Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery – Melanie J. Fishbane, Penguin Random House, 2017
Readers of Anne of Green Gables may know that some of events in the novel and its sequels are rooted in the life of author L.M. Montgomery, although the story of Prince Edward Island orphan Anne Shirley is far from a literal recounting of her author’s experiences. Melanie Fishbane’s young adult novel about Montgomery’s life carefully recounts with quiet drama the struggles and ambitions of a young woman going against the grain of her provincial community in the late nineteenth century, when religious and social standards could easily have silenced her voice. Will her story resonate with readers today, as it requires understanding of an era when the role of women was so radically restricted? Because of the patient and detailed account of Montgomery’s life that Fishbane offers, the novel becomes more and more gripping as it progresses, allowing readers to identify with Maud’s painful setbacks, and hoping her persistence will be rewarded.
I’ll begin with the end of the book, an unusually thoughtful afterward explaining how and why Fishbane wrote Maud as a work of historical fiction. I don’t take for granted that young adult readers, or older adult readers, necessarily understand the differences between a biography and a well-documented novel based on a person’s life. Fishbane discusses her research, as well as some of her artistic choices, which involved altering or elaborating upon facts. (These include the passages and characters drawn from the cultures of native peoples in Canadian history.) In “What Happened to Maud’s Friends,” she both satisfies the reader’s curiosity about people in the book, while making clear that some characters were composites of different people. There is also a list of resources for learning more about Montgomery’s life and work.
Please share this book with the young adults whom you know. Even if they are more accustomed to reading about the conflicts and traumas of teenagers today, or enjoy dystopian fantasy novels, they will also become invested in Maud’s life. Here is a world where Baptists and Presbyterians cannot marry one another, and where girls who are suspected of holding a boy’s hand or writing him letters may be subjected to cruelty and emotional abuse. It’s a also a world where talented and imaginative young women found the occasional mentor, where reading could liberate oppressed teens, at least to some degree, and where friendship between girls could form the basis of a secure emotional life in a chaotic universe. This is a book for any Anne reader, or for any reader who has yet to meet this young feminist heroine who learns to stand up for herself. Readers of Anne of Green Gables may remember the scene when Anne has to cope with a broken ankle, as well as with the rather harsh reminder from her guardian Marilla that the injury was “her own fault.” “Isn’t it fortunate I’ve got such an imagination,” Anne reasons, “What do people who haven’t any imagination do when they break their bones…?” Fishbane’s Maud engages readers in the backstory to that question.