CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 27. . . .March 24, 2017
Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery.
Melanie J. Fishbane.
Toronto, ON: Penguin Teen Canada, 2017.
386 pp., hardcover & epub, $22.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-14-319125-4 (hc.), ISBN 978-0-14-319690-7 (epub).
Montgomery, L. M. (Lucy Maud)-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Maud had written about all of this in her journal during her morning writing ritual, before she started her letter to Nate. Similar to Jo March in Little Women, Maud imagined herself writing sweeping epics and articles for newspapers, or traveling to the great cities of the world, and making something of herself. She would be independent, no longer relying on her family – people such as her Uncle John Franklin – and having to worry about what they thought of her.
Sometimes Maud would write about the weather, practicing the various ways one could describe the wind. Other times she confided certain feelings, feelings she dared not share with anyone. Feelings about being sent away, or how angry she got sometimes at her grandparents.
They didn’t understand that she needed to become independent, and that meant getting a good education. Unless you wanted to be in service, the only respectable option for young women was to teach. While Maud’s grandparents believed in education, the only person who was sent to college was her mother’s oldest brother, Uncle Leander George, now a minister in New Brunswick. It was clear in her family; higher education was for boys only. Maud was sure there was no expectation she would go to college. Her “scribbling” was barely tolerated.
And, after the Izzie Robinson catastrophe six months ago, it was easier to dream than to convince Grandfather it was worthwhile educating girls. Maybe if she was good in school and showed him what she could do he would change his mind.
Lucy Maud Montgomery is just 14, but she clearly knows that she wants to become a writer. Meanwhile her life in Cavendish continues on with her friends at school and a developing romance with Nate. Unfortunately Nate is a Baptist, and Maud’s grandparents are Presbyterians who don’t approve of her ‘gallivanting with boys’. So the decision is made to send Maud to Prince Albert, SK, to live with her father and stepmother. A year later, Maud finds her stepmother’s behaviour intolerable and is disappointed that her father seems to have no influence on the situation. Consequently she asks her grandparents if they will take her back and eventually she returns once again to Prince Edward Island.
Melanie J. Fishbane gives her readers a young adult novel which will resonate with fans of Anne of Green Gables and L. M. Montgomery’s other books. The author is clear that this is not a biography but rather a story inspired by Montgomery’s life. She has used original diaries and journals from Montgomery and has woven an inspiring and innovative tale around them. The parallels between Maud and the fictitious Anne are unmistakable, but the book stands on its own and is enjoyable for both fans and those unfamiliar with the Anne books. Readers are taken to the years 1889-1892 and will quickly see how different the world was at that time. Formality, decorum, and religion all play substantial roles in everyday life, and young women are expected to learn what is necessary to attract a husband, run a household and care for a family, rather than completing a formal education.
Into this proper and rather staid environment Fishbane drops Maud, an ambitious, spunky and determined teen who knows what she wants and plans to surmount any obstacles placed in her way. She understands her familial obligations and generally tries to do her best to fulfill them, but when they run counter to her own ambitions, she chooses to be true to herself. In this, she is an excellent role model, showing her friends in the book, as well as readers, that nothing should keep young women from having dreams and striving to get whatever they want from life.
The novel centres on Maud but is filled with many secondary characters who add to its feeling of authenticity and its charm. In fact, Fishbane lists over 50 names in the cast of characters at the beginning of the novel, including many of the Montgomery family as well as Maud’s schoolmates and suitors. Many of these supporting characters help readers see Maud more clearly and underscore her development throughout the book. There are several girlfriends who help to bring the book to life, and Maud’s suitors – Nate, Will and Mr. Mustard – give readers insights both to Maud’s romantic side as well as to her unswerving ambition to become a writer regardless of the potential personal consequences.
As mentioned earlier, fans of L. M. Montgomery will particularly enjoy this story, but it is also a good historical novel for those who are unfamiliar with Montgomery’s writing. One caveat is the length of the book which may be overwhelming for some young adult readers, especially given that there is no real plot to the story. It is simply an imagined slice of life from Maud’s teenage years. While the many details give readers a sense of both time and place, they sometimes seem more like filler and this reader simply wanted to ‘get on with the story’.
This is a minor shortcoming in Maud, however. Fishbane places her readers in the historical and geographical environs of the teenage Montgomery and enhances their understanding of one of Canada’s most beloved authors.
Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French who lives in Ottawa, ON.
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