Lucy Maud Montgomery was no one-hit wonder, but she also had her share of under-the-radar characters, and one of these is Pat Gardiner of the 1933 novel, Pat of Silver Bush and its 1935 sequel, Mistress Pat. While they may not be as talked about nowadays as Montgomery’s Anne and Emily series, these books were very personal to her and came about during a time of change and upheaval.
Pat Gardiner loves her home, Silver Bush a lot. A whole lot. It’s a happy, beautiful place to be, and she’s one of a large, loving family. If she goes visiting, she’s counting the days or hours until she can get home, and if anything is changed it’s a calamity, at least until she gets used to it or it grows on her, and that includes both the house and her family. Pat’s friends, Bets and Jingle both understand her love for Silver Bush and have imaginative, passionate natures just as she does.
There’s a real home-y feel to Pat of Silver Bush, which is full of Montgomery’s trademark humor and wit, as well as some familiar story elements. No matter what happens, someone will have a comforting word and housekeeper and dear friend Judy Plum may even have a snack waiting in the kitchen along with a story. Pat’s life isn’t perfect, but she has a wonderful support system in her family and friends and her home is a constant. There are bigger changes, too, auch as when Bets dies of the 1918 flu and Jingle, who decides to go by his real name of Hilary, confesses his love for Pat. Pat, like Anne Shirley before her, sees Hilary as a friend and turns him down, but like Gilbert Blythe before him, Hilary doesn’t give up.
Pat does have another reason for refusing Hilary. When her mother’s poor health prevents her from running the household, Pat happily takes over, glad to stay in the place she loves most. That part of her story is the focus of Mistress Pat, which takes place over thirteen years, starting when Pat is twenty.
Since Pat is older, there are romances for both she and her younger sister, Cuddles, who goes by the more grownup name of Rae as she matures, not to mention their older brother Sid, who elopes with Pat and Rae’s sworn nemesis, May Binnie. Judy is, unfortunately, getting older and her health is failing. Hilary, who’s now an architect, comes and goes, but is temporarily discouraged when he finds out Pat is engaged to her new next-door neighbor, David, a nice but rather bland older fellow.
Silver Bush was and is a real place. Owned by Maud’s aunt and uncle, John and Annie Campbell, the house was a haven for Maud, who loved visiting, and even married her husband, Ewan Macdonald there on July 5, 1911. On March 2, 1911, Maud wrote, “This is the greatest house in the world for fun. We have had so many jolly rackets here that the very walls seem permeated with the essence of ‘good times.’ From my earliest recollection a visit to Silver Bush is the greatest treat in the world. Each room has its memories.”
At first, Maud was busy and happy as a pastor’s wife in Ontario, getting involved at church and having three sons, one of whom was stillborn. Of course, there were more books written, and Maud visited her Island as much as she could.
By the early 1930s, however, Maud’s home life was in turmoil. She was not only unhappy with the gossiping and expectations put upon her by the women in her church, but Ewan’s mental state deteriorated into what we would nowadays call clinical depression and religious melancholia and he had to retire from the ministry. Maud was also bored, because Ewan had no interest in literature and she eventually regretted marrying him. Maud’s oldest son, Chester, who had a habit of lying and stealing, secretly married and fathered a child, but then turned abusive and moved into the Macdonald house basement, plaguing his mother’s life out.
In 1935, the family moved into a new house in Toronto Maud dubbed “Journey’s End.” Initially, she was optimistic, fixing up her home and joining the Victoria-Royce Presbyterian Church, but things went downhill, with Maud herself buckling under the heaviness of her high-stress home life, not to mention she and Ewan were both taking rounds of sedatives, barbiturates, and bromides. People have speculated that the drugs were poisoning them, and it can’t have helped that there was a stigma around mental illness then, which no doubt added to Maud’s stress.
It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Maud’s personal troubles were reflected in the Silver Bush novels. In Pat of Silver Bush there’s a sense of stability that Maud was clearly lacking at that time in her life, and it feels as if she’s clawing at sanity and serenity that are just out of reach.
The funny thing about Mistress Pat is that the “First Year” chapter is longer than any other chapter in the book, but after that it feels like what the Victorians called “devolution.” Not to ruin anything, but the main point of the book is that everything tying Pat to Silver Bush is gradually stripped away, basically forcing her to seek a new life. Again, like Anne before her, the resolution to Pat’s love story is a long time coming, but there’s a moroseness to the later chapters of the book that’s hard to shake. Montgomery mercifully keeps these parts brief, but as the saying goes, it’s always darkest just before dawn.
Unfortunately for Maud, she sank into a deeper depression, although she managed to release two more Anne books, as well as Jane of Lantern Hill. She died on April 24, 1942, and a scrap of paper was found at her bedside which 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 in spite of many mistakes.”
While Maud’s son, Stuart, and others, believed Maud committed suicide, still others surmise that the note was torn from a journal of Maud’s, possibly by Chester, and that Maud’s body simply gave out due to over-medication and the poor quality of medicines at the time. I’m inclined to go with the latter theory, because addiction is a relatively new field of study.
I have to wonder if the Silver Bush novels were cathartic for Maud, who always longed for a stable home life. It must have been comforting to remember the happy times she shared with her family at the real Silver Bush while her present life was falling apart, and she knew she was letting us, the readers in on the fun. In a way, via that unspoken connection, she got what she wanted.
For more of the wonderful Maud, please pay Rachel a visit at Hamlette’s Soliloquy. Thank you so much for hosting this, Rachel–it was awesome. I hope it becomes a yearly thing. Thanks for reading, all, and I hope to see you all tomorrow for a new “During World War Two…”
Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat are available to own from Amazon, either individually or as a set.
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Bruce, Harry. Maud: The Life of L.M. Montgomery. New York: Seal Bantam Books, 1994.
One thought on “East Or West, Home Is Best”
I still haven’t read these books, but I have copies on my TBR shelves! Thanks for showing how they are tied to Maud’s life — it’s always fascinating how an author’s life and fiction can be tied up together.
I always feel very sorry for Maud and how joyless her life was in general — yet she provided so much joy for countless others through her writing!