Lucy Maud Montgomery

An Island Of Her Own


Sara Hailstone

© Copyright 2023 by Sara Hailstone

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

An Island of her Own
"It is known that she suffered from depression, that she was isolated, sad and filled with worry and dread for much of her life, but our family has never spoken publicly about the extent of her illness," wrote Macdonald Butler. "What has never been revealed is that L.M. Montgomery took her own life... through a drug overdose."
-Kate Macdonald Butler, Granddaughter to Lucy Maud Montgomery

Our lives are made poignant and visceral through timing, how events connect and arrive overlapping, shadows that become one when they shift close enough together.

On September 20, 2008, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Granddaughter, Kate Macdonald Butler opened a silence.
Her Grandmother, Lucy Maud Montgomery had committed suicide.

Macdonald’s essay was published. Then, the University of Guelph hosted a renowned conference, ‘The Cultural Influence of Lucy Maud Montgomery.’ This conference championed the release of Professor Emerita Mary Henley Rubio’s lifework, the biography, “Lucy Montgomery: The Gift of Wings.”

Neither women knew of each other’s written works. One an essay revealing a long-held family secret. Another, a carefully employed biography of Montgomery’s life story.

Montgomery’s life story.
Her life story.
Her life.

We are interested in life stories. We are interested in writer’s life stories.

Montgomery’s literary works were pinnacle pieces that constructed a Canadian identity and global collective consciousness.

There was also a fourth-year history seminar course focusing on studying Montgomery’s life story and literary works at this time of the release of the Macdonald essay and Rubio’s biography.

Professor Sandra Sabatini was the instructor of this seminar course. "It's a joint history and English fourth-year seminar called, “The Montgomery Effect” and it's being offered as part of Special Studies in English because of the hundredth anniversary of Anne of Green Gables. It's meant to support the conference and the event itself which is being celebrated across Canada," Sabatini said about the course (Website Source). The fourth-year seminar course worked through eight of Montgomery’s novels and delved into the historical-social-feminist connotations of the author’s writing within the span of her lifetime. A direction of the seminar course was to show students that Montgomery’s works should not be read within the paradigm that her writing was intended only for a child target audience. Professor Sabatini specified, "people associate her work with writing for children, whereas there's no indication--in fact quite the opposite--that when she wrote the stuff and when it was initially received that it was considered to be writing for young people. It was state-of-the-art” (Website Reference). Her writing worked through issues and realities adults faced and would care about. Sabatini continued, "She grapples with issues like infant mortality and obviously World War I suffragettes. Like, there's huge historical references going on in those books, and they're immensely valuable for their rendering of Canadian life in their time” (Website Reference). Guelph houses the largest archival collection of the remnants of Montgomery. There are over 1,000 items and there are close to 40 shelves of Montgomery’s life story.

Her life story.
Her son Stuart had found a note beside her bedside, the bedside she had passed away in on April 24, 1942 and he had kept this square of paper hidden.

It was nearing the end of the conference. We had spent the day together. I remember her at the podium, leaning. She confided in us in a microphoned-whisper. I think she was smiling. I felt uncomfortable.

I was a student of that fourth-year seminar course. I was there at the conference.

"Does it matter how Maud died?" (Website Reference) It was quiet yet a rising murmur fanned up and began a high-tide cresting wave. I didn’t fully know what was going on. The poignancy of it all. The quiet urgency or edge of corner that would begin channeling the narrative of Montgomery’s life story from that moment on.

"I don't think it does. What matters is that she brought creative people together." (Website Reference)
I think it does. I think it does matter.

I think the way she wrote her life story and wanted it channeled specifically around her life matters too.

"He told me I could do whatever we wanted and went on to say it was her suicide note," said Rubio. "I was surprised and embarrassed, to say the least. But, I could see the relief in his face. He was riding himself of responsibility when he handed it to me."

-(Website Reference)

Rubio has researched and worked with Montgomery’s life-story for over 30 years. She has carefully studied and translated the context of the square of paper alongside Montgomery’s bedside too.

She said the note was the last page of her journal, labeled at the top with the missing page '176'” (Website Reference). Rubio does not think that the note left on her bedside table is necessarily a suicide note. She records that the note had been written two days before her death and Montgomery had used the back of a 1939 royalty statement. There was, again, the number 176 at the top. Rubio suggests that the single sheeted text was the final page for Montgomery’s journal records for 1939-1942. The author potentially would have transcribed this note amongst the careful poetic fabric of her typed journals. “This had long been Montgomery's methodology - write something on scraps of available paper, then at some point - sometimes years later - copy it into her journals” (Macleans). Her detailed process in transcribing the journals from scraps of paper to seamless narrative and combed-through plotlines is a writerly pursuit of grit and dedication. Essentially, a trial and error writerly process of professional control.

This copy is unfinished and never will be. It is in a terrible state because I made it when I had begun to suffer my terrible breakdown of 1940. It must end here. If any publishers wish to publish extracts from it under the terms of my will they must stop here. The tenth volume can never be copied and must not be made public during my lifetime. Parts of it are too terrible and would hurt people. I have lost my mind by spells and I do not dare think what I may do in those spells. May God forgive me and I hope everyone else will forgive me even if they cannot understand. My position is too awful to endure and nobody realizes it. What an end to a life in which I tried always to do my best.”

-(Maclean’s Reference)

She wanted the journal transcription to end at a particular point.

She was specific that any publication of her writing was to be honoured by terms of her will. She did not want to hurt anyone.

An end to life.

She tried to do her best.

Handwritten Journal entry July 8, 1941: "Oh, God, such an end to life. Such suffering and wretchedness." "Then on March 23, 1942, She began her final entry ... of her journal ... : " since then [July 8, 1941] my life has been hell, hell, hell. My mind is gone -- everything in the world I lived for has gone -- the world has gone mad. I shall be driven to end my life. Oh God, forgive me. Nobody dreams what my awful position is."

~ from The Gift of Wings

Her death could have been accidental despite feeling wanting to die. When Montgomery published her essay on her Grandmother’s death in the Globe the family was shaken. "It was a very public, very bold, very indelicate thing for Kate to have said," said Kelly Crawford. "I'm not saying that she's wrong, just that it's unfortunate" (Macleans). "[The conference] was disconcerning," said Luella Macdonald, after listening to Rubio speak about her grandmother's death. Montgomery was in pain. She was suffering. "With what she lived with, no one could have blamed her," said Lorraine Wright (Macleans).
I imagine, Montgomery would continue to blame herself. This guilt and shame, these feelings in regards to her own submissions propelled her to dutifully censor her life-writings.

She wanted control.

Her life story then has transformed into a cautionary tale.

What would she think of this?

Would she now openly talk about what it felt like living inside of her house north of Toronto, in pain and in anguish? How would she speak to the reality of her heavy consumption of barbiturates and bromides? She was prescribed these medications for anxiety and insomnia, and she recorded the list of these medical combinations as well as her experience with the drastic physical and emotional side effects of these medications.

No autopsy was ever completed. She was 67 when she passed on.

Her death could have been a suicide.

Her death could have been an overdose.

There was an opioid epidemic in Canada.

There is an opioid crisis in Canada

Chronic barbiturate consumption” (Macleans).
There are symptoms.

Confusion, tremors, emotional instability, delusions, depression” (Macleans).

Montgomery recorded in her journals staggering, hallucinations, nightmares and weight loss.

In a MacLean’s article Montgomery’s final hours are depicted as so: “On the final afternoon of her life, she packaged up her last manuscript, sent it to her publisher, went to bed and died. To her many fans, it’s a heartbreaking picture” (Macleans).

A cautionary tale.

She is now a warning. “Rubio, the biographer who pieced together the puzzle of Montgomery’s drug consumption, hopes the story will help others” (Macleans).

This dark reality of her life will become an exhibition:“…The fallout from the plethora of drugs doctors prescribed to help, will be on display once the museum opens in 2024, the sesquicentennial of her birth. Rubio calls it a cautionary tale about how mercilessly the side effects of drugs can ravage anyone’s life” (Macleans).

It’s of historical importance,” Rubio says. “It’s a warning for the future” (Macleans).

A warning for the future.

There is an opioid crisis in Canada, now.

Her final note on that square piece of paper was numbered 176; the other 175 pages have never been found. Were there 175 other pages? What if her son Chester found them and kept them or destroyed them? Apparently, Chester knew how his mother wrote; he knew her writing process. Did he find writing that was about him? Rubio navigates these edges in her work for the Gift of Wings published in 2008 and presented at the Guelph conference.

There is record of Montgomery foreshadowing almost to a friend that in the return of a week, she might not have possibly still been here.

Was Montgomery’s death premeditated?
. There is a play on words within the discourse surrounding her life story: premedicated or premeditated

Rubio concluded from her work with the journals that Chester was his Mother’s ‘undoing’ (Gift of Wings).

Montgomery was once a resilient woman. The longevity of this resilience in the face of domestic atrocity lay in the literary worlds she created that served as escapist niches, safe corners.

There were also always the journals.

Montgomery crafted two versions of her journals. First there was her handwritten journals and then there were her edited typed journals. She had typed out a copy for each son and she had instructed them to publish them in the future, but, always with the understanding that the typed journals were for the public eye. The writing process was comprehensive and cautionary.

In 2012 Vanessa Brown (who assisted in the appraisal of the "suicide note") determined that the note seemed to be instructions to Stuart to use the typescript version when he published it and not include the last entries (the tenth volume) from her handwritten journals. Brown also notes that Montgomery crossed out would and inserted will in the sentence, I hope everyone else will forgive me even if they cannot understand. In Brown's view, the note was a letter of formal instruction but she also sensed it was partly "a final note of farewell"(The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume Two (2014)).

What was the tone of forgiveness for?

Was she going to do something that would need forgiving?


Montgomery wanted to control her own story and how she would be remembered.

Again, "Does it matter how Maud died?" said Rubio, towards the end of her speech Saturday. "I don't think it does."(from an article about the 2008 Montgomery conference in Guelph, Ontario]).

I think it does. I think it does matter.

I think the way she contoured her life story around the stone of her life matters too.

Montgomery’s life experiences were in art form. Elizabeth Waterston discusses that Montgomery translated her real-life experiences to her literary worlds.
“She universalized her story; she recreated it against vivid regional settings; she structured it into mythical patterns. She retold the legends she had lived, in haunting and memorable style (Waterston).” She digested the tragedy of her life through the literary lives she constructed.

Tragedy: her husband’s deteriorating and unstable mental and physical health.

Tragedy: the loss of her mother as a child.

Tragedy: her son’s affair and behaviour in marriage.

Tragedy: the death of an infant who survived only a day.

The realms of Montgomery’s personal life and literary writings were intertwined. This intimacy is made more complex with her personal journals since Montgomery had censored them.

Knowledge of Montgomery’s life suggests a deep source of the ambiguous creations that emerged from this assiduity. From her youth, she had suffered wild mood swings. In her husband’s case, such affective disorders became a clinical form of depression, a malady that certainly stained her later years as well as his. But given her inexplicable literary gift Maud Montgomery was able to divert her manic tendency, to exploit the mood swings by converting them into opposed characters and opposed symbolic landscapes. Her novels can be read as a gifted writer’s conversion of the pressures of the pressures, evasions, and releases of her own life into complex fictions. In fact, her fiction reveals depths of personality of which she herself was probably unaware.” (220)

The complexity of her life writings nevertheless does not overshadow her acclaimed achievements of reflecting and shaping Canadian culture. Montgomery’s writings are valuable in that they give voice to members of Canadian society who have been historically silenced, like women and children of post-confederate Canada. Women and children were vulnerable; she provided them with backbones and voices to advocate for and isolate positions of protection for themselves; in turn, for her too.

How are her works commemorated?

How do we remember her?

How would she want her works to be commemorated?

How would she want to be remembered?

The ‘codedness’ Montgomery succeeded in weaving travesty throughout her writings and censoring the grimness of personal tragedy in her life was centred on and rooted in control. She wanted control and the capacity of uncontrollable events could not ultimately conceal reality.

Montgomery wanted control in the presentation of her personality and her legacy.
She wanted control of narrative.

She wanted control of her life.

Regardless of the knowledge of her potential suicide, she is still loved. What she feared did not happen.
What happened in some facets of her narrative was the fact that her life-story was out of her hands; I think she knew this.

There was the reality of her son possibly hiding her journal notes for ‘journey’s end.’ He most certainly kept her bedside note hidden. Possibly to protect her; possibly to protect himself and the family.

The extent of censorship of her story and voice by herself, her son -her family- and her granddaughter speaking out about her state of being during her end; she did not own her narrative. She was not in control; despite determinedly trying.

She wanted to control her story- her writing was the only space to channel her truth- perhaps that is why she used moments for her characters to speak out and behave against constructs. Because she couldn’t.

It does matter how she died, and it does matter how she lived.

It matters how she wrote about both.

We are aware of the darkness in Montgomery’s work.

We are aware of the re-editing of her journals.

We are further aware of the marginalized and people’s resistance within her writing too.

The reality is, to what extent did Montgomery feel marginalized and resistant within her own life narrative? Did any of these feelings resurface and become the projections of trajectories in her own literary and fictive characters?

Above all, from the time she was fourteen in 1889, until just before her death at the age of 67, in 1942, she kept and saved a diary. She recorded not only her daily doings and thoughts and experiences, but traced also the patterns of her life as a writer. Published almost half a century after her death, selections of the journals of Montgomery now offer an astonishing case history of one writer’s flights to her second world” (2).

The journals do not fully show us who Montgomery is either and how she really lived. “Open as the journals are, they do not disclose certain areas in Montgomery’s life. There are significant gaps in the journals, where she chose not to recount troubling events or avoided recording embarrassing emotions. Modern research has filled in many of these gaps. New revelations about self-centered events and feelings, though unauthorized by Montgomery and omitted from her journals, illuminate some half-hidden themes in the novels.” (7) In terms of her literary career, Montgomery does not speak extensively about her battle with Page or how she truly felt and encountered literary critics. Personally, she does not delve deep into the realms of pain she felt with her husband and their marriage. She also does not speak about the extent of opioids she was taking.

She knew entirely that she was hiding the darkness in her life in the journals that would one day be intended for publication. “Once, when a journalist came to interview her, she wrote that she was keeping her inner life private and hidden: “Well, I’ll give him the bare facts he wants. He will not know any more about the real me or my real life for it all.... The only key to that is found in this old journal.”3 But as Elizabeth and I worked closely with the journals, those “tell-all” documents, we discovered they did not reveal everything (Rubio 14). The journals were a portal into her past and childhood. With this ‘spadework’ she was able to tap into her life through this writing process. As she created these journals, she found another use for them—she could once again visit her childhood through the mere act of recopying and rethinking the story of her life. She used her early journals to spin her early memories of rural community life into new novels and stories. Her novels required happy endings—that was expected by her publishers and readers—but there were deeper soundings in her own life, and her journals provided the counterpoint for her sunny novels. When Maud began the project of writing out her own life’s record, she did it partly to bring sanity and control back into her life, but she also wanted a record of what her life had really been like—the darker side that was largely kept private. The journals became her space for self- display and self-examination” (Rubio 321). Her writings overlapped between her life and those of the fictive worlds she created.

One reaction to her journals needs to be recorded, however—that of Maud’s first daughter-in-law, a very astute woman, who read Maud’s first nine handwritten journals in the early 1980s before they were published, and then remarked to this effect: “So many pages, so much information, but when all is said and done, she has not really revealed a lot about her inner self, what she is really, really thinking and feeling down deep” (Rubio 328).

At some cost, of course. Her lawyer tells her, as lawyers will, that the case will not take long, “not more than a day.” For “not more than a day,” read eight years. Page tries out every trick available to a gentleman of the old school, finally trying to bump his flimsy argument all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which will not even look at it.”

-Review Canada

She would stand up for herself.
She would persevere through the grit of the time needed to stand up for herself.

Montgomery won a 9-year battle with PK Page of Boston, her publisher.

Page put out a title of earlier magazine sketches, “Further Chronicles of Avonlea” against Montgomery’s wishes. She went forward suing under the invasion of her rights as an author. “The suit dragged on for about nine years, wearying, sometimes embarrassing and humiliating, always irritating and distracting” (Waterston 18). Page had gotten away with this behaviour with other clients and had solidified a business personality this way. The nine-year battle was the end of this sort of run for him and beyond the pain of this battle, his defeat was a turning point for other writers. Thanks to Montgomery and her tenacity in the face of the tone of time period when she should settle.

Her stance on the issue advocates for the disempowered economic position of writers in the industry. “This battle over the publishers' "right" to the book was important for professional writers. It stirred furious discussion in authors' associations, and spot-lighted the need for business acumen and a readiness to fight for due rewards. It revived old tensions over copyright and piracy which had so long plagued Canadian writers” (Waterston 18).

Waterston records that Montgomery had said, “there is something in me that will not remain inactive under injustice and trickery.” And from the self-definition, she proceeds to the social one, the highly engendered one: “[Page and Co.] have traded for years on the average woman’s fear of litigation.” And then, in the same sentence, appears the economic/social condition that once shaped her and continues to shape other writers: “very few authors can afford to go to law with them, especially when they can’t expect to get money out of the result. They have done the most outrageous things to poor authors who can’t afford to seek redress” (Citation). She did not stand for it any more.

Lucy Maud Montgomery comes into her own” with this victory (Review Canada).

Did this planting roots and filling space translate then to other aspects of her life?

Montgomery at last wins $4,000 beyond her own legal expenses, scarcely enough to cover Aspirin for all the headaches, strain and discouragement that dot the pages of her journals from 1920 to October 22, 1928. But she does defeat Lewis Page. Again, her primary satisfaction stems from the confirmation of her own staunch selfhood: “the satisfaction of thoroughly beating a man who tried to trick me.” Her depressive, self-pitying husband, her unruly elder son, her concern over a troubled world, her relegation to the category of a writer of “juveniles”: these continue to haunt her, and will until she dies. But her victory over Page is solid and gives every woman writer after her a model of resistance and persistence.” (Review Canada)

As a scholar working primarily with Montgomery’s fiction, I felt hard-pressed to recall the significant instances of conflict in her works. True, Montgomery’s life and non-fiction writings carry a range of conflicts with publishers, suitors, and her husband, creating rich material for discussion of conflict in L.M Montogmery’s journals…yet when trying to think particularly of interpersonal conflicts in Montgomery’s fiction- moments of anger, confrontation, or verbal argument occurring in the fictional moment between two or more characters- the landscape seemed quite bare. As such, the very rarity of these conflicts struck me as an important characteristic in itself. The absence of conflict becomes a presence in Montgomery’s texts: the elephant in the room, the unspoken word that is louder than the loudest shout” (Frever 247).

Does Montgomery confront injustice? Does she avoid it?

She was dismissed by modernist critics throughout her career. Her writing was deemed infantile and targeted only for a female youth reading market. She was too Canadian. She was too local. These critics underestimated the scope of Montgomery’s plotlines and characters extending globally and internationally. “’Canadian fiction,” according to one of Montgomery’s harshest and most influential critics, ‘was to go no lower’” (citation). She lived and wrote through dynamics pushing against all facets of her being.

And yet she still kept fighting. Even as her depression deepened, her family life crumbled, and the Second World War broke out, Montgomery acted as a passionate advocate for Canadian authors: giving speeches and readings, imparting advice to young writers, insisting that Canadian stories were worth telling and that Canadian voices were worth hearing” (Spacing).

Despite her public success and fame, privately she was warring and buckling under unjust circumstances.

I have lost my mind by spells and I do not dare think what I may do in those spells. May God forgive me and I hope everyone else will forgive me even if they cannot understand. My position is too awful to endure and nobody realizes it. What an end to a life in which I tried always to do my best.”

An end to a life…”

I tried always to do my best…”

A sheet of paper. Pill bottles. A spring day in 1942.

Montgomery had dropped off the final sequel to Anne of Green Gables with her publisher. She went home and she was found dead in bed by her maid the next day.

There is stigma attached to mental health and illness like depression. We can’t endure in a world knowing our icons could be battling such states privately or publicly.

Montgomery left a legacy regardless.

Despite her own censorship and fear of the reality she left behind, she remains a figure in Canadian literary history. She remains a persona in a collective Canadian cultural identity.

She achieved greatness in a society designed to cut her down.

Anne is a chatterbox; Emily pours all of her thoughts and feelings onto paper; the Story Girl is a performer who delights every hearer. Yet in L. M. Montgomery’s short fiction, we find a number of women who share the opposite characteristic- the ability to hold their tongues for long periods of time. This occurs in a wide variety of situations, such as giving someone the cold shoulder due to a grudge, keeping a specific secret, or pursuing a desired end. In each case, the woman in question uses her silence as a means of taking- and maintaining- control over her surroundings. By choosing to respond with silence when other alternatives are either unavailable or unacceptable, the woman defies the social or moral authorities that attempt to dictate her response” (Frever 263).

Does the silences and absences surrounding Montgomery’s writing indicate a control of her surroundings? Does Montgomery herself defy social or moral authorities that attempted to control her voice through the silences and absences surrounding her writing? Does Montgomery preserve what is most important to her in her silence?

Is she silent?

Are Montgomery’s fictional heroines silent?

Throughout, Montgomery’s message is clear: a voice temporarily stilled is by no means permanently silenced” (Frever 275).

How does the absence of her voice in speaking to the dark recesses of her own life story and experiences function authorially-textually as an identity-construct?

Did she hold her tongue and how did that work for her if she did?

But there is another island, reflected in Montgomery’s fiction: a world of natural beauty and self-awareness, of wit and whimsy and farce, of plot and counterplot and resolution, firelight and starlight and occasional darkening shadow. In twenty-two novels, four hundred-plus short stories, endless poems an autobiographical articles and speeches, Montgomery offered sometimes a wistful glimpse- and sometimes a glowering close-up--- of this second, fictional island. She gained access to that world whenever she set aside her ‘real’ life and picked up her pen to write, when, as she put it in her journal, “I am able to escape into my ‘dream lives’ again and come back refreshed and stimulated.” This second island is also easy to access. In her fiction, from Anne of Green Gables in 1908 to Anne of Ingleside in 1938, Montgomery shared with readers the world of her dream lives” (Waterston 1).

An island of her own.

Islands of her own,

Landscape and literary,


Collective consciousness,

A Canadian identity,

A dangling conversation

Amidst collective crises.

I think it does, I think it does matter.

I think the way she wrote her life story

and wanted it channeled specifically
around her life

matters too.


Gammel, Irene and Anne Dutton. “Disciplining Development: L.M. Montgomery and Early Schooling.” L.M. Montgomery and Canadian Culture. Toronto, ON: Toronto University Press, 1999.

Gammel, Irene and Elizabeth Epperly. Editors. L.M. Montgomery and Canadian Culture. Toronto, ON: Toronto University Press, 1999.

Rubio, Mary and Elizabeth Waterston. Editors. The Selected Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery: Volume I: 1889-1910. Toronto, ON: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Turner, Margaret. “I mean to try, as far as in me lies, to paint my life and deeds truthfully”: Autobiographical Process in the L.M. Montgomery Journals.” Harvesting Thistles: The Textual Garden of L.M. Montgomery. Guelph, ON: Canadian Children’s Press, 1994.

Lucy Maud Montgomery 1874-1942. Chapter Fifteen- “You D-D Idiot!” What L.M. Montgomery’s Silent Heroines Really Want to Say- Sarah Clair Atkinson.


Sara Hailstone’s writing is born from navigating the raw and confronting connections that living in rurality projects by scouring collapsed domestic landscapes. She is an educator and writer from Madoc, Ontario who orients towards the ferocity and serenity of nature and what we can learn as humans from the face of forest in our own lives. A graduate of Guelph University (B.A.) and Queen's University (M.A. and B.Ed.), she has recently finished her Masters in English in Public Texts at Trent University. 

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