Every year my sister and I swear we’re going to take a trip to Prince Edward Island. This is the year, we say and then put zero effort into making it happen. I too am shocked we haven’t made it there yet. Fortunately the magic of Anne doesn’t appear to be holding it against us. The other day I found a copy of Anne’s House of Dreams on a stoop and scooped it up for my sister. The day I gave her the book was the same day she found a new place to live. Coincidence?
Anne of Green Gables owns a piece of my heart yet I haven’t read any of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s other books. They all sounded so similar to Anne I figured they must be inferior. The cover of Jane of Lantern Hill was too pretty to resist and the story inside is a delight.
Jane lives in a Toronto mansion at 60 Gay Street with her meek mother, aunt and horrid, hateful rich grandmother. Lonely and always on edge, she’d like to cook and clean her own room, but everything is done for her. Much as she loves her mother, she aches to escape. There’s no sunshine in her uneventful life.
Jane is reaching for something. What, she doesn’t know. You can feel her suffocation, how this clipped way of living is keeping her from growing. From page one I needed her to escape. The title and cover promised the moon and I couldn’t have waited any longer for Montgomery to deliver.
Everything changes when her father, whom she was led to believe was dead, insists she stay the summer with him on Price Edward Island. Now we’re talking. Jane has to fight to be able to go because he doesn’t have a proper home and her grandmother loathes him. They click as soon as they finally meet and together the find a house with some magic to it.
Isn’t a dead language rather a sad thing, Jane? Once it lived and burned and glowed. People said loving things in it … bitter things … wise and silly things in it.
Over the summer, Jane relishes the chance to be a homemaker, she bakes, cleans, gardens. Her interests don’t extend beyond this nest and the story starts to show its age. In context it’s understandable because she’s a hands on person and her life at Gay Street is completely hands off. Jane discovers that when not living in fear of her grandmother she’s a kind, open, curious, happy, productive person. So you can tell it was written in 1937. At the same time, there’s a timeless quality to a story about a girl coming into her own as a young woman.
While Jane doesn’t have Anne’s humor and knack for mischief, she’s a capable heroine who absorbs the beauty of Prince Edward Island and throws herself into new friendships. She reminded me of my niece. Whenever we arrive anywhere the first thing she says is “Let’s go make some friends!” As with other Montgomery’s books I’ve read, children are innocent and pure and sort fly off the page. The adults exist under heavy clouds. Some break free and others sink. It’s impossible not to read into this dynamic, knowing now how Montgomery struggled with depression. Here at least we get a hopeful, happy ending.
I can’t imagine adult fans not enjoying this. As for young readers, I hope many continue to discover Montgomery’s books on their own – pick one up and lose track of who they are and what they’re doing for a few hours at a time.
Anne of Green Gables is still my favorite of Montgomery’s books though I didn’t read it until high school. My after school job was at a horse farm and my ride home worked an hour longer than I did. I spent that hour curled up in a blanket in the back of a pick-up sipping on a slurpie and reading about the lake of shining waters and dangers of hair dye sold door-to-door. My copy still has bits of hay between the pages.