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December 2, 2009, Toronto, ON By: Dr. Irene Gammel

Today I received a letter (November 22, 2009) from Laurel Speer in Tucson, Arizona, which I'd like to share:

Dear Irene Gammel,

I realized when I saw your book that I'd never read ANNE OF GREEN GABLES either as a child or thereafter. What a shocking omission. So I had to buy your book to find out about Montgomery as well as her book(s). I also went to Google to get the plot, and it does seem like Gone with the Wind, the perfect age to read ANNE would be about 12, far, far in my past now. You've done a splendid job of pulling all the disparate parts of her life together to give a picture not only of the times in which she lived and how those might've affected her work, but also of the work itself. I'm particularly interested in the romantic friendships with girls and later women that were so much a part of the time as well as Montgomery's life. It doesn't seem from her later marriage that she was the slightest bit drawn to adult sex, so it seems unlikely to me that her female romances were physically consummated. It also seems that she was emotionally arrested in childhood, if not when her mother died, at least in the ideal world she created for herself as a child, which would explain why she could create such an enduring classic that would continue to absorb young girls. I asked my own daughter, now 46, if she'd read ANNE, and she said she'd read the entire series and had vivid recall of all of them.

—Laurel Speer, author of The Destruction of Lions

November 18, 2009, Toronto, ON By: Dr. Irene Gammel
I received an invitation to the dinner series at Hart House to talk about "the mystery of how Anne was born." After a busy day at Ryerson (think end-of-term crazy busy), I slip on my high heels and we hail a taxi on Gerrard Street escaping the drizzle. Jean-Paul accompanies me—this time without his Anne braids (you'll remember this get-up from the Norval talk a year ago). This time, it's my hair that's sticking out in all directions, and I spend the taxi ride trying to fix it as best I can, an effort only partially successful, judging by Jean-Paul's looks (when he's not locking eyes with his BlackBerry, that is). Traffic is thick and we arrive just in time for the reception at 6:00 pm and I'm more than ready for a glass of wine.

Hart House is beautiful and everything is steeped in tradition including the dinner series which is at least seventy years old, boasting notable Canadians. The tables are arranged in a horseshoe like a wedding reception, the ceilings are timbered, the windows leaded, the art work original, and the dinner service lovely. At the head table on my right isPhillip Khaiat, the organizer of the series, who's spent the summer on PEI with his wife Carolynne; on my left is an enthusiastic Varsity reporter who's loved the Anne books and wants to become a teacher. I delve into the devilish dark chocolate cake, rationalizing that I need the calories for the talk.

Montgomery, too, had come to Hart House for a dinner once -- and found rich food for stories, as she observes with typical wit in her journal entry of Saturday, June 27, 1931:

A dinner at Hart House that night followed given us by the Government. The dinner itself was good but the rest I have been at funerals that were far more fun. Three men made three seemingly interminable speeches which we at the far end could not hear at all. Why will after dinner speakers talk as if it were the first, last and only chance they ever had or hoped to have at public speaking? An after dinner speech should be short and snappy. Almost all the women smoked or apologized for not doing so.

No doubt Montgomery would have noticed the brass match strikes next to the door frame of each room. Of course, I heed her instructions and stick to the 45-minutes speaking time allotted. It's followed by a lively discussion and book signing.

I meet Paul Temple whose wife wrote a play for children called Kindred Spirits, which was performed at high schools. I also meet Robert from Poland, who recalls that Anne of Green Gables was intensely popular when he lived there; Polish people are well read, he says, and there was appeal in anything western especially during the communist era when reading was among the few things that didn't cost much money. Alex, also an immigrant from Poland, recalls that when she first arrived in Canada as a young teenager, everybody told her, "you must read Anne of Green Gables."

Jean-Paul and I finish the evening at Cameron House on Queen Street, where we listen to Bluegrass music, drinking more red wine (me) and Guiness (Jean-Paul). At 1:00 am we stroll home.

Harthouse, Toronto

L. M. Montgomery

Click here for Seyna Ameree’s article in the Varsity

Click here for the Hart House

November 12, 2009, Toronto, ON By: Dr. Irene Gammel

It's dark by the time I catch a cab at the Delta Hotel on Gerrard Street to take me to the Etobicoke Club of Canadian Federation of University Women. I was invited by Lydia Bell to discuss Montgomery. When I arrive, the large room is filled with over a hundred women, and things are buzzing during the tea break. In fact, to my surprise I seem to have stumbled into a heated business meeting. The atmosphere is thick with political indignation, as members express concern that the rules of governance of the C.F.U.W. have been changed and they are thinking about appropriate action.

As I take the podium and look over the sea of eager faces, I'm reminded of a first-year lecture, but also of the Avonlea Improvement Society. It's a wonderful group to talk to about L.M. Montgomery, even though the event flashes by like a brief subway ride.

After the talk, questions, book signing, and chat with Lydia, I'm back in the taxi heading east to Toronto, where I'm to meet Jean-Paul and academic guests from Israel for a late dinner. As I travel down Islington, I open the lovely card they gave me, and am touched by the sentiments:

Thank you so much for your talk which made our C.F.U.W. meeting so interesting and enjoyable. Your book is a wonderful example of the story behind the story which makes English Literature such an interesting field. We can feel pride knowing that a Canadian author, one hundred years ago, created a book that has stood the test of time.

At Adega on Elmstreet, our guests from Israel have never heard of Anne of Green Gables, but Shosh (an attractive blond who is also a marine biologist and the president of Ruppin Academic Center) tells me she loved Julie and Julia, the movie about Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep) and Julie Powell who wrote a blog about her experience of cooking her way through Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Shosh, too, is a woman with strong opinions—and tells us she doesn't like Germans. To be polite, I'm trying to hide that I'm born in Germany but she catches me anyway.

November 7, 2009, Innisfil, Ontario By: Dr. Irene Gammel

On Saturday, early in the morning at 10:10, I take the bus from Union Station to Innisfil to meet with a book club, who have been reading Looking for Anne. The event had been planned when I had met the librarian Susan Baues at the book fair in Toronto a year earlier.

Transferring in Newmarket on this sunny but chilly fall day, I stand shivering in a line up, behind me two young men, one of whom is about to add up his possessions from his soon to be ex-girlfriend and residence. "Get your stuff out in one trip and don't go back," the friend, who seems to have experience in making elegant exists from love affairs gone awry, advises his companion; "if she's there, just take what you can, a few souvenirs, and leave the rest." "Don't blow your gasket," he keeps reminding his friend, as the long queue proceeds into the bus, "if you lose your cool, they'll blame you." It's only when the young guy leaves the bus half an hour later later that I get to see his face and shiny eyes, as if from a late Friday night hangover, and I hope he heeds his friend's advice.

Anyway, I'm only half-listening to what goes on around me, for I am reading Emily Climbs in German, taking advantage of bus time. It's my mother's copy, which Jean-Paul packed by mistake last time we were in Germany—and am struck at how modern it feels—Emily's ambition to be a writer, the depression when things don't work out, the disappointed house (no doubt the house Maud shared with Ewan by 1927 when she published this book). I stumble over quotations that I read in her own unpublished journals, as when Emily writes in her diary in chapter XVI:

"I have two Chrysanthemums and a rose out. The rose is a song and a dream and an enchantment all in one. The 'mums are very pretty, too, but it does not do to have them and the rose too near together. Seen by themselves they are handsome, bright blossoms, pink and yellow, and cheery, looking very well satisfied with themselves. But set the rose behind them and the change is actually amusing. They then seem like vulgar, frowsy kitchen maids beside stately, white queen."

Emily's entry is dated November 30, Maud's own birthday! The blend of fact and fiction is amazing. In Emily Climbs, I realize, she is retelling the story of how she wrote Anne of Green Gables including the story of how she burnt her first novel.

Alas, immersed in my book, I overshoot my destination, Churchill, and arrive in Barrie South. I find myself sitting on a bench like Anne Shirley sitting at Bright River Station waiting for Matthew. The cabby whom I call on my cell, instructs, "I'll be there in 10-15 minutes, look for the red van," as if there were actually a chance of missing a red cab in this god-forsaken station where I'm the only person far and wide. He arrives at five minutes to 1:00 pm, and actually looks like Matthew, his long grey hair tied in a ponytail! He was born in the beaches in Toronto, but now prefers the rural life, he tells me as we pass the fields whose black earth reminds me of Saskatchewan. He is no Matthew when it comes to directions, however, studying the map to find the right library (apparently there are two), then he too overshoots his destination. I arrive at twenty minutes past 1 pm, put on my black jacket, dab on my pink lip gloss, and rush inside.

They are a fun group, sitting in a circle and waiting with tea and cupcakes and cookies: a woman from Slovakia, who has been to Cavendish; a young woman who is home-schooling her children and takes copious notes; several fans who have read the novel multiple times since childhood. It's a fun discussion, and they know their L.M. Montgomery, although they are a little shy. Afterwards, we take a photo around the library's fireplace. And then, it's time to head back to the bus station, the correct one this time, where I take my seat with my little gift of honey and maple syrup. It's dark by the time I arrive back at Union Station. Jean-Paul is in Ottawa, but my kitties, Elsa and Miscouche, are happy when I open the door.

Click here for the Innisfil Library

November 2, 2009, Toronto ON By: Dr. Irene Gammel

I am very pleased to announce the publication of Anne's World: A New Century of Anne of Green Gables by the University of Toronto Press, in spring/summer 2010. The book engages 100 years of previous scholarship and criticism as well as offering new new directions in considering Canada's most important cultural icon. It was a pleasure working with 15 international contributors providing new insight and fresh points of view for students, scholars and fans of Anne.

Click here to learn more about Anne's World.