Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Alpine Path by L.M. Montgomery

Alongside my daughters, I have been losing myself in the timeless stories woven by L. M. Montgomery for months now. After reading about Anne’s motherhood years, including the sad story of a son lost to war, I began to wonder how autobiographical Lucy Maud’s stories really were.

When I found that Montgomery had written her own story of her career, originally published in installments in a magazine in 1917, I just had to have it. I got my copy of “The Alpine Path: The Story of my Career” from Amazon and devoured it immediately.

I had just finished reading the Emily series and found that much of what she wrote about her own childhood had been expressed through the Emily character – much more so than in the Anne series. Anne was imaginative and dreamy, and also had some success in publishing stories while she was young, but she gave that all up when she became a mother. Emily was a born writer to the core, and delayed marriage did not keep her from being happy because she found complete fulfillment in her writing. Emily often wrote in her journal about climbing “the alpine path” to success in her writing career.

“To write has always been my central purpose around which every effort and hope and ambition of my life has grouped itself,” Montgomery writes.

Writers have always been told to “write what you know”, and Lucy Maud found that writing in the setting of Prince Edward Island, with characters that naturally sprung up out of the environment in which she grew up, came naturally to her. Many of the actual anecdotes were actually true, and were used most often in her favorite work, “The Story Girl”.

But the characters were always created purely in her own mind, with the exception of a woman who appears on the fringes throughout “The Story Girl”. “Any artist knows that to paint exactly from life is to give a false impression of the subject. Study from life he must. . .making use of the real to perfect the ideal. But the ideal, his ideal must be behind and beyond it all. The write must create his characters, or they will not be life-like.”

Early in her career, she made inroads by sending poetry to literary magazines. Only ten percent of what she sent were published. At this time, she writes, “I never expect to be famous. I merely want to have a recognized placed among good workers in my chosen profession. That, I honestly believe, is happiness, and the harder to win the sweeter and more lasting when won.”

Montgomery wrote “Anne of Green Gables” chapter by chapter, in time carved away from busy days at work as an editor. It was rejected by publishers several times, and the author was astonished by its worldwide success. At the time of its acceptance, she writes, “I wrote it for love, not money, but very often such books are the most successful, just as everything in the world that is born of true love has life in it, as nothing constructed for mercenary ends can ever have.”

As importance as her work was to her, how modest she was about the quality of her writing! “Not a great book, but mine, mine, mine, something which I had created,” she writes when she receives her first copy of “Anne”.

The last few chapters cover some of Montgomery’s travels with her husband. Not much is revealed about their courtship or marriage, and the book leaves open a whole lifetime to be explored. The author was to write many more books after this mid-career autobiography.

This book offers great insight as to the workings of a great author’s mind as she is just beginning to taste the success of the fruits of her labor. It is a must for every aspiring writer’s bookshelf, or that of anyone who just cannot get enough of the stories by L.M. Montgomery.

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