The Tragic Final Days of Lucy Maud Montgomery

The Tragic Final Days of Lucy Maud Montgomery

Posted on October 24 by Adam Bunch
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This is where Lucy Maud Montgomery died: the house she called Journey’s End. Montgomery spent her last decade living here, perched high above the Humber Valley in Toronto as she grew old and wrote the final sequels to Anne of Green Gables.

Those were hard years for the beloved Canadian writer. “There has never been any happiness in this house — there never will be,” she confessed in her journal. “The present is unbearable. The past is spoiled. There is no future.”

She’d been suffering from depression for years; now, it deepened. She was plagued by mood swings and waves of crippling anxiety, haunted by nightmares and painful memories, beset by headaches, vomiting, shooting pains, and trembling hands. She had difficulty sleeping. At times, she couldn’t concentrate well enough to write. The pills the doctors prescribed only made things worse, and before long she was hooked on them.

Meanwhile, her literary legacy was under attack. Montgomery’s stories — once enjoyed by men, women, boys and girls of all ages — were now being dismissed by a new generation of male, modernist critics. They claimed her books were too “sugary” to be enjoyed by anyone but little girls, and too regional — too Canadian — to appeal to a worldwide audience. “Canadian fiction,” according to one influential critic, “was to go no lower.”

And yet she still kept fighting. Even as her depression deepened, her family life crumbled, and WWII broke out, Montgomery acted as a passionate advocate for Canadian authors: giving speeches and readings, imparting advice to young writers, insisting that Canadian stories were worth telling and that Canadian voices were worth hearing.

On a spring day in 1942, it all finally caught up with her. On the very same day the manuscript of her final sequel to Anne of Green Gables was dropped off at her publisher’s office, her maid found Montgomery dead in bed. There were pill bottles on the table next to her along with a sheet of paper that read:

“I have lost my mind by spells and I do not dare think what I may do in those spells. May God forgive me and I hope everyone else will forgive me even if they cannot understand. My position is too awful to endure and nobody realizes it. What an end to a life in which I tried always to do my best.”

Her family kept Montgomery’s depression and her apparent suicide a secret for more than sixty years, until her granddaughter finally revealed the truth in 2008, hoping to contribute to a more honest conversation about mental illness.

“I have come to feel very strongly,” she wrote in the Globe, “that the stigma surrounding mental illness will be forever upon us as a society until we sweep away the misconception that depression happens to other people, not us — and most certainly not to our heroes and icons.”

Depression — far being from being a sign of weakness or of failure — plagued even one of the most celebrated Canadian authors of all-time.

 

Adam Bunch

Posted by Dundurn Guest on November 8, 2016
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Adam Bunch

Adam Bunch is the author of The Toronto Book of the Dead, creator of the Toronto Dreams Project, host and co-creator of Canadiana, and a contributor to Spacing Magazine. His work earned an honourable mention for a Governor General’s History Award in 2012. Adam lives in Toronto.