“OLD LADY LLOYD”: An L.M. Montgomery story
Since reading Jonathan Poletti’s speculation about Lucy Maude Montgomery, author of “Anne of Green Gables”, proposing that her happiness came from same sex relationships of her times that we might now call “lesbian,” I have been thinking about a companion series, “Avonlea Chronicles”.
In particular one story stuck with me: “Old Lady Lloyd” about an impoverished but proud old woman who lost the love of her life in a quarrel but late in life found the daughter of that man, a fellow named “Leslie.” Somehow the daughter was just like the man and gifted with a fine voice. The Old Lady spies on her, secretly leaving gifts, and acts like what we would now call a “stalker.” In the end the connection to the old love is recognized and saves the Old Lady’s life.
A continued theme is the wardrobe of silk dresses the Old Lady’s mother had worn. I remembered them as being re-worked into appropriate clothes, but in the story — which I just reread — she sells a valuable jug to pay for the girl’s white muslin dress. When I was little and digging in the dress-ups box, I was semi-consciously looking for an old silk dress from an earlier time. When I was grown and the costumer for a summer repertory theatre, I had rows and rows of old silk dresses, gifted by wealthy people in the Thirties and never usable for the plays we mounted.
In my own impoverished squeakers, I have thought of Old Lady Lloyd who survived on pride. As an animal control officer I once answered the complaint of an impoverished Old Lady who had been bitten by a stray cat. She said that her meals were often only crackers and that the cat bite made her throw up such a meal, robbing her of calories she needed. Her house was dark, her furniture was covered by sheets, and she was bitterly proud. I never did catch that cat but it wasn’t rabid — just mean and defensive.
Several times situations have developed in which I had a young female friend I tried to help. The most obvious was Bob’s granddaughter whose mother died young. She was failing high school so I took on the task of chasing her down to get homework done. When she graduated, she wanted to be closer, even to live with me, but I dodged her, feeling my job was done.
Once when I joined a conservation group, imagining it be a sort of new family, one of the men’s daughters was starting college. On her birthday I imagined her being alone and homesick so I took her a birthday cake. She was baffled and so were her chums, a tight group of youngsters who did not want an old lady bringing cakes when they preferred pizza.
But the jackpot was my deceased brother’s daughter, now over forty with a family and business, dynamic and spirited. By now the pattern was conscious and certainly approved by the culture. But recognizing this submerged plot-let that I carry, I’m thinking about the relationship between intimate relationships between same sex people whose love seems very much like parenting, attempts at nurturing that find an outlet in a needy person. This seems to have been a story in Lucy Maude’s life. The cuddling, the praise, the efforts to support success and provide comforts — this seems very much like lesbian relationships and even some heterosexual relationships that aren’t based on violence and drama.
Bob Scriver’s mother’s cousin spent a summer in Clarenceville, Quebec, in the large farm home of the MacFie’s. She wrote up a memoir of this idyllic time and a relative sent it to me. Colonel MacFie’s wife was bedridden that summer. They had a household helper in that semi-family way of the time, but “Wessie” (Ellison Westgarth Macfie Scriver) and her cousin took on the family laundry, an arduous all-day affair in those days that included ironing. But their real joy was singing together. It could have been a Montgomery story.
Edwardian love stories are generally family oriented one way or another. To remain unmarried meant becoming a servant one way or another, maybe in an occupation like teaching or nursing. It seems that Montgomery accepted a crippling marriage to a perpetually depressed pastor so as to produce two boys. We don’t hear much about them.
In a world like now when fertility is decreasing, there is less need for fertile couples, but since so many nest-families are broken or never formed, the need for child shelters is higher. Singletons can do the job but couples based on shelter and encouragement may be more stable than the traditional romance of infatuation taken to be divinely ordained.
Not so far in the past the suggestion was made that people be offered certification as qualified parents — not so much like a license to marry as like a Good Housekeeping type designation after scrutiny. Not that it wouldn’t be a good idea for simple marriage as well. But fertility is still considered a justification and trigger for the legal responsibility of both marriage and parenthood, esp. since we can now identify the fathers genetically, even if they were simply grey cats on a dark night.
Lucy Maude Montgomery’s life was miserable though once her books were a hit, she was no longer in poverty. She continued lifelong to yearn for “true love.” The early marks of emotional deprivation persisted until she finally died of suspected suicide. What would have saved her? Not children — she had two sons. Not therapy in a small room with a younger person who purported to know a magic system. Not religion — she was already married to a Presbyterian minister, which was once my mother’s expressed wish for me in preference to the UU ministry. Such in-built tenacious despair is very stubborn. Maybe organic and permanent. But it’s nearly unbearable to believe that.
Maybe the Transcendentalists, who pulled me to safety, would have helped Lucy Maude, but it wasn’t that big a help to Louisa May Alcott who was trapped in much the same squirrel cage of writing up-beat versions of a cramped and risky life. Maybe Louisa May’s mother, who based her life on helping others, had found an answer but she never wrote any books. She did seem to be more like “Marmee” than not.
There is a theory that literary achievement comes out of social pain and that’s interesting, esp. when one looks at the community/individual tension which sells a lot of books but doesn’t protect the authors from their inner dilemmas. People use books as a pattern for their lives even though that pattern is socially disapproved or even criminal. The unconscious picks up stories from reading and movies, but you don’t know it’s happening unless you look at behavior. If you’re lucky, it makes you laugh.