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Prince Edward Island for L.M. Montgomery Purists

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With only a couple of exceptions, people's reactions to hearing that Prince Edward Island was on our itinerary broke down neatly by gender lines.

Men: Oh. Why? What's there? Where is that, anyway?
Women: Like in Anne of Green Gables? You're so lucky!

Yes, very much like in Anne of Green Gables. I am a huge Lucy Maud Montgomery fan. I started reading her books when I was in 4th grade, and collected every one of her books in print in the U.S. -- all the novels, plus the short story collections edited by Rhea Wilmhurst that began to be issued in the early 1990s. I made a construction paper bookmark for each paperback so that when my sisters borrowed them, they wouldn't dog-ear the pages to keep their place. I've read all of these books multiple times and occasionally contemplated writing a screenplay for The Blue Castle (the one Montgomery novel set wholly outside P.E.I.).

When Tony and I started talking about taking a roadtrip, I immediately thought of how much I've always wanted to visit Prince Edward Island in June, which in Canada still constitutes spring rather than summer. It's not a convenient place to visit for just a long weekend; unlike the other parts of Canada we're passing through on this trip, you can't take the train from New York or Boston to get there. Or as the New York Times put it, "If you live anywhere south of Bangor, Me., Prince Edward Island is prohibitively remote to drive to for a weekend." The only airport is in the province's capital city of Charlottetown, and all but one of the flights arriving there each day is from a Canadian city. And that daily flight from JFK costs at least $600 roundtrip.

I did pick the bed-and-breakfast for being in what the tourist guide describes as "Green Gables Shore," but unlike the other family staying at the B&B, I hadn't really planned my LMM pilgrimage. Mostly, I just wanted to be on the Island that is so lovingly and thoroughly described in Montgomery's stories.

Tony found such a focus by a whole province on a single author rather puzzling. Frank Bruni, drawn to PEI for its oysters, sniffed at what pulls other tourists: "Anne is to Prince Edward Island what Francis is to Assisi, or maybe what Mickey is to Orlando. Actually, she's a deeply revered, exhaustively merchandised combination of both."

For those who haven't read any of her books, the extent to which Montgomery identified with her home and the importance of the landscapes in her novels -- and to which these have in turn been identified with her -- can be difficult to understand. There's really no reason for thousands of Japanese people to come to this little out-of-the-way corner of Canada every year, except for Montgomery's success in planting her adoration of her home in the minds of her readers.

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Rather than describe my bumblings around the North Shore, I instead will sketch out what I'd recommend as the best way to see this area if you are a serious Montgomery fan.

(1) Start in Cavendish at Green Gables, which is now a National Historical Site.

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This was the home of Montgomery's maternal grandparents' MacNeil cousins, which house she visited frequently and inspired the Cuthberts' home in the Anne books. Here you can see the original house and farmyard, as well as find modern research on Montgomery's work and how Anne of Green Gables came together. You can walk down Lovers' Lane, and the path through the Haunted Wood takes you to the remains of the house in which Montgomery lived from toddlerhood until she married upon the death of her maternal grandmother.

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(2) From Green Gables, you also can walk to the cemetery where Montgomery, her husband Ewan MacDonald, her mother and grandparents, and generations of Cavendish family and friends are buried. It's a very pretty graveyard that proscribes artificial flowers, and you can see the sort of old-fashioned flat stones on which the manse children in Rainbow Valley were wont to scandalize the neighbors by playing.

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(3) Drive west along the shore until you reach Park Corner. This was the house that Montgomery called Silver Bush, and also served as the King homestead in The Story Girl and The Golden Road. It belonged to Montgomery's Campbell cousins, including her best friend, Frederica, to whom Rilla of Ingleside is dedicated. You can see the Lake of Shining Waters here.

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(4) Near Park Corner is the house in which LMM's father Hugh Montgomery lived before he moved west. She was very proud of her Montgomery side's history, as her father's father was a senator in Canada's pre-independence parliament. Some of the items mentioned in her books, such as the "Gog and Magog" green-spotted stone dogs first seen in Anne of the Island, are on display here. This is one of the few sites still run by descendants of Montgomery's family members rather than by professional tour guides, and thus is probably the most charming.

(5) And last for the Montgomery purist, but probably first for people with children, is the "Avonlea" village mockup near Green Gables. This is set up with a full day of activities and a whole cast playing characters from the book. You can also be married from the chapel, as one couple was doing during the afternoon I was there.

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I admit I was irretrievably offended by the actors at the point that one little scene departed from the book, by having Mrs. Rachel Lynde confide to the audience that she believed Matthew Cuthbert and Mrs. Lawson were sweet on each other. Ugh. But the Potemkin town is cute enough, and it does have a couple of things worth seeing: a gallery of Montgomery's own photography, as well as an exhibit on how Ellen, a girl accidentally adopted by Montgomery's relatives when they meant to adopt a boy, became the inspiration for Anne's move to PEI.

SPEAKING OF LITERARY PURITY: This new cover for Jane Eyre offends me on so many levels, I was reduced to sputtering when I saw it. There's no lipstick or nail polish in Jane Eyre! And especially no bright red lipstick and polish! Not unless you're a hussy!

Evidently it is part of a whole new series of covers for out-of-copyright classics, designed to engage the Twilight generation in older romances like Wuthering Heights and Pride & Prejudice.

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2 Comments

That Jane Eyre book cover is a monster.

I'm like so angry my stomach is churning this morning. grrrrr.

I join the gender division by being another Montgomery fan. I've read the Anne, Emily and Pat books along with The Blue Castle which I found very late and still loved.

I've always wanted to go to PE Island too - although, like you, I hadn't thought of it in a pilgrimage way.

And, yeah, that cover's awful.

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