The Alpine Path

If you followed along with my #20BooksofSummer challenge, you’ll remember there was a stretch in there — an 8 book stretch! — during which I was reading the Anne of Green Gables series. At the end of each Anne book was the same bio describing author L.M. Montgomery’s own life as baby without a mother and a grief-stricken father who gave two-year-old Montgomery to her grandparents. She is described as lonely; her grandparents are too harsh. Her later marriage is not a happy one, as her husband suffers from mental illness. Montgomery continues to write, but she laments her first Anne sequels: “I’m awfully afraid if the thing takes, they’ll want me to write her through college. The idea makes me sick.”

I would have never gathered any of this sadness from my latest read, The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career. The autobiography is a slim 60-something pages, and Montgomery sounds doggedly determined and relatively happy, thus making me question the entire book as a way to please readers instead of tell the truth. In fact, the original book was published in 1917 in Woman’s World magazine over the course of six months. At the time, she had published 6 books and was very popular.

alpine-path

Since Montgomery has published books and is famous in Canada, she relies on readers to be faithful. Frequently, Montgomery describes moments from her life that inspired scenes in her fiction. However, I haven’t read anything other than the Anne series, so an allusion to The Story Girl, for example, is lost on me.

Montgomery’s personal stories occasionally bored me. I didn’t care that sailors landed on her island when she was a girl, nor did her grandparents’ history interest me, except when Montgomery’s humor shines through as she describes one relative who didn’t want to be dragged from England to Canada:

Bitterly homesick she was — rebelliously so. For weeks after her arrival she would not take off her bonnet, but walked the floor in it, imperiously demanding to be taken home. We children who heard the tale never wearied of speculating as to whether she took off her bonnet at night and put it on again in the morning, or whether she slept in it.

Although she’s famous, Montgomery refers to The Alpine Path as a book about her “career” — as if she doesn’t have one! As a child, she became very ill; when recovered, she devoured sausages (perfectly good ones) and lamented it:

Of course, by all the rules of the game, those sausages should have killed me, and so cut short that “career” or which I am writing. But they did not. These things are fated. I am sure that nothing short of pre-destination saved me from the consequences of those sausages.

In the early passages during which Montgomery describes her childhood, it’s easy to see connections to her writing. At least, connections to Anne Shirley. For instance, Montgomery doesn’t appreciate getting a hot lunch from her nearby home every day because all the other school children bring lunch pails, but when it’s too stormy to travel she takes her lunch and is “one of the crowd.” How happy she is those days! Childhood lunches factor into our personalities a great deal! Just ask Anne Lamott, who wrote that should you ever get stuck while writing, begin describing school lunches and you will never run out of material.

Despite her fame, Montgomery is highly relatable. She describes gentle teasing that she endured that scarred her for years. She explains that someone who hurt her feelings wouldn’t be aware that those feelings were hurt for years. Again, I felt the author relatable because even today bullies are calling people “too sensitive” as a form of insult to denote weakness and a personality handicap.

lmm

Much later, Montgomery gets into the actual writing life. True, she wrote stories and in journals all through her youth (“descriptions of my favourite haunts, biographies of my many cats, histories of visits, and school affairs, and even critical reviews of the books I had read”), but an interest in feedback and publishing came later. I found the book tilted away from her actual writing life a great deal, making the text unbalanced, but it possibly worked much better in the magazine’s serial form.

All writers experience doubt, Montgomery reminds us, and when her father tells her that a poem she wrote “doesn’t sound much like poetry,” she stops writing for a time. Really, she is impressively unstoppable. She gets up at 6:00AM in a freezing house to write. She hates starting a story because it feels like so much work. She is surprised that she wrote a book because she just kept working and then had written the entire thing.

Montgomery wisely includes some caution, though not with instructional intent. Like many of us book bloggers, the author notes that a story with a moral is unjustified and more akin to swallowing “a pill in a spoonful of jam!” While family and friends forever have speculated on which character in a story is them, Montgomery notes, “Any artist knows that to paint exactly from life is to give a false impression of the subject.” Even strangers wrote to the poor woman, insisting that their lives are so interesting that she should write them down (haven’t all writers heard this?). One big point that struck me as particularly relevant in a time of “Girl” novels and dystopian trilogies was about money:

The book may or may not succeed. 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.

Yet, The Alpine Path took a turn 10 pages from the end. Montgomery lifelessly describes her travels to Scotland with her husband (who isn’t even named). We stopped here, we stopped there, she writes, and then the autobiography ends. It was terribly disappointing! Why she did not include more about publishing, writing, critics, and readers, I do not know. However, her now-published journals reveal her despair on her wedding day, the decline and deaths of her grandparents, and her husband’s mental illness. Granted, I have not read these journals in their entirety, but it would appear that The Alpine Path was written for devoted fans who wanted to see inside Montgomery’s life — and not find darkness.

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28 comments

  1. Interesting that she seems to have been so determined not to focus on the negatives in her life, but to take a positive tone. I know what you mean, too, about some of the things not being as interesting. I think it must be hard to choose what to include in one’s autobiography/memoirs. What fascinates some people might not be so interesting to others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do know with some books readers’ opinions would affect what the author wrote, which is much like TV (not life Netflix, though). Serials have to be in digestible chunks, too. The writer can’t stop in the middle of something that provides context for something else.

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  2. Great post. I’ve wanted to read Anne for a long time, but I haven’t got to it yet (the ever-expanding TBR). I’ve never heard much about the author though! So this was very interesting.

    I suppose, if the book was serialized, perhaps it was more of a blog than a book, huh? And we do have our ups and downs. That could explain the disappointing ending.

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    • Serialized on a magazine typically meant the magazine came out monthly, so the entire sixty pages were spread out over six months–not quite the same effect as blogging! And do be careful; once you start reading Anne you feel compelled to read more of the series! I have reviews for all eight books, if you’re interested.

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      • That is true it could have been like that, but there were things serialized (Dickens, Wilkie Collins etc.) that were written as it went. I wonder if this one wasn’t written like that too 🙂
        Yeah, I also believe in investing myself in the whole series. I think I might read it all one day 🙂 I think I’ll check out your reviews later as well!

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  3. I can imagine her knocking up something for magazine readers, not really the place for self-analysis, but it’s a shame if she did not write a serious autobiography later in her life. (I too miss the sheer volume of your blogging during your summer break).

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    • Aw, thanks, Bill! I only teach three classes instead of four next semester 😊 There ARE a few volumes of her journals published for the super fans. I’d like to read them some day even if for her amazing writing skills and humor.

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  4. Interesting! I suspect the “reveal all” type of magazine article is a fairly recent thing. Even in my youth I seem to feel magazines were full of uplifting stories and articles, and little tips on how to bake perfect scones, thus keeping one’s children happy and one’s husband from straying! Sad to say, I think I actually prefer that to knowing all the intimate tragedies of people’s lives, so this little book might work better for me than her journals. But that’s just a personal reaction – it’s why I avoid autobiographies in general, except political ones…

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  5. Believe it or not, I have never read the Anne of a Green Gables stories. They are on my TBR, but for some reason, I keep putting this off. However, Montgomery’s autobiography sounds fascinating.
    The ending is fascinating. Do you have any speculation as to why this might have ended as such?

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    • Honestly, I have no idea. Given that she had published 6 books by the time she wrote it, I would have thought she had more stories about actually writing and publishing. I would want to know more about how she moved away from Anne and published other books, how she found publishers (or did she stick with the same one), what was her writing process like after she got famous with Anne (some critics accused her of changing her style after she was famous, but the book to which they were referring had been written BEFORE Anne and kept in a drawer!). The only thing I can think of was the the who autobiography was published as a serial over six months in a magazine, so she had to appeal to readers….but I’m still not sure why the travel stuff came in. Perhaps the public knew she had just gotten married and wanted to hear more, but since she was not happy to be married, discussing their travels to Scotland together was better? I mean, she doesn’t even mention his name!

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      • It sounds like she wasn’t really interested in writing this. Perhaps it was just something she was contracted to write? I know that if I was forced to write something I’d do the minimum amount of work required. 😝 Also, perhaps this was more like a Entertainment Weekly or Cosmo magazine? People want to hear the juicy bits about her life and not about writing.

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  6. I’m still very impressed that you read 8 Anne Gabels books this summer!
    I knew almost nothing about Montgomery before reading your review, but so thanks for teaching me something new.

    I remember cafeteria school lunches very well. I recall that the food I was served as a child in elementary school and a teen in high school were very different..and they were distinctly school lunches. There’s a special, intangible quality to school food that makes it school food. hah

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    • Thank for your kind words, Naz! I couldn’t believe every other Anne book was a miss, but then I learned the author went back and wrote more books to full in what readers felt were good in the timeline. Those books tended to not work for me. As I said elsewhere, she was writing to hold her family together, so I don’t blame her when regular employment for women was unavailable. If you are interested in writing, you should read Lamott’s book!

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  7. “Yet, The Alpine Path took a turn 10 pages from the end. Montgomery lifelessly describes her travels to Scotland with her husband (who isn’t even named). We stopped here, we stopped there, she writes, and then the autobiography ends. It was terribly disappointing!”

    Oh boo! I’m sorry this came up short for you. You would think a book about her career would have less personal details and more about her writing and publishing process…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think you’re right about the fact that LMM mostly wrote The Alpine Path for her fans. Her journals and the autobiographies based on her journals are the way to go. I actually find it hard to read about, though, because it makes me so sad for her. I like to think that she found great joy in her writing, and I think she mostly did, but there were also times when she felt obligated to continue writing about a certain character (which you would never know by reading the book!).

    That quote about sausages is funny! I just finished reading a story in The Blythes are Quoted about a boy who arrives at a new home and refuses to eat anything but sausages. The two women are reluctant to feed them to him, thinking they’re not good for him. I wonder why she has this impression? I’m sure they were much better for you than the ones we buy now at the grocery store!

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