Vulgar History Podcast
Super Special: Lucy Maud Montgomery (with Logan Steiner)
June 1, 2023
Hello and welcome to Vulgar History, a feminist women’s history comedy podcast. My name is Ann Foster and today is a Super Special episode where I’m going to be talking with author Logan Steiner. So, Logan, her book has just come out this week, it’s called After Anne and it is a historical fiction novel about the life of Lucy Maud Montgomery, AKA LM Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables and lots of other books.
I was really intrigued when I first heard about this book because I knew a bit about the life of Lucy Maud Montgomery because I am a person who lives in Canada and she’s, you know, one of our national icons. And I was interested to see this developed into a work of historical fiction, especially when I read more about what Logan was doing.
So, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s diaries were published after her death, she wanted them to be published, she rewrote them with that in mind, but she didn’t include everything. And so, what Logan’s book does – and we talk about this in the interview – is imagines, “Well, what was in those pages that maybe she took out of those books? What are the parts of her life that even after her death she didn’t want anybody to know about?” So, I was really interested to see that.
And also, I asked on the Instagram a few weeks ago… Instagram.com, it’s @VulgarHistoryPod. I was just curious, I asked in my Stories about what people’s thoughts were about Anne of Green Gables just as I was getting ready to talk to Logan Steiner. And everybody from different countries, people from Ireland, and the US, and all kinds of places, have such fond memories of Anne of Green Gables; the CBC series, or there’s the more recent Anne with an E series, and of course the books themselves. I know that these books are so beloved by so many people all around the world. The author and her life story is maybe less known, but she’s the author of these beloved books. So, I think it’s really interesting that Logan chose to write this book about her, and I had a really good time talking with her about it.
I do just want to give a content warning: Lucy Maud Montgomery, her death, she probably died by suicide and so there is some discussion of suicide in what I talked to Logan about. But here’s my conversation with Logan Steiner.
Ann: Okay, so I’m joined today by Logan Steiner. Welcome, Logan.
Logan: Thank you, so good to be here, Ann.
Ann: Yeah, so we’re talking about your book that has just come out, it’s called After Anne, and it’s a novel about Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of the Anne of Green Gables books. So, my first question is, first of all, you’re American, is that right?
Logan: I am.
Ann: Okay. I’m in Canada, so I’m just curious what your experience was of the Anne of Green Gables books that led you to a point of wanting to write this novel?
Logan: I treasured the Anne of Green Gables books growing up. So, I was very close to my grandparents who lived in small-town Iowa, and I would go visit them every summer. My grandma introduced me to the Anne of Green Gables books. I remember reading the whole series in her house. I’ve read them many times since, and then just devoured everything by LM Montgomery that I could find, and then watched the CBC series too with my grandma. I remember many tear-filled afternoons spent in her house watching that series together.
And I had such a strong connection to the Anne of Green Gables character. I think my whole life I’ve struggled with putting myself out there and, you know, self-doubt, and I loved Anne of Green Gables and her vibrancy and also her unfiltered ways. That was so much a way of being that I wanted to adopt for myself, her dreams of writing, her vivacity, those things were so appealing to me. And her real deep care for Matthew and Marilla; that relationship reminded me of my relationship with my grandparents. So, really special place in my heart.
Ann: And you mentioned that you read all the Anne books and then you went on to read the other books that she’s written as well. Because I know there’s the Emily series and then what’s called The Blue Castle I think, which is almost like an adult book, a bit.
Logan: Yeah, and The Story Girl which was one of LM Montgomery’s favourites as well. So, she’s written 20 novels and then was prolific. She published hundreds of stories and poems as well.
Ann: It’s really interesting to me as a Canadian person to see the effect that Anne of Green Gables has on people from other countries as well. Sometimes I don’t know if it’s just, like, this is a really big thing here, or if it’s like, “Oh no, people from all over know it.” As a child, I remember I went on a trip to Prince Edward Island, and it was international tourists. There were people there from Japan and all kinds of places and I’m like, “Oh, this isn’t just famous in Canada. Everyone around the world loves Anne of Green Gables.”
Logan: Yes, it’s so striking. I visited as well when I was doing research and… just amazing. A huge following in the Netherlands, like you said in Japan, across the UK it makes sense as well, but then a huge American following too. And I think what I found in the States in particular, people have heard of Anne of Green Gables, but people don’t know as much about LM Montgomery, the author. I think my understanding is that in Canada she’s a lot like Mark Twain is here. She became almost a celebrity that has continued to have that celebrity status where she was a public figure as well as the creator of a famous character. I think here in the States, a lot of people that I meet know the name Anne of Green Gables, but they don’t know the name LM Montgomery.
Ann: It’s interesting to me, I sort of think of LM Montgomery and Anne of Green Gables in a similar way like Louisa May Alcott and Jo March. But I think people think they know about Louisa May Alcott because Jo March is a writer and she had sisters like she did. So, it’s like the stories are similar, whereas Anne of Green Gables and the other books that LM Montgomery wrote were not autobiographical in the same way, so she’s a bit more arms-length, I think.
Logan: That’s right, that’s right. I do think that Anne, in some ways, served as an alter-ego for Maud, that there were emotions– Maud was certainly a precocious and wildly imaginative little girl who I think experienced a lot of loneliness in childhood, a lot of the same sorts of feelings that Anne did. So, I think there are emotional resonances there, but certainly, it was not autobiographical.
Ann: And so, just turning talking to your book that’s just come out, After Anne. So, it’s a story about Maud, that’s what you call her. She’s Lucy Maud Montgomery but she went by Maud, right?
Logan: She went by Maud, yes.
Ann: So, you’re looking at the book and it’s not sort of a birth-to-death story, it’s looking at specific parts of her life. Before, I guess, not talking about your book specifically yet, but set up for everybody who don’t know, what was Maud’s childhood like? How did she get to the point that you talk about in your book?
Logan: Yes. So, Maud was raised on Prince Edward Island. She lost her mom at a very young age; her mom died when she was 21 months, which, having a 21-month-old right now myself just is so striking what that loss must have been. She lost her mom young and then her father, Hugh, very grief-stricken, understandably, soon after that left her in the care of her maternal grandparents, so her mom’s parents. And Hugh was in the picture, he continued to live on the island and visit regularly for some years, and then he moved to Prince Albert on the mainland. But he continued to be in Maud’s life, she revered him. But her primary parents became her mom’s parents.
And they were folks who had thought they were done with child-rearing when this little girl shows up in their lives. I have Scottish heritage, they definitely had that Scottish heritage, kind of hard-edged manner of raising that I think created a lot of feelings of loneliness in this very… this girl with huge dreams and incredibly smart and driven. And I think that she experienced a lot of loneliness in her childhood.
Certainly, she was well-liked, but she took to diaries as a refuge really early on, which is something that I relate to; I had a lot of those same feelings when I was young and was driven to write at a young age as a way of expressing my deepest emotional truths, and I started writing diaries really young. Maud did that as well. She ended up burning her first diary that she ever wrote, which I think is just indicative of, sort of, who she was; this really complex, interesting person, who used it as a place of refuge but then had this sense of shame around it that it was too juvenile that she ended up burning it later.
She was very successful in school, she went to teacher’s college and taught on the island for a number of years. She never really enjoyed teaching, she started to have bouts of winter melancholy as she called them, when she started teaching on the island, but she loved it because she could write. It afforded her time to write and an income, and she started putting stories out there into the world and was very prolific in writing them. Her grandfather’s death… In some ways, there’s a mirror to Matthew passing and Anne taking care of Marilla and what Maud chose to do after her grandfather died; she went to stay with and take care of her grandmother, which gave her even more time to write. She helped her grandma manage the mail from the old house, but it was also a pretty isolating life and that’s where the story of After Anne begins.
I was really interested in the character on the precipice, this woman on the precipice of huge success and then what comes after that huge success.
Ann: And in terms of her age as well, she got married, what we would consider later in life, especially for the 1900s. And then she started seeing her writing success also later in life. Can you talk about, I don’t know if you know off-hand, but kind of how old she was when those things happened?
Logan: Yes, so she began her process of writing Anne of Green Gables in her early 30s, it was published when she was 33, so just after her 33rd birthday. In her 20s, she was regularly publishing stories and poems and she had the attention of male suitors; she was not lacking for suitors, she had a number of men who proposed and had various levels of feelings for these different men. But she really struggled… and I have her at the beginning of the book in this bind of considering whether to remain what she called a ‘spinster’ and what was known as a spinster at the time, and really prioritize her writing, or marry.
And she’s in this consideration in her early 30s, at that point that was so late for marriage. She’d rejected a number of these suitors, or the relationships had fallen apart, and she was really, I think, at her core, what was most important to her was this dream of writing. So, that’s what she was pursuing most single-mindedly. And then got to this point in her early 30s, you know, she’s right on the verge, she’s imagining the character of Anne, she’s beginning to write Anne and she’s realizing, “It’s kind of now or never, do I marry or not?” and starts to feel a lot of internal pressure.
And I was so interested in that feeling. I think it’s something that those of us like me who have always wanted to write and are trying to juggle, it’s so much in the female experience of trying to juggle jobs, and dreams, and relationships, and whether to have children. Those are things that I’ve wrestled with so much, those are things that she wrestled with. So, I have her at the start of the book in that kind of wrestling match. And she, at that point, has this suitor candidate who is a minister, who is preaching in Cavendish where she’s grown up and he is getting a lot of good recognition in town and he is interested in her early on. But she has a lot of hesitation about being a minister’s wife and what that will mean, and what that will mean for her writing career. She wants kids but she doesn’t know that she wants to marry him and there’s this real struggle.
Ann: And so, your book is told in three time periods, if you include the framing device with her sons. But you’ve got her struggle, that time period is one period, then you’ve got later in her life, seeing what she’s up to. And part of that, her journals from those eras do exist, right, but with some exceptions and that’s part of what you’re playing around with, right?
Logan: Yes, yes. So, posthumously, her journals have been published. They’re absolutely exquisite volumes. They were journals, she started this project of recopying her journals in 1919 in middle life, right at the end of the First World War, Spanish Flu is raging, and she starts this project of recopying her journals that she finishes at the end of her life, 1942. So, it’s this huge undertaking of recopying, which I just find so fascinating. And in that process, she’s certainly revising, extracting, there’s evidence of her razoring out pages, even in the recopied volumes. And there’s her biographer, Mary Henley Rubio, who has done this incredible biography, Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings, that was a huge resource to me, a fantastic book in its own right. And you know, she talks about places where the journal record and the historical record don’t quite square and where there are these gaps in understanding. So, that was something that I was so interested in and where I felt like there was space for a fictional reimagination.
Ann: Exactly, because the journals exist. Those are published. If people want to know what she’s going through in those periods, you could read that from her. But then where there’s a gap.
Logan: Absolutely. And as much as possible, I really hewed closely to those journals and so wherever there is something known, I didn’t, you know, come up with something unknown, it was really where there were gaps that I found such interest and imagining into those.
Ann: And now we’re just going to take a break for a word from our sponsors.
And we’re back.
I think also just as a writer, as anyone with an imagination, that’s so interesting to think about, what did she not want people to know about? Those must have been really interesting things.
Logan: Yes! Yes, right! Especially for somebody who… I mean these journals are, on the one hand, curated, on the other hand so vulnerable. And so, for somebody who was so open about so much of her life… Now, she did intend for them not to be published until after her death, which is another interesting thing, but she was open. She wrote journals and then wanted and intended them to be published. So, what would somebody like that who had that intention, hold back? What would she, even in that revealing, want to keep hidden? I found that so interesting.
Ann: And so, part of what happens in her story… And, I mean, this is just biographical information, it’s not spoilers for your novel. So, she ends up marrying Ewen, and she becomes a preacher’s wife, and then he has some mental illness struggles, right?
Logan: That’s right. And I think that those were not known to her when they were in their courtship phase. She certainly had hesitations, and she wrote some of those in her published journals, and the biographer Mary Henley Rubio has said those were some of the pages that were razored out. So even, you know, their proposal was something that she didn’t even like her recopied version and redid. So, she was certainly very careful about that historical record. I don’t think that… certainly not the extent of his mental health struggles later in life, those were not things that she saw coming and they really informed so much of their married life together, starting from about that middle-age point.
Ann: This is… Okay, I’m going to make a comparison just because we’re recording this when we’re recording this. The Queen Charlotte series has just come out on Netflix and it’s just interesting because that’s also the story of a woman involved with a man having mental health struggles and kind of how that affects the woman and the relationship. And then Maud had her own struggles. Again, this is not a spoiler for your book, the book starts with her son finding out that she has died by suicide; that is not a secret twist in the book. So, knowing that that is how her story ends, how is that part of your… just in writing her story?
Logan: For me, that was the initial question that was so striking to me. So, backing up a bit, I’m somebody who has always, from age 10, been driven to write, and also have tremendous fear of putting my writing out there in the world. So, something that’s been most helpful to me along the way is to know what other writers went through, and to know that they had their own struggles, and that I’m not alone in my doubts, and my insecurities, and the tremendous vulnerability in putting writing out there. So, that’s just made me somebody who always goes hunting for the story behind the story. I love to not just love a book but to know more about the writer, the creator of that book.
And so, in bed one night at a lake house, it was late at night, and I was doing one of my digging missions for the stories of writers whose books I love, and I learned about that note by Lucy Maud Montgomery’s bedside that had been covered up for many years. There was this note that reads a lot like a suicide note beside her bed and what could that mean? And she says, “What an end to a life in which I tried always to do my best despite many mistakes,” which, to this day, just makes me feel so deeply. And to know that she’d written such a life-affirming character, one of my favourite characters in fiction, and that her life ended in this way in which, she says that nobody would imagine what her struggles have been. So, she’s saying in that note that there’s a lot that she hadn’t revealed at the end of her life and that was so poignant, so striking to me.
And I just found myself… I really wanted to know more, I really wanted to understand her emotionally, and to understand the ups and downs of her life. Because I think, when we learn about authors’ success and we know about Lucy Maud Montgomery’s tremendous success, her fame, her celebrity, that’s one thing. But I think sometimes, that actually can hurt inspiration because it makes it seem like it’s impossible or, like, you’ll never measure up to that person. But to know the full story of somebody’s life, because we all have struggles, we all have things we go through, I think that can be even more inspiring. And so, I went into her story with that goal.
Ann: And that was information that… I think this was in the afternote or something in your book, the family kept hidden that this was her cause of death until I think it was 2008, they publicly revealed it, right?
Logan: Yes, that’s right. And to be fair, it’s the probable, based on the evidence that we know, cause of death, and based on the fact that that note was there by her bedside, and what we know about the end of her life, including her writing and one of her final passages in her published journals, “I shall be driven to end my life.” So, there’s good evidence for that.
Ann: It’s really interesting, having read an early copy of your book, I think that you do such a respectful and interesting job of looking at her as a whole person, not defining her by… Like you start off being like, “This is probably how she died.” But then you’re looking at, who is this person? It’s not a tragic story, it’s not a sad story. It’s like, “Who was she? And this is what happened at the end.” So, I think you did a really good job of balancing that to yeah… Just, I don’t know. Congratulations. And I want the listeners to not think, “This is going to be a sad book.” It’s not at all.
Logan: I’m so glad to hear you say that because that was not at all my intention, and I so deeply admire and respect Maud and her life has informed mine in so many ways. I’m so grateful for that and I really wanted to uncover who this person was and have so much compassion for where she was at the start of my book, at the precipice of becoming this famous author, and so much compassion for who she was and where she was at the end of her life too.
Ann: And I think part of what I’m going to guess… I guess I’ll ask you because you wrote the book, but part of what that balance is, is that it’s not a chronological story. You’re going back and forward in time from that time period where she’s deciding to get married, she wants to publish a book, and then what her life is later. So, you’re flipping back and forth. It’s not just like, “Her life was like this, and this, and this, and this.” Which I think also helps represent that she was not just one thing. Was that part of your decision in having the dual time periods?
Logan: Yes, it was very much to show, you know, her complex, multifaceted self. And it was also, I really did not want the book to end with the tragic note of her death alone. That is certainly a note and a component of her life, but I love the idea of coming back to this seminal weekend of her life when she’s really in this struggle of the decision of, “Do I marry and sacrifice some things? Or do I really pursue my writing and only my writing for the rest of my life?” And that, I think, is such an interesting decision, a relatable one to many of us today. And I think that it just… Going back and forth between that weekend and then what happened after, I hoped that there were resonances where those timelines would speak to each other and create an emotional depth that wouldn’t be as easily obtained by just having one straight timeline.
Ann: And I think also, like you were saying, you like reading the stories of writers and how did they get to where they were, and what their struggles were and stuff. And I think part of her story that I find like, not just as a writer myself, but just as a person who is living in my middle age, to see that she started what some people would consider older. Not just marrying and having children, but her success came to her in her mid-30s and then on through the next couple of decades. I think there’s a lot of pressure, especially now… I don’t know, there’s things like the “30 Under 30” lists, or “This author just published her first book and she’s 20!” There’s so much pressure on people to succeed at a very young age. But she is so beloved, she was so successful, and she… When was Anne of Green Gables published? She was in her… what did you say, 33 or something like that?
Logan: Yes, which, you know, in modern-day equivalent that would be more like mid-40s in terms of lifespan and where she was in her life. And yes, I love stories like that, I love to know that, you know, success can come at any point. And I find that to be really deeply reassuring too and so that was a key piece. And also, that story, a choice to marry can be a really complicated one and it can happen kind of at any time in life, that’s a key piece of her story too.
Ann: I think also, aside from her being based on a real person and those are her experiences, it’s rare, to me in my reading, to read about a character who is this age; characters in books are often 25 or something like that. So, it was interesting to read about someone who is a bit more… has lived through some stuff. At the point where she’s deciding even whether she wants to marry, she’s not a young, naïve 20-year-old, she’s someone who has lived a life and knows what it’s like, knows what it’s like to not be married. So, I appreciated just reading about… And I guess in contrast to the fact her most famous character, Anne, surely grows up, but she’s most famous as an 11-year-old, I don’t know. So, it was just nice to read about a woman in her middle years, I guess. That’s rare to me in my experience as a reader.
Logan: It is and that’s interesting that you say it. I’m so interested in that middle-life period, and Maud was open about her struggles in writing and in middle age, she said she got bored of her in middle age. If you look at her fiction, there are so many young characters, there are so many old characters and she had such joy, I think, in creating those ages and there’s many components to that. But one that’s occurred to me when I’ve been reflecting is that you can make an old person or a young person much more unfiltered and fun, and they are too old to care or too young to care about other people’s opinions in many ways, at least more so. And so, I think she could have so much fun with that. But you know, she was really caught up in her whole life in this bind of other peoples’ opinions and her own internal struggles about what to keep private, what to reveal.
And that, to me, is so much of middle life and something that I very much relate to being in that stage myself, and that’s where the fascination lies but it’s also really hard to capture. I could tell you; I wrote and rewrote this book many times, really trying each time to understand Maud more deeply, get at her character more deeply and I think a lot of why the process took so long was the fact that, in middle age, people are complicated.
Ann: I have a, I don’t know, just a fun question for you. So, what are your favourite LM Montgomery books, having read all of them?
Logan: Oh my gosh. The original Anne is just my absolute favourite and will always be. But I really loved The Story Girl too and that’s one where I have lines underlined that I come back to. And you know, her journals. If I could recommend that those who know something of her or like her work read anything, it would be her journals. I found them… You would think they might be… There are many, it’s a voluminous set of journals so it’s a big undertaking, but they are really compelling reads in their own right.
Ann: And I think her writing is so revered and so beloved, but that’s why I wanted to ask you that because a lot of people might have only read Anne or a couple of the Anne books. But to know that she’s written, what, you said 29 books?
Logan: 20 novels.
Ann: Yeah, so there’s a whole, I don’t want to be on this podcast and be like, “Read Lucy Maud Montgomery books.” They should read your book [laughs] and also Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books because I think that they work really well in concert. And I think that if you read her books, then they can really see a lot of what you’re doing because you clearly, these stories and the journals, they’re in your bones. I think people would notice, probably, if they read both a lot of the things you’re referencing.
Logan: I hope so and I would absolutely recommend that anyone read both.
Ann: And so, your book, when this episode comes out, is being released. Where can people follow you to see if you’re having events or anything like that? Do you have a website or social media?
Logan: I do. My website is LoganSteiner.com; all of the events are listed there. And I do have an event on PEI that I’m so excited about. On August 26th I will be at the Charlottetown Library with The Bookmark and speaking there. I’m so excited to have an event on the island.
Ann: That’s so wonderful. And also, that’s wonderful, first of all, just for you to get to go there, and have that event, and to be around people who love LM Montgomery the same that you do. But also, just book events often I find are in Chicago or Los Angeles, they’re in major American cities. So it’s nice, Charlottetown, so people who are there can come and see you as well.
Logan: Yes, yes absolutely. And my visit there will always be cemented in my memory. I just loved the island, I’m so happy to have a chance to go back.
Ann: Well, thank you so much for talking to me about your book, and the best of luck with all of this, your book tour and publication week, and everything.
Logan: Thank you so much, Ann, it’s been wonderful to talk to you.
So again, Logan’s novel is called After Anne, and you should be able to buy that anywhere where you get your books from. If you want to buy a copy and support this podcast, you can use the link in the show notes to go to Bookshop.org because a little percentage of all the books you buy through that link goes to support me and the show.
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So, I’ll be talking to you again next Wednesday with the next chapter of the Mary Queen of Scots episode. Until next time, keep your pants on and your tits out!
Vulgar History is hosted, written, and researched by Ann Foster and edited by Cristina Lumague.
Transcribed by Aveline Malek at TheWordary.com
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