Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Jane of Lantern Hill - L.M. Montgomery
I grew up rereading L.M. Montgomery's Anne books and routinely credit them for helping shape me into the person I am today--someone who loves to read, enjoys rural life and finds solace in nature, but also loves being part of a community, etc.
Until last year when I read Montgomery's The Blue Castle, I hadn't tried any of her books outside of the Anne canon. Now that I've read Jane of Lantern Hill, I really regret being such a purest. Jane of LH is wonderful and has all the best elements of my favorite Anne stories--a sympathetic, intelligent but not overly sweet heroine, a large cast of quirky secondary characters who serve as either chums or foils, lots of roaming around Price Edward Island (literally seems like heaven on earth to me!), a bit of mystery, and good surrogate parents.
The last isn't entirely true because unlike most Montgomery heroines, Jane's parents, while estranged, are both alive. Jane Stuart isn't an orphan, but at the beginning she might as well be as her mother is a prisoner of her own weak character and can't pull herself out of the mire and actually be a good mother to Jane. When her father sends for her, the summer of her 11th year, she has only just found out she actually has a living father. Jane's father, Andrew Stuart, is perfect--a writer, a philosopher, a chum, a sympathetic listener who sees the spark of brilliance in his daughter and allows it to shine.
Jane's mother and grandmother and most of her family in Toronto are uniformly dreadful in various ways, and it's interesting how Jane is one person in Toronto and really a much different person on PEI. The novel isn't brilliantly written--it's not a masterpiece of plot and the writing is a bit uneven--but it was such a treat to read. I felt nostalgic even though it was my first time reading it--I could imagine loving it as a child, and that was enough to make me feel glad inside.
According to the Wikipedia entry on Montgomery, Jane of Lantern Hill was the last fiction she wrote. Published in 1937, Jane of Lantern Hill depicts a PEI that is a bit changed from that which Anne roamed, but not a whole lot--the Milky Way still shines undimmed by city lights, the sea and shore merge with farmland, hills, and woods, providing an idyllic place to live and grow and thrive. I read that Montgomery started a sequel in 1939, but died in 1942, leaving it unfinished.
In 1990, Kevin Sullivan did a TV movie called Lantern Hill. From what I gather, he took most of the characters and the basic premise and then plunked a ghost story on top of it. I've been toying with watching it because I love the idea of Sam Waterson playing Andrew Stuart--seems like ideal casting to me--but a quick Twitter poll has convinced me that Sullivan did a hatchet job on Jane in the same way that he did with the final Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story, which is loathed by Anne fans worldwide.
This book qualifies in my Back to the Classics Challenge as a classic by a woman author.