International conference at UPEI celebrates L.M. Montgomery

Posted: 
Sunday, October 7, 2001

Apply now to join the conversation about the life and works of L.M. Montgomery by registering for the Fifth Biennial International Conference on L.M. Montgomery being held at the University of Prince Edward Island June 20-23, 2002. The theme is L.M. Montgomery and Life Writing which will involve presenters examining intimate details of Montgomery's life that have not been used before to understand her life scripts and those of her characters. The conference will be an exciting opportunity for Montgomery enthusiasts of all backgrounds.

"The sheer amount of new information and insights that will be presented by leading Montgomery authorities from around the world makes this conference a special opportunity," says Betsy Epperly, Conference Chairperson.

Friday morning's opening keynote, entitled "Untangling the Web" will be given by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston, co-editors of Montgomery's journals, of which the fifth, and final, volume is soon to be published. The Journals offer a rich fund of data that encourages us to set Montgomery's private record against the actualities of life. The talk will focus on Montgomery's late "adult" novel A Tangled Web (1931), which is filled with life-writing material from the later journals. As a satire of clan and Island life, the novel offers special clues for the reading of the last volume of the journals.

Irene Gammel, UPEI professor and Montgomery Scholar, will give a keynote on "Montgomery's Moonstorm: Where Life Writing Meets Fiction." Gammel will suggest reading Montgomery's girls' fiction through her life writing to provide insight on how Montgomery manipulated the representation of a taboo subject, while also ensuring that her girls' fiction remained a safe space for her girl reader. Ultimately, this contextual reading forces the reader to reconfigure Montgomery from the one-dimensional straightlaced post-Victorian authoress of wholesome fiction to an author who self-consciously wrestled with unveiling the female body in her fiction and life writing.

Over the three days, stimulating discussion will be led by more than 30 presenters on topics that include research into unpublished war records, poisoning, controversial psychiatric diagnoses, theories of compulsory heterosexuality, turn-of-the century photography, and even twentieth-century and new-age astrology. Presenters and participants will reconsider Montgomery and the various forms of life-writing and life-scripts in her journals, novels, letters, scrapbooks and photographs.

From January to June 1903, Nora Lefurgey, the then Cavendish school teacher, boarded with L.M. Montgomery and her grandmother Macneill. The two friends co-authored "two absurd 'diaries'," which recounted their exploits and flirtations, and were illustrated with sketches and bound in fancy papers. Jennifer Litster's talk entitled "The Secret Diary of Maud Montgomery Aged 29 1/4," will focus on these diaries.

L.M. Montgomery's fiction speaks eloquently of female friendship. Her journals demonstrate, unlike her fiction, the necessity for female friendship over and above the companionship of marriage. In her talk "A rare and perfect friendship: L.M. Montgomery and Frederica Campbell MacFarlane," Andrea McKenzie will discuss why MacFarlane and Montgomery's friendship is significant, not only for its influence on Montgomery's work, but also for the example it gives of the role of friendship in helping women sustain the pressures of negotiating life as a public figure with the conventions expected of them in private life.

Montgomery's astrological birth chart will be used to explore the character, potential and possibilities of L.M. Montgomery by Chris Saunders in her talk "Written in the Stars ?: L.M. Montgomery's Birth Chart." She will examine her upbringing, relationships, the type of work she chose, the forms of writing she chose, and the way that she portrayed her characters, including herself, through movements in the birth chart as shown by solar returns and transits.

Building on the notion of a discrepancy between Montgomery's public and private personas, Benjamin Lefebvre will present "The Performance Anxiety of L.M. Montgomery." The publication of Montgomery' selected journals has shattered the "illusions" of legions of readers who were expecting these texts to be the autobiography of Anne of Green Gables.

"Was L.M. Montgomery a Christian? An Examination of Religion and Society Through the Journals" is the title of a talk by Theresa Little. She will trace the religious development of Montgomery, demonstrating that she is not an evangelical Presbyterian and not completely a transcendentalist, but something in between the two.

L.M. Montgomery's journals and fictional works reflect conflicting feelings about the role of women in marriage and society. The period during which Montgomery lived and wrote was one of substantial change in women's rights and roles, and her writing increasingly indicated the influence of that change, from her conservative spinster Marilla in 1908 through her strong independent Jane in 1937. In her talk "Writing the Life of the Single Woman: Spinsters and Old Maids in the Works of L.M. Montgomery," Sarah Goff will explore Montgomery's attitude toward the old maids in her works and her own ambiguous feelings toward marriage, as expressed in her journals.

Ideals of feminine beauty may have changed from Montgomery's day to our own, but the pressure to conform has not, and Montgomery herself relied on "faithful cold-creaming" and self-invented "facial exercises" to maintain her youthful appearance. By bringing together passages on the subject of appearance from Montgomery's journals and letters as well as close examinations of photographic and descriptive self-portraits, and an analysis of Anne's many confrontations with "the beauty myth," Wanda Campbell will explore connections between the life of Montgomery's characters and her own in her talk entitled "Through the Looking Glass: L.M. Montgomery and the Beauty Myth."

An exploration of the history of sexuality in North America in Montgomery's time, and a comparison of Montgomery's relationship with Isobel to her intimate friendships with other women, is the focus of Laura Robinson's talk on "Maud and Isobel and the Invention of Heterosexuality." While

Montgomery determines that Isobel is a "sex pervert," in many way the descriptions of Montgomery's friendships with other women in her journals and of the female friendships in her novels are similar to the outpourings of passion which Isobel expresses.

In keeping with the focus on Montgomery's life, the Thursday night opening event - sponsored by the L.M. Montgomery Heritage Society - will take place at one of her favorite spots, the Campbell home at Park Corner. In the fine tradition of Campbell hospitality that was famous in Montgomery's day, too, George and Maureen Campbell (cousins of Montgomery) will welcome conference delegates to their historic farmhouse and grounds. On their way back to the UPEI campus, delegates will be treated to a torchlight walk at the site of Montgomery's Cavendish Home, led by John and Jennie Macneill (also cousins of Montgomery).

Elizabeth Epperly, Chair of the conference and founder of the L.M. Montgomery Institute, will share her own latest work as curator for a Virtual Museum of Canada exhibition entitled Picturing a Canadian Life: L.M. Montgomery's Personal Scrapbooks and Book Covers at a special reception on Friday evening, June 21 at the Confederation Centre that will also feature a launching of two of Elizabeth Waterston's latest books.

For the first time, immediately following the conference there will be an intensive, one-week, on-campus writing workshop, that focuses on elements common to poetry, short fiction, the novel, and life writing. During the two subsequent weeks, instructors will read and comment on participants' writing through e-mail.

"I came to UPEI as an undergraduate, partly because of L.M. Montgomery's passion for the Island," says Epperly. "We see this conference as providing a similar opportunity for others to celebrate and learn about Montgomery in the province she loved."

Jayne Yeo
Department: 
Media Relations and Communications
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