Wednesday, August 16, 2006

L.M. Montgomery in Response to Her Critics

In a journal entry dated January 27, 1922, L.M. Montgomery wrote:

Today I had a nice letter from Sir Ernest Hodder Williams (of Hodder and Stoughton) and some English reviews of Rilla. All were kind but one which sneered at my “sentiment.” The attitude of some English critics towards anything that savors of sentiment amuses me. It is to them as the proverbial red rag to a bull. They are very silly. Can’t they see that civilization is founded on and held together by sentiment. Passion is transient and quite as often destructive as not. Sentiment remains and binds. Perhaps what they really mean is sentimentality which is an abominable thing. But my books are not sentimental. I have always tried in them to register normal and ordinary emotions—not merely passionate or unique episodes.

I had also two curious letters, one from a male prig and one from a female prig. The most humiliating thing about these letters is that the writers like my books. I wish they loathed them. The male prig says that my books have convinced him that “a real Christian can still write books” but goes on to solemnly warn me that my nefarious habit of marrying off my characters “tends to lower the conception of the holy state of matrimony.” Whew! I wonder if he thinks it would be better if I let them mate up without marrying, or sent them into convents.

The female prig thinks “Mary Vance’s” talk is “vulgar” and that it should not be found in a book “written to influence young people.” But then I don’t write books for the purpose of influencing young people and I don’t make children of the antecedents and upbringing of “Mary Vance” talk like “Elsie.”

The said prig also rebukes me gravely for letting “Susan” call the cat she “tried to kick with both feet” a darned cat. But the real old lady of the anecdote said bluntly that the animal was damned. Yet this terrible example did no harm that I know of.

I shall not bother replying to the male prig. But I intend to write a polite, carefully ironic letter to the female of the species.

From Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston, eds., The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery Volume III: 1921-1929 (1992).


Rebecca H. said...

What a wonderful quotation! I must return to Montgomery at some point, since I read her a lot when I was younger, but not recently. I like very much her discussion of sentiment -- it's one of my pet peeves when people dismiss emotion and sentiment so quickly.

litlove said...

I love her attitude - amusement and irony. That's exactly how to respond to silly criticism. And yes, the English were - and still are to some extent - terrified of sentiment. After all, what would happen if they allowed themselves to feel all the emotions they'd been bottling up for decades?

LK said...

Very nice. Is that a book you would recommend?

Nancy said...

This is wonderful. I'm amazed to find someone else who has read Montgomery's journals and letters. They are fascinating, funny and tragic.