Montgomery Collection
Draws World Scholars

All serious Montgomery scholars end up in Guelph at one point or another, and they find the journey is worth their while

By Rachelle Cooper

Over the years, retired English professor Mary Rubio, left, has hosted many international scholars such as Yuko Izawa, who has travelled from Japan six times to use U of G's renowned L.M. Montgomery Collection.
Photo by Rachelle Cooper

For people who live in Guelph, paying a visit to the world's best collection of Lucy Maud Montgomery's work and artifacts is just a matter of dropping by the U of G Library. For Japanese scholar Yuko Izawa, however, it takes a bit more effort. The English professor from Miyagi Gayuin Women's University just made her sixth 20,743-kilometre round-trip visit from Sendai City, Japan, to Guelph to spend eight hours a day copying by hand pages and pages of Montgomery's words in the McLaughlin Library archives.

The fact that copyright laws prohibit her from photocopying more than 10 per cent of Montgomery's unpublished journals is actually a blessing in Izawa's mind.

"For me, it's interesting to copy Montgomery's journals because as I write her words, it makes me feel as if I can follow her feelings." She then uses other material from the L.M. Montgomery Collection to put the author's words into a larger context.

Izawa is only one of many scholars who have travelled a long distance to use the collection. Lorne Bruce, head of the library's archival and special collections, says he's recently shown the collection to people from Sweden, Scotland, the United States and Germany.

The journey is worth their while because Anne of Green Gables fans and academics are able to see 120 boxes that contain Montgomery's original journals, scrapbooks, photographs, needlework pieces, papers and personal library. Montgomery's son Stuart Macdonald sold the journals and scrapbooks to U of G in 1981 shortly before his death.

The collection also contains first editions of Montgomery publications, more than 1,200 photographs taken by and of the celebrated author, the original manuscript of Rilla Ingleside, her will and financial records and even a lock of her father's hair at age 16.

It was during Izawa's first visit to Canada in 1997 that she met U of G English professor Mary Rubio, who is known widely among Montgomery scholars for her research and publications and is co-editor of The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery with University professor emerita Elizabeth Waterston. In each of Izawa's subsequent visits to Guelph, she has stayed in Rubio's home. After long days in the Montgomery archives, Izawa says she's grateful to be able to discuss her thoughts and work with Rubio, who recently retired from the University. "I've gotten so much advice and information from Mary," she says.

Over the past decade, Rubio has hosted Montgomery scholars and graduate students from Japan, Israel, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Scotland, China, India and the United States, sometimes opening her home to them to help cut down on their research costs.

"There are benefits to me," she says. "I have learned a great deal from them about their country and culture and where they have trouble understanding our culture, particularly the Scottish Presbyterian culture that Montgomery lived in at the turn of the century."

Rubio has done no translation herself, but she's gained a great appreciation for how hard it is by talking with translators. "They have to understand an entire cultural context to know what word to choose in their language," she says.

Ever since Izawa got hooked on Anne of Green Gables as a schoolgirl, she was aware the translated Japanese versions of the book were incomplete.

"I read the translated version of Anne as a child, then when I was at secondary school, I found a pocketbook version that was not abridged. When I first read the book, I didn't realize something was cut short."

Knowing that a translator could omit sections of the book and provide only one interpretation of the text is partly what led Izawa to seek out Montgomery's original words.

"There were many mistakes in the Japanese translation of Montgomery's journals. I started to study English because I wanted to be a translator."

Her quest to read Montgomery's own words led Izawa first to the setting of the author's books. She took the tour of the Anne of Green Gables house on Prince Edward Island and visited the University of Prince Edward Island collection. But U of G is where she has conducted most of her research simply because it has the most complete and rarest collection.

"All serious Montgomery scholars end up in Guelph at one point or another," says Bruce.

Izawa is translating sections of Montgomery's journals and writing papers on the context surrounding the translated sections. She has assembled a team of Japanese scholars from other universities to work with her on the materials from Guelph.

"Yuko is taking an entirely scholarly approach when she translates and interprets significant parts of the later journals," says Rubio. "Her work treats Montgomery seriously as both a women's and a children's writer."

She and Izawa explain that even though Montgomery is popular in Japan, male scholars don't consider her novels or journals to be important. "It's a challenge in Japan to be taken seriously for my research because women's literature is still not accepted in the academic community," says Izawa.

Adds Rubio: "The care with which Yuko's team members approach their work will slowly influence the opinion of male professors in Japan."

She notes that she and Waterston encountered similar challenges early in their careers.

"When we started working, Montgomery wasn't taken seriously. She was a woman and she was popular, both strikes against her and other women writers who had a large cultural impact. It was the publication of the journals and the recognition that she was an extremely well-read, intelligent and articulate woman that led to her finally being accepted into the Canadian literary canon."

Rubio believes she and Izawa have approached their work in similar ways.

"I don't think either of us or our colleagues set out to change things. We just began to work on something we thought was important, and the final impact has been that the attitude toward it has changed. There's been an enormous amount of recovery of women's writers in the last 30 years in the western world. It's coming a little later to Japan, which is a very patriarchal culture, but it's definitely coming there, and Montgomery scholars are helping the process."

The U of G collection is allowing people from around the world to gain full appreciation of the scope of Montgomery's writing, adds Rubio.

"The number of scholars from other countries coming here to study Montgomery shows she's had a worldwide influence and impact. When they work on her, especially with us, there is cross-cultural learning both ways."

And as a result, the Montgomery collection continues to grow larger and stronger, says Bruce. "We get copies of Izawa's published work for the archives, so it's mutually beneficial."

Izawa and other Japanese scholars have donated many Montgomery items from their country to the archives, ranging from books and scholarly articles to Japanese comic strip versions of Anne's adventures, copies of media productions, and cultural artifacts representing various characters from the novels.

The U of G collection will grow even larger in 2004 with the publication of a biography of L.M. Montgomery by Rubio and the fifth and final volume of The Selected Journals.