Since its inception, Lucy Maud (L.M.) Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables has captivated readers, becoming a cherished part of countless childhoods and a nostalgic part of countless adulthoods. Inevitably, many fans have wondered about the story’s creative genesis. Who were the real people and events that eventually became the saga of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, Gilbert Blythe, Diana Barry, and the rest of the gang? Is Anne of Green Gables true or fiction?
Anne Was Partially Inspired By The Face Of Evelyn Nesbit
According to the documentary Looking For Anne (2009), L.M. Montgomery was inspired by a widely circulated portrait of Nesbit (pictured above), which she probably first “spotted in the food magazine What to Eat, which had just published one of her stories.” The image captured “a nostalgia for girlhood… a time of innocence, wonder, and discovery.” Rumor has it that Montgomery tore the picture out, framed it, and frequently gazed at it as she worked… and the rest is Green Gables history.
The Concept Of Anne Came To Montgomery As A Child
Anne subsequently took root in the form of a short story. But, true to character, she quickly became an epic and blossomed into a novel.
Anne Was Also Based On A Real Orphan Named Ellen
“The childless couple had applied to adopt an orphan boy in 1892 to help out with the farm chores; their neighbors John and Annie Clark did the same. But instead of two boys, the two sets of unsuspecting adoptive parents found a five-year-old boy and his three-year-old sister awaiting them at the train station.”
It appears that the Macneills decided to keep the little girl, whose name was Ellen. Rather tragically, there’s no record of what happened to her brother, whom both they and their neighbors presumably opted out of adopting; researchers and Anne historians hoping to get the whole story haven’t been able to uncover any subsequent details.
L.M. Montgomery Was Herself (Partially) An Orphan
LMM was never fully estranged from her father; she even eventually spent one year living with him and his new wife, but it’s clear that her feeling largely like an orphan played an important role in Anne’s development.
Like Gilbert Blythe, L.M. Montgomery’s True Love Caught A Deadly Disease
In her diaries and letters, which are collected in the book The Intimate Life Of L.M. Montgomery, L.M. described Leard as the love of her life:
“Hermann suddenly bent his head and his lips touched my face. I cannot tell what possessed me-I seemed swayed by a power utterly beyond my control-I turned my head-our lips met in one long passionate pressure-a kiss of fire and rapture such I had never experienced or imagined.”
However, Montgomery’s family apparently objected to the union, and she broke off relations with Leard. Not long afterwards, he died tragically of influenza. L.M. was said to have “never again sought romantic love,” though she did go on to marry Ewan Macdonald, a Presbyterian minister whom she was not in love with. (Gilbert Blythe was probably her way of re-creating Leard’s death as a happy ending).
The Man L.M. Montgomery Did Marry Suffered From Delusions And Psychosis
According to the biography Writing A Life: L.M. Montgomery, Macdonald would go around with “hair bristling, blue underlip hanging, eyes glaring, and face livid,” denouncing his wife and children. L.M. tried to keep his condition a secret, but it eventually became too conspicuous to hide.
L.M. Montgomery (Sadly) Took Her Own Life
Montgomery died on April 24, 1942, at the age of 67. It was initially reported that she had died of coronary thrombosis, but in 2008, her granddaughter revealed that she had actually taken her own life via a drug overdose.
A suicide note (which some had initially mistaken as a fragment of a novel) read, in part:
“I have lost my mind by spells, and I do not dare think what I may do in those spells. May God forgive me, and I hope everyone else will forgive me even if they cannot understand. My position is too awful to endure and nobody realizes it. What an end to a life in which I tried always to do my best.”
It was a tragic end to a great life, and a great career; but at least L.M. Montgomery will always live on through the exuberant, romantic, and poetic Anne.
Montgomery’s Last Known Work Was So Dark, Her Publisher Wouldn’t Release It
Unlike Anne, L.M. Montgomery Didn’t Want Her Name Spelled With An E
As it turns out, Anne’s creator felt exactly the opposite way abut the spelling of her own name. A passage in The Selected Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery makes it clear that the author:
“Never liked Lucy as a name. “I always liked Maud – spelled not with an e if you please – but I do not like it in connection with Montgomery. ‘Maud Montgomery’ has always seemed to me a disagreeable combination.”
One name’s unwanted E is another name’s treasure.
Anne’s Beloved Forests, Lakes, And Enchanted Spots Were Based On Real Places
According to Canada’s official website, the young Lucy Maud Montgomery, who spent much of her childhood playing outside and mentally creating poetic landscapes, named the many places she came to love, just as Anne did. One particularly beloved apple tree was dubbed Little Syrup. Other names were incorporated directly into the book: her uncle’s pond was called “The Lake of Shining Waters,” and the forest near her childhood farm was christened “The Haunted Woods” (and was indeed reputed to be haunted). Diehard fans can even tour the real Green Gables; it’s a designated Canadian “Heritage Place.”