L.M. Montgomery and Her Publishers

by Benjamin Lefebvre, University of Worcester
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The watchman, and other poems / by L.M. Montgomery

After publishing her first seven books with a U.S. publisher, L.M. Montgomery placed her career in the hands of McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, whom she appointed her Canadian publishers and her literary agents. This case study looks at the ways in which Montgomery may have used the success of her best-known character, Anne of Green Gables, in an attempt to get her poetry published in book form.

Although best known for her break-out first novel, Anne of Green Gables (1908), L.M. (Lucy Maud) Montgomery (1874-1942) also had a steady career in the North American periodical market, publishing well over one thousand short stories, poems, and essays in a range of magazines and CP00992.jpgnewspapers between 1890 and 1940. Like many of her contemporaries, Montgomery did not consider submitting her first novel to a Canadian publisher, convinced that a more lucrative deal could be made with an American firm. The book eventually found a home with the L.C. Page Company of Boston, of whom Montgomery claimed to know nothing. Page’s terms were not generous even for an emerging author: 10 per cent royalty on the wholesale price, an insistence on acquiring world rights, and a clause binding her on the same terms for any subsequent books written in the next five years. The majority of her business correspondence has not survived, but her journals and her personal correspondence outline the deterioration of her relationship with Page (at least from her perspective). Montgomery grew increasingly dissatisfied with the terms of her contract, particularly after this and subsequent books sold tremendously well in Canada, the U.S., and Britain. She was also unimpressed with reports she had heard about Page’s CP00903-002.jpgshady business practices and by rumours that he gambled away much of the fortune he had earned from her books.

In 1916, after publishing six bestselling novels (including two sequels to Anne of Green Gables) and a collection of short stories with L.C. Page, Montgomery chose McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart (MG&S) – the predecessor to McClelland & Stewart – for both her Canadian publishers and her literary agents. While she initially planned to offer Page the American rights to her next novel, his lawsuit threats made this impossible, and American rights went to the Frederick A. Stokes Company of New York. Although Montgomery CP00909-002.jpghad already claimed to be tired of the character Anne Shirley, her next three novels – Anne’s House of Dreams (1917), Rainbow Valley (1919), and Rilla of Ingleside (1921) – were likewise sequels to Anne of Green Gables. Montgomery likely sought to use the success of the Anne property as a way to transition toward a fairer publishing arrangement and to establish initial high sales with her new publishers before embarking on new projects.

Montgomery was also attracted to MG&S for their willingness to issue a collection of her poems, a project she pursued more for personal satisfaction CP00902-002.jpgthan commercial success; she received her author’s copies of The Watchman and Other Poems in November 1916. It seems reasonable to speculate that McClelland, Goodchild and Stewart agreed to publish this book of poems as their first book by Montgomery as a way of luring her away from her Boston publisher, who refused even to consider this project. If so, it was a shrewd move on Montgomery’s part to make her next novel and her book of poems part of her first American deal with CP00996-002.jpgStokes. Although she does not mention this in her journals, notes taken by scholar George L. Parker, who examined McClelland & Stewart company records in the 1960s prior to the in-house disposal of most of the publisher’s early documents, indicate that the Stokes contract for Anne’s House of Dreams was signed on 9 December 1916; four days later, on 13 December, a second Stokes contract was signed, this time for The Watchman and Other Poems, which they reissued in 1917. Meanwhile, L.C. Page manipulated Montgomery into agreeing to let them publish Further Chronicles of Avonlea (1920), as a collection of short stories vaguely related to Anne Shirley and her environment. She ended up suing Page when the published volume violated the conditions set out in CP00976.jpgtheir agreement, a conflict that would not be resolved until 1928. Ironically, The Watchman very quickly went out of print, whereas Montgomery continued to receive inquiries about Further Chronicles until the end of her life, and this unauthorized volume remains in print today.

Montgomery continued her arrangement with McClelland & Stewart in Canada and Frederick A. Stokes in the U.S. for the rest of her career, publishing CP00993.jpgfourteen additional novels between 1917 and 1939. According to her obituary in the Globe and Mail, a final manuscript was submitted to her publishers on the day of her death (reportedly by suicide), on 24 April 1942. The manuscript in question, entitled The Blythes Are Quoted, contains fifteen short stories that Montgomery had rewritten to include mentions of a grown-up Anne Shirley and her family. Between these short stories Montgomery included forty-one of her own poems, now attributed to the fictional Anne and to her middle son, Walter, who died as a soldier in the Great War. Montgomery may have hoped once again to use the popularity of Anne Shirley as a way of creating a new audience for her poetry, but the book CP01177.jpgwas not published upon its submission. Although no correspondence related to the project has survived, the presence of the top copy of the typescript in the Jack McClelland fonds at McMaster University and of a carbon copy in the McClelland & Stewart fonds at the same institution indicates that the manuscript did arrive (the second carbon copy is now housed within the University of Guelph’s extensive L.M. Montgomery collection). While an abridged edition based on an earlier typescript was published in 1974, The Blythes Are Quoted was not published in its entirety until October 2009.

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Pages

Further Resources

L.M. Montgomery Research Group. Online at http://lmmresearch.org/

Montgomery, L.M. The Blythes Are Quoted. Ed. Benjamin Lefebvre. Toronto: Viking Canada, 2009.

—. The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery. Ed. Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston. 5 vols. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1995-2004.

—. The Watchman and Other Poems. Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild and Stewart, 1916. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1917.

Archival Resources

The L.M. Montgomery collection, University of Guelph

Jack McClelland fonds, McMaster University

McClelland & Stewart Ltd. fonds, McMaster University