserved for a scholarly compendium of LLM’s work aimed at academics or her die-hard fans. 

But when LMM works, she’s very good indeed, bringing to her stories a dry practicality that’s all the more appealing against the backdrop of rosy romance. “Aunt Philippa and the Men” was excellent, while “The Pursuit of the Ideal” and “An Unconventional Confidence” were rescued from their blatant predictability by LMM’s leavening touches of humor. The ghost of Anne of Green Gables runs through each of these tales, and if you loved Anne, you’ll warm to most of these stories. If, however, you liked Anne but can’t see what the fuss is all about, avoid this collection. Incidentally, Anne turned one hundred this April, and Margaret Atwood takes an affectionate, if mordant look at this red-haired orphan girl (and her hold upon Japanese tourists) in this article from The Guardian.  

And this one is my just-in-time April read for the Canadian Book Challenge.


3 thoughts on “At the Altar by L.M.Montgomery

  1. Ooh, but it has one of the “good” covers. I’m partial to that edition/series (they’ve changed all of the covers since, although oddly enough, they kept the title fonts the same).

    You have read Among the Shadows, yes? The “ghost story” collection? ^__^

    Also, in response to Margaret Atwood’s essay (since I’m guessing she won’t respond back): dunno if I agree that Anne got less interesting as the series progressed. House of Dreams/Ingleside had some very nuanced (and occasionally unflattering) characterizations of the adult Anne.

    Anyway. Could go on, but won’t. ^__^

  2. Blue: I liked Rainbow Valley and Ingleside, but didn’t much care for Home of Dreams. It always niggled me that Anne didn’t name her first born after Mathew–the middle name didn’t cut it! And I couldn’t stand Rilla of Ingleside. That lisp–so OTT, yeth?

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