The Blythes are Quoted by L.M.Montgomery

A new collection featuring Anne of Green Gables has just been published, and redheads all over the world (not to mention the Japanese) are celebrating. But “new” is somewhat misleading–all but one of the stories in The Blythes are Quoted appear (in slightly abbreviated form) in 1974’s The Road to Yesterday. (Note: TRtY was published after Montgomery’s death as well.)

The background: Benjamin Lefebvre came across Montgomery’s original typescript of TBaQ, and realized it contained several never-published poems and Blythe family vignettes, as well as the unedited versions of the stories in TRtY. TBaQ was also far bleaker in its approach to war than Montgomery’s earlier writing. Believing that the manuscript “could change the way readers perceived the author and her work”, Lefebvre gives us “as close a reproduction of Montgomery’s [original] text as possible.”

Let’s cut to the chase: should you pay $25 plus tax for this book?

TBaQ boasts one story that was not included in TRtY. Titled “Some Fools and a Saint”, this one isn’t amongst Montgomery’s stronger efforts–I found it both tedious and unconvincing. (Warning: this rest of this post will mean little if you aren’t intimately acquainted with Anne’s world.)

Regarding the edited stories, I don’t find the pruning of Montgomery’s writing inherently objectionable–she can get way purple, and I’ve often wished for a sterner editorial hand. (This doesn’t mean I love Valancy or Emily any less, just that like Mr. Harrison, I would have preferred that the sunsets be left out.) I think the edits in TRtY are mostly justified—Montgomery’s weakness for ellipses has been reined in, the errors corrected, and the wishy-washier parts have been pruned. Here is an excerpt from the story “The Twins Pretend”, where millionaire Anthony Lennox has just agreed to let two young children, Jill and P.G., redecorate his house.

The Road to Yesterday: “…Well, are you coming in with me?” [Lennox asked]

“You bet,” said Jill and P.G. together.

It would have been incredible to anyone else, but nothing was ever incredible to the twins. They had sojourned so often in the land where wishes come true that nothing amazed them much or long.”

The Blythes are Quoted: “…Well, are you coming in with me?”

“You bet,” said Jill and P.G. together.

Bored? They didn’t know the meaning of such an expression. Wasn’t this just the last word in words! To think of a thing like this falling down on you, right out of the blue, so to speak!

It would have been incredible to anyone else, but nothing was ever incredible to the twins. They had sojourned so often in the land where wishes come true that nothing amazed them much or long.”

No complaints from me here about the edit. And the original story has some errors–e.g. Anthony Lennox thinks about Mrs. Dr. Blythe’s appearance, but later says he knew Anne (and Gilbert) in college. Surely you don’t think about your old college mate as Mrs. Dr. Lastname? TRtY cleans this sort of thing up very successfully.

One of the things I disliked most about TRtY was that the Blythes seemed too good to be true. The accumulation of admiration verges on the ridiculous in TBaQ. Anne is miraculously youthful looking, an ideal wife and mother, never mistaken in her judgment, and beloved by everyone. She sets the standard for behavior, beauty, style, and goodness for PEI. For instance, Anthony Lennox, who’s moped for fifteen years over a lost love, recalls his beloved’s eyes as “suggestive of wild, secret, unfettered delights…very like Mrs. Dr. Blythe’s…” Ummm…creepy. Gilbert Blythe and the Blythe children also receive generous servings of adulation; this book could have been titled The Mary Sues are Quoted.

What’s really interesting about TBaQ is Montgomery’s shifting perception of war. The stories don’t really reflect these changes (perhaps a Montgomery scholar might differ?), but the poems are something else. The first set deals with purple stars and elfin chimes and other Anne-ish fancies. Then war breaks, and the poems get progressively grimmer. The last poem “The Aftermath” is as bitter a repudiation of war as any I’ve read, and Anne says “I am thankful now … that Walter did not come back. He could never have lived with his memories…” Is this the same author who  in Rilla of Ingleside contemptuously dismissed “a pacifist appeal of the rankest sort?” Who believed the First World War was fought “for the preservation and safety of all sweet, wholesome things?” I think some readers will find this side of Montgomery fairly unsettling; as for me, I like her even more now.

(Major Spoilers Ahead.)

And I do love the family vignettes. I enjoyed seeing the Blythe children married, with families of their own, though Faith Blythe (nee Meredith, remember?) calling Anne “Mother Blythe” is rather disconcerting. Jem and Faith have two sons, Jem Jr. and Walter. Rilla is now Rilla Ford, and Nan is Nan Meredith. If you are sufficiently invested in Anne’s world, this kind of detail is utterly satisfying; in my mind, I have already married Shirley to one of Diana’s children, and I must end this post here to figure out names for their three children.

Update: If you like this post, you may want to check out my review of Budge Wilson’s Before Green Gables.

13 responses to “The Blythes are Quoted by L.M.Montgomery

  1. Alicia Thompson

    I enjoyed your editorial very much. I have not read TBaQ, but have everything else by LMM (excluding Courageous Women). Maybe it’s my cynicism with age, but sometimes the desire to get your hands on any writings from an author long dead only ends up with rewritings of stories already published. It seems that all of the “new” material has basically been read. Afterall, even Some Fools and a Saint was published in Among the Shadows.

    Here’s hoping some truly new writings are discovered…

    Alicia

  2. @ Alicia: Thanks! I hadn’t remembered Some Fools…featuring in Among the Shadows, got to look it up.
    I’m often cynical about such works too–there is sometimes a very thin line between a marketing ploy and “a discovery that changes the way we view the author.” I think in this particular case, the poems would justify a new book; I’m not so sure about the stories.

  3. Wow, Niranjana, that was so useful! I almost have nothing to say; you told me exactly what I wanted to know, and that bit about “being thankful Walter didn’t come back” is especially moving and unsettling. I’ll buy it for the poems, or request it as a birthday present.

    I agree with you on Montgomery’s writing and her Anne adulation. I don’t understand why she did it, especially if she were growing tired of her creation. I mean any author would grow tired of a character that she deliberately made boring. I always wish Anne would have continued to write; there’s no reason that occupation would have been incompatible with parenthood. Anyways, thank you so much for this review!

    (Obviously Shirley would have to marry Anne Cordelia, so that we could have Anne and Shirley Blythe. ;0) )

  4. Oh one more thing, in an interview, Benjamin Lefebvre wrote that Gilbert appears in a new light in this book, as something of a jerk. Would you say that’s true? And is this portrayal contained in the new story (because I don’t remember any such portrayal in TRtY).

  5. @ Kirstin: Glad you found my review useful! I think this is one of those books where a paperback makes a lot more sense than shelling out big bucks for a hardback. Nice job on the Shirley and Anne Cordelia pairing btw!

    I don’t recall Gilbert as a jerk from my reading–but he was annoyingly all-knowing. And perhaps a tad smug.

  6. Pingback: Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson « Brown Paper

  7. Your review is really hepful~I’m a fan of this author..i love her works but was not aware that there was a ninth Anne book till recently…I’m still wavering whether to get TBaQ or TRtY..which would you recommend?

  8. @ Joy: Glad I helped! Hard to recommend one over the other since I don’t know your reading preferences, but : TBaQ, if you are keen on the poems; if not, TRtY will do just fine😉

  9. I don’t remember Anthony Lennox being mentioned in Anne of the Island in which they were at college. Perhaps he only knew them as acquaintances and etiquette at that time meant you referred to people as for example Mrs Dr Blythe . Things were more formal in the early 20th century and the Blythes did have a high standing in their community being the family that lived in “the big house”.

  10. @ Penny: AL isn’t in Anne of the Island, he only figures in this story.
    I do understand that people were more formal in speech and behaviour in those days, but given the romantic context, and given that he uses the term Mrs Dr. Blythe not while speaking to someone, but when thinking about Anne, it still seems like a mis-step to me on the author’s part. And the eds of TRtY thought so as well, which is why they changed it🙂

  11. Hi Niranjana!
    I loved your review, it was really enlightening, and I feel that your view of the Anne books is much similar to mine, having that you seem to be more attracted to the darkest sides of the story. I feel the exact same way🙂 but I do feel the need to comment on several things you mentioned:
    when you mentioned “the aftermath” poem and Anne’s reaction to it, you said it’s rather surprising to see Anne’s gloomy outlook on the outcomes of the war, when her opinions on “Rilla of Ingleside” seemed different. but I think there’s a perfectly good explanation for that. Montgomery wrote “TBaQ” (or TRtY) after WWII. sure, it’s much easier to have an optimistic perspective on war when you’re through the first world war, the future seems bright and you can imagine that the war was necessary for a better rebirth of the modern world. but after you’ve experienced another great war, your life perspective is not all that optimistic (which we can see reflecting on Montgomery’s personal life as well). Anne talks about the second world war and the Holocaust in that segment, so we can read her gloomy saying according to the correct time period that it’s being said on.
    secondly, you calim that the Blythes are being portrayed in these books as perfect. I agree that Anne seems a standard setter for the community in a lot of aspects, and that Gilbert is being admired for his skills and inteligence, as well as the Blythe children and even Susan. but I don’t agree that “everybody loves them”. throughout the book, many of the residents of Glen St. Mary and Mowbray Narrows express mocking and degrading thoghts and remarks about the Blythes, especially about Anne, but also about Gilbert, who’s accused of being a “know it all” and the beholder of an arrogant sense of humor. it’s this kind of things that makes me like the book (and dislike it) more, if anything, Anne and Gilbert were presented as “Mary Sues” in the previous books, and this one actually gives a fresh interpretation of their characters🙂
    btw- I’m tagging your article on my Anne blog🙂

    • hi Neta, thanks for commenting, and do leave a link to your Anne blog–I’d love to read it !
      You’re right about the wars–WWI was a moment of pride and nationalism for Canada; not so WWII, and LMM’s writing reflects that.
      Re: the perfection of Anne & co, I thought it was telling that it was the bad guys who didn’t like the Blythes, thus further confirming their inadequacies; the good-hearted mockers act mostly out of jealousy and envy than dislike, and they often come around by the end of the story. But I agree with your bigger point–that this book does incline towards a fresh interpretation. I read somewhere that LMM had wearied of her creation a tad by this time, and perhaps the writing reflects that?

  12. I was interested to read your review. I’m an Australian fan of LMM and have finally taken the plunge and ordered the paperback version of the “new” book. I know a lot of the material from the TRtY, so I’ll be interested to read this book. I would think Anne strange indeed if her experiences during the war hadn’t changed her perception of the whole thing.

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