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Friendship, like natural beauty and books, was one of the joys of L.M. Montgomery’s life. Fictional friendships like Anne and Diana’s, Pat and Bess’s, Emily and Ilse’s grew out of real-life friendships with her cousin Penzie, childhood friends Nate Lockhart, Will and Laura Pritchard, and later, her cousin Frede Campbell. In the winter of 1903, as she tried to navigate her aging grandmother’s stormy moods, family troubles, loneliness, and uncertainty, one friendship warmed the icy days. She had Nora.
Montgomery wrote about that winter in April 1903: “dark moods,” frustrations with her grandmother’s rigid rules, and anger over the injustice of her Uncle John and his sons (who had inherited the house they lived in and wanted her grandmother to move out so her cousin Prescott could have it) (Selected Journals I 286-87). But Nora LeFurgey, who was teaching school in Cavendish that year, became her roommate and companion in January.
Nora was “a positive God-send” when Montgomery met her in the fall of 1902 (Selected Journals I 283). Her intelligence, love for literature, and sense of humor suited Montgomery “exactly” (283). As Mary Henley Rubio puts it, “Nora possessed a strong and irrepressibly positive life force, and she energized those around her – just what Maud needed” (Gift of Wings 111).
In the pages of her journal, where she recorded her tears and dreams, Montgomery slipped a different diary, one that she and Nora wrote together, one “of the burlesque order” (Selected Journals I 287). She said “we set out to make it just as laughable as possible. I think we have succeeded.” This diary is full of laughter, teasing accusations (“I didn’t take your yellow garter!”), details of their social lives and the souvenirs they “scrounged” from them, and mocking each other about young men. Jennifer H. Litster has an entire chapter on this co-diary in The Intimate Life of L.M. Montgomery.
Nora was a candle in that long, dark winter – part of what I think was a winter period in Montgomery’s life, 13 years in which she was single and lived with her grandmother. A few years later, Nora married Edmund Ernest Campbell in 1911, left the Island, and didn’t see Montgomery for 24 years.
And then they met again, in September 1928.
They had both suffered. Montgomery was anguished by the destruction of World War I, the death of her best friend, Frede, and a madness that convinced her husband he was “damned to hell.” Nora lost one son at birth and a daughter to polio. In 1929, she lost a third son to a canoeing accident and had only one, Ebbie, left. But the Nora we meet in the pages of Montgomery’s journal reacted to her hardships differently than Montgomery. Rubio calls her “unfailingly upbeat” and “as vital a life-force as ever” (382). Montgomery said that the “relief” of having a friend like Nora was “tremendous . . . I feel as if I had been smothered and were now drinking in great gulps of clear gay mountain air” (Selected Journals III 378).
Mary Beth Cavert researched “voices” or people described in Montgomery’s diaries, including Nora’s. Through interviews with Nora’s family, she found that Nora never complained about her sufferings, but “most often assumed the position of adviser and was a tower of strength in times of trouble” (114).
After her sufferings, Nora still had a spirit of hearthfire joy, the ability to laugh and listen to her friend’s troubles. She never showed envy or intimidation at L.M. Montgomery’s successful writing career (she had been world famous since 1908) even though Nora herself wrote a novel she was never able to publish (Cavert 107).
In middle age, they had times of fun and laughter as sweet as when they were single young adults together. In 1933, when Nora came for a visit, Montgomery wrote to her literary correspondent G.B. MacMillian: “Every night we went on a voyage to some magic shore beyond the world’s rim.” After supper, they walked miles under a “harvest moon” as “every particle of our middle aged care and worry seemed to be wiped out of our minds and souls as if by magic.” They walked in silence or talked, discussing “every subject on earth…When we had exhausted earth we adventured the heavens, to the remotest secrets of ‘island universes.’” They had adventures that left them “drunken with laughter.” (My Dear Mr. M 164-66)
Radiance of joy…when I read about Nora in Rubio’s The Gift of Wings, she became one of my heroes. She isn’t famous for a public legacy of writing books or political success. But she weathered pain and loss and disappointment without letting them drown her.
I have had friends like Nora. In high school, a girl in my class and I and shared fantasy books and laughter at field hockey practices. At summer camp, a girl with sunshine in her soul helped me remain cheerful even when we hauled heavy cots up the steep hills on hot days. In college, one of my friends and I didn’t like dancing, so we would dress up for the galas, attend just long enough to collect plates of brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and cheesecake bites, and then smuggle them back to our dorm to watch TV.
A friend who has that kind of joyful strength, an inextinguishable light, is rare. I hope I can tell stories that people enjoy as much as they enjoy Montgomery’s. But as an individual and a friend, I want a spirit like Nora’s, a fire that never dies out.
Cavert, Mary Beth. “Nora, Maud, and Isobel: Summon Voices in Diaries and Memories.” The Intimate Life of L.M. Montgomery, edited by Irene Gammel, University of Toronto Press, 2005, pp. 88-105.
Litster, Jennifer H. “The ‘Secret’ Diary of Maud Montgomery, Aged 28 1/4.” The Intimate Life of L.M. Montgomery, edited by Irene Gammel, University of Toronto Press, 2005, pp. 106-126.
Montgomery, L.M. My Dear Mr. M: Letters to G.B. MacMillan from L.M. Montgomery. Edited by Francis W.P. Bolger and Elizabeth Epperly, Oxford UP, 1992.
—. The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery: Volume I: 1910-1921. Edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston, Oxford UP, 1985.
—. The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery: Volume II: 1910-1921. Edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston, Oxford UP, 1987.
Rubio, Mary Henley. Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings. Anchor Canada, 2010.