From One Writer to Another
I hope you are having a lovely spring! I am having such a good time planting a few early seeds, doing some weeding, and watching a certain chickadee gather materials for her nest. But as usual, I’m also deep in the throes of rewriting a novel (I’m at 26k), and I’m enjoying my reading as well.
With the assistance of a helpful librarian at the Kerlan Collection of the University of Minnesota Libraries, I was recently able to acquire some scans of Maud Hart Lovelace’s research materials for Emily of Deep Valley (1950), which provided an interesting window of insight into Lovelace’s method of pre-writing (at least for Emily). I’m very much fascinated by the behind-the-scenes processes of my favorite writers, which I am sure will inspire many more blog posts like this one today and this one from last year, which explores L.M. Montgomery’s possible influence on the novels of Noel Streatfeild and Margaret Sutton. That is my particular area of interest: how writers are influenced by the authors who came before them.
Speaking of scans from the Kerlan Collection, I was also able to study a letter written in 1958 by Noel Streatfeild to Elizabeth Enright, who was evidently one of her favorite authors. In this letter, Streatfeild complimented the Melendy Quartet books and wondered if perhaps the Melendy children’s father remarried after the series ended. Since this is exactly the idea that flitted through my brain the last time I read the series, I was utterly delighted by this and by the fact that Streatfeild wrote about the family as if they were real.
This example, too, fits into my niche of fascination, and leaves me with no doubt that Streatfeild was inspired by Enright when writing her own novels. Best of all, Streatfeild also mentioned how happy she was that Enright liked her books. This was perhaps the greatest discovery of all, for there are Streatfeild-esque traces in Enright’s The Four-Story Mistake (1942), in which Shakespeare-quoting Mona gets a job as a radio actress. (And the fact that Randy is an aspiring ballerina seals the deal.) Since the first Melendy book (The Saturdays) wasn’t published until 1941—and Ballet Shoes was from 1936—it’s safe to say that Streatfeild’s stage-inclined characters could have served as inspirations for the Melendy sisters.
Along similar lines is the way that Canadian author Jean Little (who sadly passed away last year) was influenced by L.M. Montgomery. My introduction to Montgomery’s Anne of Ingleside (1939), the sixth book in the Anne series and a recent re-read, was somewhat unusual. I was reading Little’s Spring Begins in March (1966), the sequel to her acclaimed Mine for Keeps (1962), and I came to the great scene where Meg’s grandmother reads aloud Anne of Ingleside. I had always steered clear of the book, thinking it sounded dull, but Little made the story sound so interesting that I had to give it a try.
I was subsequently swept up into the Ingleside world and immediately read Rainbow Valley (1919) and then Rilla of Ingleside (1921), despite repeated warnings from my older sisters that Walter died and it was Very Sad. But what made reading Rilla particularly interesting was that I had also just read another sequel of Jean Little’s: Listen for the Singing (1977), the heart-wrenching encore to From Anna (1972). The parallels between Listen for the Singing and Rilla of Ingleside are unmistakable: two Canadian wartime novels focused on a teenage girl’s coming of age alongside a brother who does not want to go to war (and yet who goes anyway, with ensuing tragedy). Since I already knew that Little had read Montgomery from that scene in Spring Begins in March, I wondered if she had modeled Anna Solden’s brother Rudi off of Walter Blythe. I suspect that it was an influence, whether consciously or not, and I hope to someday find a bit more concrete evidence to support my theory. Little was not without criticism of Montgomery—an article she wrote for Canadian Children’s Literature in 1975 confirms that—but she also praised the way Montgomery wrote her child characters.
But lest you think that Montgomery only inspired other writers and was not inspired by any herself, this is far from the case! When recently reading Longfellow’s epic poem Evangeline, I was enraptured by the Acadian tale but also enormously pleased to realize that here was where Montgomery doubtlessly found inspiration for her own prose. The tone and style and word choice convinced me, and this paragraph in her 1929 novel Magic for Marigold clinched it:
Lazarre was playing his fiddle behind the copse of young spruces back of the apple-barn—the old brown fiddle that his great-great-great-grandfather had brought from Grand Pré. Perhaps Evangeline had danced to it. Aunt Marigold had told Marigold the story of Evangeline.
But although poetry was a major source of influence for Montgomery, it was not her only inspiration. I’m fairly certain that she read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868-9)—I know I’ve read this fact somewhere but I can’t remember where at the moment—and it’s fun to note that Alcott uses the phrase “kindred spirit” twice in Little Women; the phrase that Montgomery borrowed so memorably for Anne of Green Gables. Nowadays, the words “kindred spirit” are almost synonymous with Anne and Montgomery, and I love that it was perhaps Alcott who helped to influence Montgomery’s usage of the phrase.
These are just a few of the tidbits I’ve been pondering lately—including how Maud Hart Lovelace, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, may have been inspired by Montgomery’s books—but I shall have to close now. In any event, I’ll probably return to this subject soon, because I’m finding it pretty fun to wade through all this bookish conjecture!
And speaking of bookish conjecture … I have some *very exciting* news coming up hopefully later this year, so if you’d like to be one of the first to know, make sure you’re signed up to my newsletter!
Recently Read: The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner, The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright
Currently Reading: Depend on Katie John by Mary Calhoun, Nothing to Do but Stay by Carrie Young