Fascinating Parallels in a Trio of L.M. Montgomery Stories
As I recounted in an earlier blog post, I was intrigued during my last reread of Anne of Windy Poplars to discover a bit of thought-provoking trivia between the pages. I realized that the subplot concerning little Elizabeth—a sweet child and immediate kindred spirit to Anne Shirley—was similar to the overall storyline of Jane of Lantern Hill, my personal favorite of Montgomery’s novels. I hadn’t reread Windy Poplars since reading Lantern Hill for the first time, and had not previously noticed the subtle similarities in the books.
Little Elizabeth and Jane Stuart both live with grandmothers who do not understand them (and whom they do not understand); both indulge in vivid daydreams to escape from their unpleasant circumstances; both are delighted to become acquainted with their long-estranged fathers and set off on happy new lives.
Then I remembered: Windy Poplars was published in 1936, just one year before Lantern Hill was published. Could it have been that Montgomery’s writings of little Elizabeth inspired her to expand the plotline into a full-length novel? I was almost sure this was the case. I’ve experienced that in my own writing: if I’m interested in a concept or minor character in one of my projects, I invariably return to that idea and expand it in a major way later on.
When I first read Windy Poplars at age eleven, my favorite element of the book was Anne’s friendship with little Elizabeth (especially the way Elizabeth chooses her nickname depending on her current mood). So I greatly enjoyed the thought that Montgomery had liked that subplot so much that she expanded it, thus creating Jane of Lantern Hill.
Not long after my revelation about Windy Poplars, I had the opportunity to read After Many Years (2017), a book of Montgomery’s short stories compiled by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christy Woster. Imagine my surprise to read in the preface: “In ‘Tomorrow Comes’ (1934) we see overtones of Montgomery’s novel ‘Jane of Lantern Hill’ (1937)…” So a short story, published even before Windy Poplars, had been the original basis for Lantern Hill? I couldn’t wait to compare the texts, especially considering the fact that the story’s title—“Tomorrow Comes”—seemed lifted from the pages of little Elizabeth’s daydreams.
As I read the short story, I took note of the innumerable parallels between Windy Poplars and Lantern Hill. The main character of Tomorrow Comes is named Judith (called ‘Judy’ by her mother and ‘Hester’ by her grandmother). Even in the first paragraph, this feels reminiscent of Lantern Hill’s heroine Jane (who is referred to as both ‘Jane’ and ‘Victoria’).
The similar material continues to surface throughout the rest of the captivating tale. The household members of little Elizabeth’s forbidding home and the members of Jane Stuart’s Toronto home are both drawn from the dynamic of family and hired help in Judith’s house. The story contains material that would later appear in Windy Poplars (idealistic daydreams of a land called “Tomorrow” and the place name “Flying Cloud”) and Lantern Hill (the identical dialogue of the heroine’s fathers, a mysterious photograph, and a happy reunion).
The succinct story, charming in its own right, spawned two sequels of sorts, derivative versions that spun the story in a wistfully whimsical direction (Windy Poplars) and then took it to full breadths of creativity (as in the case of Lantern Hill).
Even more recently, I was reading the short story collection Akin to Anne: Tales of Other Orphans, edited in 1988 in Rea Wilmshurst. I was deep into the first story (originally published in 1933) when I realized that the lines sounded familiar…and then I realized I was reading an early version of a memorable scene in Pat of Silver Bush (1933)!
Again, the story was imaginative and fun in and of itself. And as I read more and more of Montgomery’s writings—even her nonfiction, as compiled in 2018 by Benjamin Lefebvre in A Name for Herself: Selected Writings, 1891-1917—I become increasingly aware of how she mined her earlier stories and articles for inspiration as she continued to write prolifically.
All in all, it’s an extremely interesting topic, and one I’d love to explore further!