Servants, Middies & Poor Country Girls
One day, Anne and her friend Priscilla Grant spend their afternoon deciphering the epitaphs on the weathered gravestones here in the Old Burying Ground. Some of the names they mention are Albert Crawford and Alexander Ross. See if you can find their tombstones on your next visit or try your luck virtually in the Old Burying Ground Graves Database.
Anne and her friends highlight a bottom-up history of the Old Burying Ground by pointing out the tombstones of someone’s “favourite child,” a servant, and a “middy” (or midshipman), a junior-ranking naval officer. Montgomery emphasizes many of the tombstones’ modesty—most are “roughly chiselled brown or gray native stone.” This emphasis on earlier, modest Haligionians connects to Anne’s own humble background as a “poor” “country girl,” moving to the city and going to university, despite financial constraints and social pressure. Earlier that day at university registration, Anne felt “insignificant” and dramatically states, I “knew I would go down to my grave unwept, unhonored and unsung.”
From her personal experience, Montgomery was particularly aware of the barriers to women’s post-secondary education. She had to scrimp and save to attend Dalhousie College, and could only afford one year, not the full four-year degree she longed for. She also had to go against opinions at home in rural Cavendish, Prince Edward Island—as she wrote in her journal, her grandparents, also her guardians, were “so bitterly against [her higher education] that I was getting discouraged” (August 9, 1892).
Anne follows Montgomery’s own steps to Dalhousie (or as it’s called in the novels, Redmond College). Anne, as the first woman from her rural hometown of Avonlea to go to university, repeatedly second guesses herself during this pioneering endeavour. After all, at the turn of the twentieth century, small-town Canadian women are supposed to get married, not go to university. Avonlea matrons, including Mrs Rachel Lynde, make this clear to Anne. Ultimately, Montgomery gets to live vicariously through Anne, who finishes a full degree, while enjoying a full social life.
Montgomery, by reimagining her own university experiences in Anne’s fictional ones, creates a novel that honours the experiences of the first generations of women, working-class, and rural post-secondary students in Canada. As you’ll see by exploring these literary landmarks, green spaces in this novel—initially the Old Burying Ground, later the garden of Anne’s rented house, and then Point Pleasant Park—are central to her academic success, supporting her all-round physical, intellectual, and emotional well-being.
When Anne leaves the Old Burying Ground on the day she and Priscilla go exploring, our heroine highlights the connection between herself and the young “middy.” Anne honours him by dropping her corsage of flowers on his gravel; he, like Anne herself, does not go to his grave unhonoured. Montgomery is turning our attention to the Halifax stories that are not always told or known, including those of the ordinary sailors, students, and new arrivals to the city.
Montgomery, L. M. Anne of of the Island. Boston: L.C. Page, 1915.
___. The Complete Journals of L.M. Montgomery: The PEI Years, 1889–1900. Edited by Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston. Don Mills, ON: Oxford UP, 2012.
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