The enchantment of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Prince Edward Island extends beyond the borders of Avonlea. While her stories of Anne and Avonlea at large effectively whisk us away to that idyllic time and place, Montgomery spent a lifetime developing a nostalgic transportational capability. Her career isn’t one of genre defiance or bold exploration, but of perfecting the wonderful ability of books to conjure a setting so vibrant and comfortable, we can’t help but spend our day there. These are some of the most beloved stories from across her career - each carving out its own space in PEI and our hearts.
Published between the second and third Anne novel, The Story Girl (and its follow-up, The Golden Road) have endured as some of Montgomery’s most celebrated writings. While remaining a Prince Edward Island family story, The Story Girl diverts from Montgomery’s previous stories in a way that carves her bibliography as a genre in itself.
The setup for the book is appropriately familiar: siblings Beverly and Felix are sent to live with their uncle, aunt, and cousins on PEI while their father travels. They grow young roots with their cousins and new community, getting up to shenanigans with the local no-fun minister (a telling parallel to Montgomery’s cold fiancée, a Presbyterian minister). While the novel is narrated by Beverly, the titular character is his cousin.
Serving as a major inspiration for the 1990 series Road to Avonlea, The Story Girl’s “story girl,” Sara Stanley, beams all the wit, charm, and reverence that made Anne such a hit. Unlike Anne, though, Sara has a wispy, angelic quality that entrances all. She was also born in PEI, and her folklore and family fables come to represent much of what the island means for her cousins and the reader.
It’s not hard to imagine why The Story Girl was among Montgomery’s personal favorites of her work - The cousins, Sara, and the stories she tells are addictively nostalgic. The story itself was the product of a period of extreme nostalgia for Montgomery, who had just left adolescence and was facing down the barrel of moving away to Ontario with her soon-to-be-husband.
Famously the most similar story to Green Gables, Emily of New Moon is also perhaps the next most popular. Trading in red locks for raven hair, the Emily series sports a protagonist much more sensible than Anne, and much more focused on her writing. It’s often said that Emily represents Lucy Maud as a child quite closely - with the passion and beautiful writing appearing from both, it’s not hard to see why.
Emily begins her journey as an orphan, traveling to PEI to live with relatives. While there, she meets a bright cast of characters, including cousins, new friends, and romantic interests. With her close band of friends, each grows themselves through a particular talent - Emily’s is her prose and poetry. The series sees Emily and her companions grow through their school years in the serenity and comfort of PEI’s splendor.
The Emily series represents for Anne fans another precocious young woman to grow up alongside. The stories dovetail in subject matter and tone, but partner up in giving us access to Montgomery’s endlessly beautiful and optimistic Prince Edward Island.
In one of the most overlooked of Montgomery’s works, The Blue Castle is a mature step outside of the world of Anne and Avonlea (though it’s said to be receiving a movie adaptation very soon). Series like Green Gables and New Moon treasure the tender development from childhood to adulthood, whereas Castle begins with our protagonist - Valency - a 29-year-old spinster.
Living with her judgmental gossip of a mother, Valency has catalogs of fantasies in her head, all centered on lives she’s never lived. Upon learning she only has a year left to live, Valency’s disposition takes a major shift. She rebels from her suffocating family for the first time in her life and charts her own course. With the descriptions of nature and idyllic living that made Montgomery famous, Valency finds a life worth living beyond her fantasies.
Some readers will know of Montgomery’s tragically suffocating circumstances following the publication of Green Gables. Her loveless marriage and home-making role in Ontario must’ve found her retreating to fantasy just as often as Valency. With The Blue Castle, Montgomery brings us into a gorgeous fantasy and realizes it for Valency - it’s an exercise in maturity and kindness for both the character and the reader.
As was with The Blue Castle, it’s difficult to make sense of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s bibliography without her biography. Her personal life conjures a roadmap for her - exploring the same themes and imaginations that defined her life. It’s as if each of her characters adopts a corner of Montgomery's psyche - be it a passion, personality trait, or fantasy - for Pat in Pat of Silver Bush, it’s that enduring love of home.
Home, of course, means PEI. Just as with Anne and Emily, we come of age with Pat on Silver Bush - a well-to-do home filled with a loving family and beauty at every turn. While Pat proves herself just as stubborn and loving as Anne and Emily, she trades in the precocious drive to achieve for an obsession with maintaining Silver Bush’s joyous stasis that raised her.
Eleven years pass throughout the first novel, featuring young suitors, family members embarking on lives beyond PEI, and Pat at the center, holding down her house with that iron will readers of Montgomery have come to love. Its sequel, Mistress Pat, continues Pat into her 20s and 30s, unmarried, and still living at Silver Bush. The romances set up in the first novel are complicated and brought to a conclusion, all while keeping the story centered on her relationship with home.
As one of Montgomery’s final stories, Pat is for her, a celebration of a life she missed following her marriage - and the fantasy of the girl who was able to keep home together, even as the world spun around her.
As one of her final novels, Jane of Lantern Hill remains in the heartwarming territory Montgomery spent her life perfecting. Serving as indirect inspiration for the Road To Avonlea series, and directly adapted into the film Lantern Hill, this story distinguishes itself with its kind and vibrant characters.
Growing up under the thumb of her grandmother and subordinate mother, Jane always believed her father dead. That is, until a letter from Prince Edward Island arrives, in which her very much alive father asks her to spend the summer with him. While there, she falls in love with the island, the way of life, and the house she and her father chose together. What begins as a begrudging trip with a stranger, turns for Jane into an unforgettable exercise in joy and beauty from her father’s vivid life lessons and perspective.
Jane’s experience in PEI is ultimately akin to reading Montgomery’s work - a transportation to an ultimate comfort that helps us see the beauty of our current circumstances. Jane brings her love for her family, experience in nature, and altogether goodwill back home to Ontario. The colorful characters and scenery of PEI remain an inspiration to return to for both Jane and us.
For more books by L.M. Montgomery, or to find L.M. Montgomery's biography, visit the book section of our shop. And to learn more about Montgomery's inspirations and explore the world she inspired, watch Spirit of Place and Avonlea A Rustic Paradise on GazeboTV.