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Lucy Maud Montgomery's Varied Love Life

Agatha Krzewinski

While Lucy Maud Montgomery (November 30 1874 – April 24, 1942)  lead a successful and stable career as a writer,  some may be surprised to know of her tumultuous and complicated love life. Still, amid her strict Presbyterian upbringing, Montgomery’s personal life could be an entire book on its own, full of breaking hearts, secrecy, and romantic affairs.

Early years

Nate Lockhart may have been the first boy to show romantic interest in Maud.

Nate Lockhart was her close childhood friend in school when she was 14. He developed feelings and revealed them in a note that they exchanged in class, which would be Montgomery’s very first love letter. He claimed that not only did he like her, but he loved her.

I felt like a perfect idiot when I went back to school and I have no doubt I looked like one. I never so much glanced at Nate but plunged into fractions as if my whole soul was wrapped in them. (pg. 16 The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery Volume I: 1889-1910)

Montgomery only saw him as a friend, while realistically they couldn’t be a more perfect fit. He was the only one she could discuss Cavendish books with and she thought he was a good writer. His essay for the Montreal Witness competition ranked higher than hers. However, Maud could not return his feelings.

I feel that it is going to spoil our friendship. Besides, I don’t care a bit for Nate that way- I really don’t. I only just like him splendidly as a chum (pg. 16).

They parted ways right before Maud’s move to Prince Albert that same year.

When Montgomery lived briefly in Prince Albert she had two suitors. John Mustard was her school teacher who gave many unwanted advances toward her at the age of 14-15. He had actually been old high schoolmates with her new stepmother from Ontario. He constantly came over, usually late in the evenings with her stepmother leaving and going to bed.

She was in bed or pretended to be I think she had rolled in, clothes and all, when she heard his voice- so I went reluctantly down to make her excuses, hoping with all my heart he would go away when informed that she could not see him. But such an idea evidently did not enter into his head so there I had to sit the whole evening and entertain him. And he is such a bore! (pg.35)

After many unwanted visits, John finally asked Montgomery if their friendship could develop into something more: “Do you think Miss Montgomery that our friendship will ever develop into anything else?” Montgomery responded, “I don’t see what it can develop into, Mr. Mustard.” (pg 56). She had to tell him, no, leaving him in tears.

While living in Prince Albert, Maud was also courted by Willie Pritchard who was a new boy in class and brother to her friend Laura Pritchard. While Montgomery didn’t find him handsome, with red hair, green eyes, and a crooked mouth, she found him splendid and had lots of fun with him. He also proposed to Maud, but she declined, claiming she only saw him as a friend.

I like Will better than any boy I ever met but I know I don’t love him- he just seems like a brother or a jolly good comrade to me. (pg. 57

Edwin Simpson

On February 1, 1897, Maud was working in Bideford when she received a love letter from a distant cousin, Edwin Simpson. He confessed his feelings for her and she was surprised as she never thought anything of him. Montgomery always guessed other men had loved her before they even told her, but she and Edwin Simpson had been almost strangers for the past 4 years. Montgomery wrote back to him saying that she did not love him. She might learn to care for him if he were willing to wait a while, but if he wanted a final answer at that moment then the answer would be no.

During the winter season, Montgomery thought a good deal about it as she knew the matter would come up again, as they would meet in the spring. The more she thought about it the more inclined she was to accept. Intellectually, she felt he was more congenial than any of the men she had been with. He was clever, a theological student from the French River, and a future Baptist Minister. She would have a good life and social standing if she were to be his wife. In June, she went to go see him and accepted.

The engagement would be a secret and Montgomery declined to wear an engagement ring as she knew that people would not favor the match for two reasons.  First, that he was a Baptist, and second, a second cousin. Her grandfather was rabid against marrying second cousins and her grandparents also hated the Simpsons.

Montgomery admitted that she did find him good, fine-looking, and clever. She thought that if she loved him she would not notice his faults and imperfections. However, as time went on her feelings for Ed changed.

He kept on talking until I felt tired of the sound of his voice. When we reached home he came in. As for me, I was suddenly in the clutches of an icy horror. I shrank from his embrace and kiss. (pg. 189)

Montgomery soon realized what a huge mistake she had made.

It seemed as if something that had been dormant in me all my life had suddenly wakened and shook me with a passion of revolt against my shackles. When Ed went away I rushed upstairs and flung myself on my bed. My God, what had I done? Was it possible I made an awful mistake? (pg. 189)

Montgomery continued to see Ed and would dread it. I remember excusing myself for half an hour after they came and running up to my room where I simply flung myself on the floor and muttered over and over again, “I can never marry him – never, NEVER, NEVER!” (pg.203). She still corresponded with him writing him ‘stiff’ and ‘soulless’ letters. Montgomery wrote that Ed must have noticed, but also gave no sign of having done so.

At one point Montgomery couldn’t take it any longer. She sat down and wrote him a frantic letter, saying that she “had ceased to care for him and could not marry him”. She sent the letter right before finding out the news of her grandfather’s death in March of 1898. When Montgomery finally received his response it was 20 pages long.

Oh Maud, I cannot, cannot set you free without sufficient reason! Then he went on: Will this do? I set you free for the next three years- free to do as you please (pg 207). Ed also requested that they remain friends and continue corresponding with each other. Montgomery couldn’t agree and wrote to him a harsh letter right after.

In October of 1897, Montgomery had already moved to Lower Bedeque PEI to teach at the Lower Bedeque School. There, she had boarded with the Leard family, where she had a passionate romance with the man she later said she loved the most out of all her suitors: Herman Leard.

Herman Leard

Montgomery said that up to the time of her trip to Bedeque, she had never truly loved before.

“I have had some attacks, more or less severe, of “calf love”, and flirting, violent fancies for some men, bringing with them sometimes a few romantic daydreams. But love- no, it had never come to me!” (pg. 208)

At first sight, Montgomery didn’t think anything of Herman Leard, the eldest son of the Leard family.  He was under medium height, slight, and-I thought then-rather insignificant. Calvin impressed me far more favorably (pg. 208), but It did not take long for them to get acquainted and she came to admire his magnetic blue eyes and found him to be jolly and full of fun.

On the evening of the 11th of November,  their friendship took a turn on a carriage ride on the way home.

I was tired and sleepy that night and did not feel like talking so I was very silent. Suddenly Herman leaned over, passed his arm about me, and, with a subtly caressing movement, drew my head down his shoulder. (pg. 209)

Montgomery was about to straighten up and say something tart, but before she could, something came over her: like a spell the mysterious, irresistible influence which Herman Leard exercised over me that date- an attraction I could neither escape or nor overcome. So I did not move- I left my head on his shoulder. (pg. 209)

Their next interaction led to a passionate kiss. I seemed swayed by a power utterly beyond my control- Turned my head- our lips met in one long passionate pressure. Regret of course loomed over Montgomery. This must not go on! (pg. 209) She assumed that Leard must have heard the report she was engaged to Simpson, although he spoke nothing of it. Helen, his mother, of course knew. Montgomery assumed Leard was merely flirting to pass time.

Leard was a farmer’s son destined to take over the prosperous family farm. Even though Montgomery found him, a very nice, attractive young animal, he didn’t possess the intelligence that she wanted in a mate. He had no trace of intellect, culture, or education- no interest in anything beyond his farm and the circle of young people who composed the society he frequented. (pg. 209)

Meanwhile, Ed was still regularly writing letters to Montgomery which she took with agony.

It would be useless to describe how I suffered over it all summer. I knew perfectly well I could never bring myself to marry Edwin Simpson and yet I shrank from telling him so. I hated and despised myself for my cowardice but I could not overcome it. (pg. 201)

While she did not write him love letters, she tried to write as a friend, and she wrote Ed did not notice this or did not comment on it at least. It all came to a head one day when both men visited her at the same time. Ed Simpson unexpectedly came to Bedeque for an impromptu Christmas visit. Ed came so unexpectedly to Bedeque that my state of mind cannot be described. There I was under the same roof with two men, one of whom I loved and could never marry, the other whom I had promised to marry, but could never love! (pg. 212)  

After that incident, Montgomery did not know what Leard thought of it. He never alluded to Ed’s visit, which was suspicious in itself. Although Leard never seemed to be the same again after that encounter, but occasionally some passionate impulse overtook him. Montgomery assumed he must have known she was engaged and thought she was merely amusing herself with him. She preferred that Leard would think of her that way, as a recklessly unprincipled flirt, then know how madly she really loved him.

However, despite her love for him, Montgomery knew she did not see a relationship with him long-term.

“Love was a strong passion with me-but pride-and perhaps rationality-was equally strong. I could not stoop to marry a man so much my inferior in all the essentials necessary, not to a few hectic months, but to a long life together. (pg. 218)

Their romance continued until March 1898, when Montgomery’s grandfather suddenly passed away and Montgomery had to leave for Cavendish and stay with her grandmother, unlikely to teach again. Leard asked, “but you’ll be up for a visit this summer?’ Montgomery said it depended if she could arrange it. She made another brief visit to the Leard home in the fall of 1898, which would fully and ultimately end their relationship. “I think Herman was angry because I had not gone with him for that walk- at any rate, he disappeared Saturday morning and did not even say goodbye to me. And so it ends-yes, ends. (pg 227). In the following year, 1899, Leard died from influenza.

Ewan MacDonald

Montgomery spent the next several years living with and taking care of her grandmother, and working at their local post office. She decided to take a break from romance and put her attention on writing, where she would start writing her first book Anne of Green Gables.

Around 1903 their congregation in Cavendish called Ewan MacDonald as its minister and he was inducted in September 1903. He made a pretty reasonable impression on Montgomery.

His people were highland scotch and even though he was Canadian born he had a rather, not unpleasing, Gaelic accent. He was considered a handsome man by many but I should rather call him fine-looking. He is of medium height, with a good but somewhat stiff figure. (pg. 320)

Montgomery claimed she did not want him for a lover, nor was she on the lookout for a husband at the time; but hoped she might find a friend in him. In the spring of 1905 when he came to live in Cavendish he came frequently for the mail and fell into the habit of lingering for an hour talking to her. The more encounters she had with him, the more she began to like him.

As I came to know him better I found more in him than I expected- a certain depth of thought and feeling that was generally hidden and repressed, partly by his natural reserve. (pg.321)

At first, Montgomery did not think anything of him. He had never done anything except call in the afternoons to talk about impersonal subjects. Montgomery had no reason to assume he meant anything more than friendliness, as he never made the slightest attempt. In most men, this would have indicated an absence of any wish to be more than a friend. But as time went on, Montgomery felt that he cared for her and would sooner or later ask her to marry him.

Montgomery found the idea difficult and it took her months to decide if she could marry him. I did not care for the idea of marrying a minister. On the other hand, viewing marriage in the abstract, I would be glad to marry if the right man asked me to marry him. I wanted a home and companionship. Montgomery wanted these things, but she did not want them badly enough to marry anyone if she could not be reasonably happy. On the other hand, she dreaded loneliness.

In the summer of 1906, the news came that Ewan was resigning and going to Scotland to study at the University of Glasgow. Ewan called for Montgomery and they drove down to Will Houston's. On the way back through a dark and rainy night, Ewan asked, “There is one thing that would make me perfectly happy but perhaps it is too much to hope for. It is that you should share my life-be my wife.” (pg.323)

Montgomery accepted on the condition that he wait until she was free; she could not marry as long as her grandmother was alive. He agreed and they remained secretly engaged. I think I have done the wisest in assenting. But the future alone can prove that one. One takes a risk in any marriage- the very “for better or worse” of the ceremony shows that. I feel content. (pg323). Ewan left in October 1906.

Montgomery somehow sensed that Simpson would not relish the idea of a young unmarried minister loose in the community where she lived. On November 6, 1906, Montgomery received a letter from Ed Simpson. As her grandmother gave it to her, the same old horrible sensation swept over her that she so well knew and had experienced 8 years ago. She knew even before opening it that his motive was simply asking if there was anything between Mr. Macdonald and her, as there was gossip when he had returned for the summer. Part of Montgomery felt sad for him, but also irritated. She had done him enough injury, surely he could not have any such feelings left?

Montgomery and Ewan would live far away from each other for the next intervening years, due to Ewan’s remote posting after his studies concluded. Maud's faithfulness would be questioned by some as she soon weighed a second possible future with a different man

Oliver MacNeill

In September 1909, Oliver Cromwell MacNeill, who was also Montgomery’s second cousin and 5 years older, came to PEI for a visit. Montgomery heard he had recently divorced his wife on the grounds of unfaithfulness and there was gossip that reported him to be looking for ‘PEI girls’. There were several family receptions, and since no one knew of Maud’s secret engagement, its possible well-meaning friends and relatives invited her to these receptions with his eligibility in mind.

It didn’t occur to her that there was any danger in their friendship.

The first week of our acquaintance he had shown unmistakable signs that he hoped to find her in me. But I had snubbed all his advances and as he has since been paying marked attention to Campsie Clark I did not suppose there was any reason why I should not accept and enjoy the pleasant companionship which thus offered itself for a time in my lonely life. (pg.359)

One evening on September 21, 1909, Montgomery and Oliver were walking in Lover’s Lane and things tk a turn.

Tonight I found that I was playing with fire. Oliver MacNeill told me he loved me and asked me to be his wife. Now I would not marry Oliver MacNeill for any inducement that could be offered to me- I do not feel the slightest wish or temptation to marry him. So our intercourse must cease. He is one of the most impulsive, passionate men to rush to extremes in everything and a further indulgence in our companionship might bring real suffering into his life. I don’t want to do this. (pg. 359)

The next three weeks Montgomery claimed were a nightmare for her. There was no use avoiding him, as he sought her out everywhere and came over almost every evening. He would not take no for an answer. I have never seen such a reckless, desperate man. I think he tried every possible means to induce me to marry him, even to trying to bribe me with his wealth- of which it seems he has a goodly share (pg. 360).  Finally, Montgomery convinced him that he was wasting his breath. He finally left in early October, and Montgomery finally felt free.

Later years

In March 1911, Montgomery’s grandmother became ill. What had started as a cough soon developed into pneumonia. Knowing her age, everyone knew there was only one ending.

Dr. Simpson had said on Monday that he hardly thought grandmother would live through the night. Yet she lived until a little after noon on Friday. It was a bitter, anxious time, seeming in retrospection for as long as a year. (Pg. 54 The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery Volume II 1910 - 1921)

When Grandmother MacNeill died in 1911, Montgomery had to leave the house quickly because it was owned by her uncle John Franklin MacNeill (1851 – 1936) who lived nearby. She moved to the home of her Aunt, Annie MacNeill Campbell, in Park Corner where she married Ewan and moved to Leaskdale Ontario shortly after.

Montgomery got married on July 15th, 1911 and the days surrounding her wedding were full of ups and downs.

Ewan came Tuesday night. The marriage was to take place the next day. Wednesday, July 15th , at noon. That night I did two things I had never exactly pictured myself doing the night before my wedding day. I cried for a little while after I went to bed- and then I slept soundly the rest of the night. (pg. 66) I had been feeling contented all the morning. I had gone through the ceremony and the congratulations unflustered and unregretful. And now, when it was all over and I found myself sitting there by my husband’s side – my husband!- I felt a sudden horrible inrush of rebellion and despair. I wanted to be free! I felt like a prisoner- a hopeless prisoner… But it was too late – and the realization that it was too late fell over me like a black cloud of wretchedness. I sat at that gay bridal feast, in my white veil and orange blossoms, beside the man that I had married- and I was unhappy as I had ever been in my life. (pg.68)

Montgomery would later write in her journal that her mood did soon improve after that feast. She had two sons with Ewan, and they were married till ‘death due us part’; but despite Montgomery’s family life, along with her fame and fortune, one might wonder if she was really happy. Her husband would eventually sink into a debilitating depression, suffering from nervous breakdowns. When her sons got older, one was acting out and got into troubling behavior.

When she died in 1942, her family said it was heart failure that had killed her. However, in 2008, her granddaughter revealed that she purposefully took an overdose of drugs, and that a note was left on her bedside table asking for forgiveness

Find out more about L.M. Montgomery's life and her personal thoughts, in the following books:

The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery 1889-1910
The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery Volume II: 1910-1921
The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Volume III: 1921-1929
Lucy Maud Montgomery The Gift of Wings-By Mary Henley Rubio
Imagining Anne L. M. Montgomery's Island Scrapbooks

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