House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
I read about House of Dreams over at Bookshelf Fantasies and was immediately interested in reading about Lucy Maud Montgomery, Canadian author of twenty novels, including Anne of Green Gables and hundreds of short stories and poems. Montgomery was Maud to family and friends and she used L.M. Montgomery as her professional name. I confess I have not read the children’s book Anne of Green Gables, but now I want to. I also knew nothing about Maud Montgomery and her life.
Maud was born in 1874 and grew up in a village called Cavendish on Prince Edward Island in Canada. Her mother died when she was two years old and her father soon moved to Saskatchewan. Maud went to live with her maternal grandparents, Lucy and Alexander Macneill. They were already in their fifties and although they provided Maud with all the material things she needed, they were not affectionate or supportive, leaving Maud to feel sad and alone. Her grandfather was particularly hard on Maud. Despite this upbringing, Maud felt a deep attachment to Cavendish.
Maud was destined to become a writer. From an early age, she kept a journal, made up stories and when she was older submitted them to newspapers and magazines for publication. “I cannot remember the time when I was not writing, or when I did not mean to be an author,” she wrote.
Maud was merry on the outside (merry was one of her favorite words), but inside she battled mood swings and seasonal depression: it was a lifelong struggle. Mental illness was not widely talked about, accepted or treated in Maud’s time and she and others suffering had to tough it out alone. She wrote happier stories to escape the gloom. “Thank God, I can keep the shadows of my life out of my work. I would not wish to darken any other life—I want instead to be a messenger of optimism and sunshine.”
Maud had many suitors, turned down several marriage proposals and broke one engagement after “a year of mad passion” with another man. That relationship was not meant to be, however, and she later married Ewan Macdonald, an aspiring minister. They had two sons, Chester and Stuart. Ewan, however, also struggled with mental illness and their marriage was not happy. To combat their depression and mood swings, they took sleeping pills, tranquilizers, bromides and other medicines. Maud died of an overdose in 1942 at age sixty-seven. In 2008, her granddaughter revealed that her death was a possible suicide.
I knew from the description that this book talked a lot about depression and mental health, but I had no idea that an author as beloved as Montgomery had suffered so much. She endured many losses and heartbreak, but hid these feelings from the public. This book is supposedly geared to readers ages 10-14, and the writing style is definitely simpler. It’s also illustrated, which makes it look like a middle-grade book. In my opinion, the content is more appropriate for an older reader, although I can see it being used as a way of talking with kids about mental health problems.
That said, I found it interesting and easy to read and it has sparked my interest in her books.
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