Immersed in P.E.I.'s L.M. Montgomery

Sally
Sally Cole
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Surrounded by his Montgomery collection, editor Benjamin Lefebvre shows The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 1: A Life in Print. It’s the first of three books that present primary material on the author. The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Volume 2: A Critical Heritage was launched last week at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Brock University. The third volume, subtitled A Legacy in Review, will be launched in the fall. It  contains 400 reviews from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Cuba, South Africa and India, as well as an overview of reviews of 24 more books attributed to Montgomery after her death.

Sitting at his desk, Benjamin Lefebvre is surrounded by written materials relating to L.M. Montgomery.

Directly in front of him is the Montgomery collection — all of her books and novels — neatly stacked on four Ikea bookcases.

Behind him are binders filled with short stories and poems as well as reference books and files filled with other Montgomery resources he’s collected.

In a nearby room, stored under glass, is his collection of antiquarian books by the author.

It’s here, in his quiet home office, encircled by Montgomery-inspired literature, that Lefebvre writes articles and edits books about his favourite Canadian author.

“What I find so fascinating about Montgomery and the reason (the research) has never ended is that I keep finding new material,” says the Waterloo, Ont., resident who recently completed the work on his latest project, The L.M. Montgomery Reader (University of Toronto Press).

The three volumes bring together rediscovered primary material on P.E.I.’s beloved author, throughout her high-profile career and after her death.

Whether it’s the account of the marriage of L.M. Montgomery or the origin of the book, Anne of Green Gables, presented in Volume 1 or How Montgomery went from being a novelist to the subject of a scholarly field, in Volume 2, he has covered many bases. (The third book will be launched this fall.)

For Lefebvre, the early results are rewarding.

“It’s quite gratifying to see a project — one that for so long existed as random stacks of photocopies and PDFs — become a concrete set of books that can finally be shared with fellow Montgomery enthusiasts.

“It is my hope that the materials gathered here will enrich our endless fascination and respect for Montgomery’s life, work and legacy,” he says.

The academic adventure began four years ago when Lefebvre pitched the idea of a multi-volume critical anthology to his editor, Siobhan McMenemy, at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Montreal.

“I was finding all this stuff in the archives that was putting new context to her works, including her business correspondence and essays.”

McMenemy liked the idea and suggested he send her a proposal. He did, and the idea was accepted. Then the project began.

“The most rewarding part was finding things in unexpected places and making new discoveries.”

For instance, with the help of the search engine Google, Lefebvre was able to unravel Montgomery’s creative process by cross-referencing and comparing her various works.

“Virtually every extract from her essays written in Cavendish about Cavendish got recycled and rewoven into all her other novels, published in Ontario. It’s like looking at an old photograph and having that as an inspiration, rather than relying on memory.

“So Montgomery took her work so seriously, as an authority on Prince Edward Island, that she used it in all her other novels.”

Betsy Epperley, founder of the L.M. Montgomery Institute and an L.M. Montgomery scholar, is impressed his work.

“Benjamin Lefebvre is a superb sleuth. He can find things that no one else can find. He is relentless in his research. He not only knows how to go through archival sources but the periodicals themselves. If he can’t find something, then it’s going to be mighty hard for anyone to find,” says the Nova Scotia resident, who has read his books.

“What will astound people about the readers is that there’s so much still to understand about Montgomery. She’s so interesting.”

Lefebvre’s interest in Montgomery began as a high school student growing up in Quebec.

A francophone, he gravitated toward English television programs like Anne of Green Gables and Road to Avonlea.

“What I found so fascinating was that they were all billed for family viewing, but they were always depicting alternative families, sometimes related by blood, sometimes not.

“I identified with them. So I became even more fascinated. That’s how it started.”

Once he had his fill of television productions, he started reading Montgomery books.

“Most people start with Anne of Green Gables. But I didn’t. I started with The Story Girl and The Golden Road, two of the books that were the basis for the television show, Road to Avonlea.

“From there, what I find so fascinating about Montgomery and the reason it has never ended is that I keep finding new material to read.”

What’s next?

Lefebvre is heading to Charlottetown to attend the L.M. Montgomery Institute’s 11th biennial conference, L.M. Montgomery and War, at UPEI, June 25-29. Part of a panel, he will be speaking on The War in Print: Reviews of L.M. Montgomery’s Great War Books on June 27 at 3 p.m.

He’s looking forward to his visit.

“I love coming back to the Island and am very thankful to the community of people who assemble regularly at the conference. It almost feels like coming home.”

He’s also always happy to see his kindred sprits.

“All my Montgomery friends are different. But what brings us together is our abiding respect for her work.”   

AT A GLANCE

Up close and personal with Benjamin Lefebvre

Favourite place for a Montgomery interview: The archives at UPEI’s Robertson Library in Charlottetown.

Favourite place to buy Montgomery collectibles: Green Gables House in Cavendish.

Favourite Montgomery site: The Homestead, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Cavendish Home, now tended by John and Jennie Macneill. “The fact that the home has not been reconstructed, in a way has been the most haunting of them all. Her homestead is where her first four books and all her periodical pieces that proceeded them were birthed.”

Getting in touch: Go to http://roomofbensown.net.

Organizations: Ikea, University of Toronto Press, L.M. Montgomery Institute Congress of the Humanities Social Sciences Google Robertson Library Green Gables House

Geographic location: Montgomery, Prince Edward Island, Green Gables Waterloo Montreal Avonlea Ontario Nova Scotia Quebec.A Golden Road Charlottetown

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