• Exclusive Q&A with Benjamin Lefebvre: Part One

    Posted by Kids Editor, 5 years ago

    How excited am I to be bringing you an exclusive Q&A with one of the editors of the new edition of L.M. Montgomery’s RILLA OF INGLESIDE, Benjamin Lefebvre, in which he discusses studying the author of the Canadian Classic, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, collaborating with Andrea McKenzie, and his work on last year’s Online Bestseller THE BLYTHES ARE QUOTED (the paperback edition will be released this month as well).

    KE: It is always interesting to speak to someone who has devoted a significant amount of time on one author’s work. What was it about L.M. Montgomery that drew you to study her books?

    BL: Although a lot of readers tend to be drawn to Montgomery’s romance plots and her effusive nature descriptions, I keep reading and rereading Montgomery’s work because of her depictions of community and her wicked sense of humour. She can define a character through one or two idiosyncrasies and uses humour to poke fun at people’s narrow-mindedness. In Montgomery’s world, married men and women (including Anne and Gilbert in the later books) are fairly dull as characters, since they’re expected to behave according to societal expectations. Montgomery gives children, spinsters, and older people a lot more leeway here, so she makes them far more interesting as characters. She said herself that she didn’t feel comfortable writing about romance, so the romantic resolutions in her books often seem (at least to me) awkward and rushed.

    Montgomery’s journals and letters are also fascinating, but for very different reasons: they show a passionate, articulate, and sometimes tortured person voicing thoughts that she trained herself to suppress in public. When I started graduate school over a decade ago at the University of Guelph, whose archives hold a significant L.M. Montgomery collection, I started reading through Montgomery’s scrapbooks and business correspondence, and later combed through her manuscripts at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown. What fascinates me most about Montgomery is that there’s always something new to discover—she leaves all these puzzle pieces for readers to fit together. Working on Montgomery is never dull.

    KE: I am sure a lot of people are wondering what makes this new edition of RILLA OF INGLESIDE so special. What can readers expect to find in this new edition?

    BL: For starters, this edition restores the original text, as it was first published in 1921. In the 1970s, an American publisher issued an edition of RILLA OF INGLESIDE that silently cut about 4,500 words, or 4% of the text; that edition was later reprinted by Bantam-Seal and remains in print today. RILLA OF INGLESIDE is set during the First World War and was published within three years of the war’s end, so the novel assumes that readers already know the significance of place names, public figures, customs, and the details of key battles along the Western and Eastern fronts. This edition provides all this background knowledge for the benefit of readers today, in the form of a detailed introduction to the novel and to the war, maps of Europe, and a detailed glossary. We wanted the edition to interest Montgomery’s broad readership of young people and adults, and be useful both to casual readers and to secondary and postsecondary students who are interested in Canadian history, women’s writing, and the history of war generally. We also included two poems about war, one by Montgomery and one by her contemporary, Virna Sheard.

    RILLA OF INGLESIDE is a very unique work: it’s one of the only Canadian novels to dramatize the effect that the First World War had on the Canadian homefront within a few years of the end of the war. What the novel captures so well is the range of ways people responded to the war, in terms of justice, sacrifice, duty, family, and patriotism. Montgomery herself agonized over the events of the war, as they were described to her in the mainstream press. Many of her own responses, recorded in her journals, are given verbatim to her characters. Although neither didn’t believe everything she read at face value, nor do her characters, they share a conviction, rooted in their Christian beliefs, that this war is a necessary sacrifice in order to ensure peace and harmony for subsequent generations. This conviction is one that she returns to in THE BLYTHES ARE QUOTED, which she finished in the middle of the Second World War.

    Read more of the Q&A with Benjamin Lefebvre here:


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