Are L. M. Montgomery’s heroines your kindred spirits? Here’s what every woman today–who’s old-fashioned at heart–can do to be more like them. Because if you love Anne and Emily and Rilla and Pat, you’re in good company here.
I recently met a fictional heroine whom I didn’t like, and respected even less.
We all assume character development will happen over the course of a novel…however, I believe you have to be able to root for that character from the start. I couldn’t, so I shut the book and left her to her fate.
I find that I’m increasingly drawn to an old-fashioned kind of heroine, the kind who’s becoming a rarity in today’s pop fiction populated with bad decisions and muddled priorities. The literary heroines I love the best are the ones who have self respect, who know how to treat others properly and what kind of treatment they deserve in return.
The kind of heroine you meet, say, in an L. M. Montgomery novel.
Over the past few years, I’ve renewed my friendships with Montgomery’s heroines, and for the first time met a few whom I didn’t know growing up. I became a mom and read about Anne Shirley’s entrance into motherhood. I started keeping my own home and read about Pat Gardiner and her abiding love for Silver Bush. The well-spent hours I’ve invested in these novels have confirmed it: Montgomery’s heroines are the kind of company I want to keep.
A good literary heroine is one worth emulating, and for all of their realistic faults Montgomery’s heroines continue to inspire me long after I’ve finished the novels they inhabit. Sometimes I daydream about having my own farm on Prince Edward Island, but I think what I ultimately wish for is a “Green Gables life” right here where I am now.
To have a Green Gables life in the 21st century, you have to have a worldview that aligns in many ways with Anne’s–or L. M. Montgomery’s. And you have to be the sort of timeless heroine that could be found in either time or place. You could exist in Prince Edward Island in the early 1900s, or now, in your own corner of the world.
What does this kind of heroine look like, and how do you become one? Here are my thoughts…
10 Ways to Be Like a Montgomery Heroine
1. Tune your heart to recognize beauty
For the Josie Pyes or May Binnies of this world, life on a Prince Edward Island farm holds no magic. But for the stories’ heroines, a simple farm and a small island are, to quote Jane of Lantern Hill, their “spirit’s home.” Anne and Emily and Pat and Jane find beauty in commonplace chores like roasting potatoes or churning cream. They’re acquainted with small manifestations of beauty, like spring’s earliest flowers, and with large–like the constellations. For them everything seems enchanted–or can be–and they don’t lose that sense of wonder even when they grow up.
Do you find beauty in the familiar place you live, in the ordinary things you do? If you don’t, that’s a virtue you can cultivate. Learn all you can about the natural world, especially in your region. Notice the simple pleasures in your daily life, and never take what you have for granted. Open your senses to more fully experience the tasks you do each day.
(For more ideas on surrounding yourself with beauty, see #4 on this list.)
2. Learn how to be alone
Montgomery’s heroines understand the beauty of solitude in a way that’s foreign to women in our hyper-connected, scheduled lives. Usually, nature is where they go for alone time. When Anne returns from Lover’s Lane or Pat from a ramble in the Secret Field, they feel rejuvenated, content, clear-headed. This is a much deeper form of self care than the shallow “treat yo self” prescriptions of our contemporary self care movement.
If you’re a Montgomery heroine you’ll welcome solitude, whether it’s during those times that you’re learning to navigate loneliness (like all of Montgomery’s heroines do), or you’re simply taking a step back to soak in a full and beautiful life.
3. Invest yourself in your home
Nature is one of the recurring romances in Montgomery’s novels; home is another. The heroines fall in love with their homes long before they fall in love with their men. Modern readers may find the strong currents of domesticity to be at odds with Montgomery’s more feminist themes, but I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive at all. Investing in your home helps you establish yourself and know yourself better. It gives Montgomery’s heroines a sense of rootedness, pride, and confidence that establishes them in their community and helps them contribute to it.
Be mistress of your kingdom, whether it’s just one room in a shared apartment or your very own many-roomed Ingleside.
4. Practice hospitality
Hospitality is a trait that’s sorely lacking in today’s fictional heroines, and it’s not a theme many contemporary novels explore. But I can’t imagine a Montgomery novel without it!
Throughout her novels, you see people opening their homes and firesides, whether it’s for chummy drop-in guests, unwelcome guests, or guests attending lavish parties in the Silver Bush tradition.
Many contemporary heroines don’t practice hospitality because they don’t operate out of a home base or a strong sense of home. Their lifestyles reflect our own mobile culture. Roots are temporary as the heroine focuses on her career–or wanders the globe in search of herself.
Instead, you can be a Montgomery heroine by fostering real-life community with the people around you. This can take many forms and doesn’t have to be a sit-down dinner party! It can be as simple as keeping baked goodies on hand so you can invite a friend over for spontaneous tea.
5. Find a friend you can love like a sister
One thing that draws many of us fans to Montgomery’s novels are her keen portrayals of friendship–especially female friendship. Except for Kilmeny, all of Montgomery’s major heroines are blessed with rich female friendships. These friendships may seem merely serendipitous, but in fact they would’ve been dead ends if the women hadn’t cultivated them. They do this by setting aside their own (or their relatives’) biases, embracing vulnerability, and always offering forgiveness after quarrels.
Any woman today knows that these are critical traits in a flourishing friendship, but we tend to forget that deep friendships require quality time! Don’t let the tyranny of the urgent keep you from tending your friendships. Be like a Montgomery heroine and spend lots of time in each other’s company, and have real conversations on the phone or by letter if you live far away.
Also, don’t forget that sometimes the friend you love like a sister is your sister! And age doesn’t have to be a barrier there: see Pat and Rae!
Related: For a look at other favourite literary friendships, read this post.
6. Be open to friendships outside your peers
Unlike many of the girls and boys around them, the heroines of Montgomery’s novels are willing to form friendships with people who are vastly different in wealth, age, or religion. These relationships are mutually enriching and prove something else about the heroines: they possess an open-mindedness and compassion that are classic heroine traits, regardless of time or place.
Cherish the value in unlikely friendships. Don’t close off your circle and be unwilling to bring new people in.
7. Be industrious
No one can accuse Montgomery’s heroines of not taking time for leisure. They read, build forts, take long walks, and go to concerts and parties. But they also work with a will, whether that means preparing for an exam or spring cleaning the house from top to bottom. Even an easily-distracted heroine like Anne learns to buckle down when she studies for Queens Academy!
With so many demands that vie for our attention these days, it’s easy to feel like we’re being productive if we’re being busy. But these two aren’t the same thing. Find ways to declutter your schedule, and redeem your time by being industrious at the things that matter most.
8. Know yourself
I think many authors today don’t give their heroines enough self knowledge or self respect. Although we first meet most of the Prince Edward Island heroines when they’re very young, these strengths have already taken root, and continue to develop throughout their histories. They’re confident in what they like and don’t like, and they know the kind of respect they deserve from others.
Pay attention to how you tick, and you’ll find life a little easier to navigate, even in adversity.
9. Let go of your pride
Pride is a mixed trait for Montgomery heroines, just as it is in real life. On the one hand, Emily’s pride in “New Moon traditions” and Pat’s in the Gardiner family name are inspiring and admirable. But pride also cuts them off from blessing–and personal growth. Anne’s pride won’t allow her to be teased about her looks or accept Gilbert’s friendship. Emily endures years of heartache and misunderstanding. Pat’s pride jeopardizes relationships and prevents her from ever accepting her sister-in-law as a sister.
Pride gives us all blindspots, and oftentimes softening our hearts isn’t something we can do at will. But when you feel the twinge that something isn’t as it should be–that your pride could be the barrier–do something about it. Anne, Emily, and Pat let these opportunities slide by, only to find they must face the consequences in the end. Learn from them.
10. Step up to the plate
And finally, if you want to be a heroine, you have to choose to act like one. Life on P.E.I may look like a storybook, but it’s really pretty ordinary. People laugh and quarrel and grieve and gossip…and life goes on, even when the world is changing. That’s how it is today, too, and sometimes it doesn’t feel like we’re doing anything very special.
But there’s always a need for bravery in ordinary circumstances. Emily makes the quiet, misunderstood choice to stay at New Moon rather than chasing fame in New York. Self-absorbed Rilla becomes a bulwark for her family when the war rages abroad. Many times, each heroine in small ways embraces duty and kindness and self sacrifice. They may not see themselves as the glamorous protagonists in the novels they love, yet they are the strong women we love reading about today.
And we can follow in their footsteps.
What do you love about Montgomery’s heroines? What are some of their shared traits that you admire?