As girls, we were both great fans of the Anne of Green Gables series. Though we grew up in different towns on opposite sides of the Pennines, L.M. Montgomery’s fictional Canadian community of Avonlea was a haven we each knew well.
It was after we began Something Rhymed at the start of this year that we began to look back on those books. We remembered feisty Anne’s longing for a ‘kindred spirit’ and ‘bosom friend’, and wondered whether there was a real-life Diana Barry in her creator’s life.
We have one of this blog’s readers, Sarah Emsley, to thank for putting us on to this particular friend. Knowing of her interest in all things Montgomery, we asked Sarah if she had any ideas. She was kind enough to come up with a couple of possibilities, although it was Lefurgey that really captured our interest.
She and Montgomery became pals in 1902, when Lefurgey was a young schoolteacher working in Cavendish, on Prince Edward Island, where Montgomery had spent most of her childhood and recently returned to care for her grandmother.
This was still some time before the publication of the novel that would catapult her to stardom, but her short stories were being regularly published by then and her literary earnings were beginning to grow.
Unlike Maud – as she was called by those who knew her – Lefurgey was not a professional writer. But she did produce an unpublished novel, belong to a writers’ club, and, like her new friend, keep a journal throughout her life. Most thrillingly for us, over a five-month period, when she’d left her previous lodgings to board with Montgomery and her grandmother, the two women kept a collaborative diary.
Whereas Montgomery’s personal journal entries of that time were often melancholic in tone, a very different side of her emerges in her lighthearted published writings of the era, and another side again in this joint-diary.
Here, she and Lefurgey indulge in tales of flirting with young men, and exaggerated neighbourhood gossip. They often use their separate entries to tease each other, seemingly in anticipation of how the other will react when she takes up the story. They decorated the book’s cover with interlocking hearts, perhaps a reference to their shared closeness or to the giddiness of the heightened romantic contents within.
A more naturally gregarious personality than Montgomery, Lefurgey seems to have filled a void in the life of an author who’d experienced a sometimes lonely childhood living under the strict care of her grandparents.
Her early impressions were that Lefurgey was ‘a positive godsend’. Although they were forced to part when Lefurgey left Prince Edward Island to be married, she re-emerged in Montgomery’s life twenty-four years later, and soon established herself as the main confidante of a woman who was by then one of Canada’s best-loved authors.
In their diary entries, L.M. Montgomery and Nora Lefurgey often reported on the same incidents from their differing points of view. This month, we’ll recall a day spent together and each write it up in our own style.