Chapter XII – The Tansy Patch
Trinna S. Frever
When the L.M. Montgomery Institute first sent out the call for the Emily of New Moon read-along, I knew exactly which chapter I wanted: “The Tansy Patch.”
Truth be told, I'd completely forgotten that this is the chapter where Emily visits Teddy for the first time, as well as the chapter where Emily and Ilse have their first fight. Not that I mind. I find Montgomery's fiction a little conflict avoidant as a rule (I wrote an essay to that effect for the seventh Montgomery Institute conference), so a bit of arguing appeals to me. Though I was rather shocked at rereading some of the sentiments expressed! If I had kids, we'd be having a good long talk about the dos and don'ts of fighting fair after this chapter.
Nor do I mind the visit to Teddy, since I am staunchly Team Teddy, as opposed to Team Dean Priest or Team Perry, when it comes to Emily. Sometimes I'm a bit Team Emily-Should-Stay-Single, but that's a talk for another time.
What appeals to me most about the Tansy Patch chapter is that Emily writes. I'm a fan of the female Künstlerroman —the story of an artist's development as an artist— and to me, this is where the Emily series shines. Emily is Montgomery's consummate writer heroine. In the Tansy Patch chapter, we see and hear Emily's writerly voice rising off the page.
That's heaven to me. (And if Sam Cooke is singing a refrain in your head right now, all the better).
There are a few things that particularly appeal to me about Montgomery's depiction of Emily's writerliness. One of them is that Montgomery intimately connects writerliness and readerliness. As I observe in an essay that's under consideration for the Journal for L.M. Montgomery Studies, Emily's discussions of reading and writing flow back and forth seamlessly, like the ebb and flow of an ocean tide. Emily is simultaneously a reader and a writer when she acts as a reviewer of Little Red Riding Hood ("the wolf was the most intresting caracter in it"). She declares herself both reader and prospective writer when she describes Mrs. Kent as "very like some people you read of in books."
And she partakes of the editorial process when she questions her own word choices, based on previous criticism ("I must not use the same word too often but I can't think of any other that deskribes my feelings so well"). The Tansy Patch chapter gives us interconnected readerly intertexts and writerly reflections that may appeal to our own intersecting roles as readers, writers, editors, discussers of books, and even Bookstagrammers. In my case, it works. Emily calls out to my bookish self in each and all of these ways.
Moreover, Montgomery gets tricksy with narration here, and I love it. That is, I consider the Emily books third person limited narrations, because they're told from outside the story, but by a narrator that mostly follows Emily through the book and aligns with her mentally and emotionally. But Montgomery finds all kinds of twisty turny ways of getting around that third person narration, just as J.K. Rowling does in the Harry Potter books. For Montgomery, the main work-around is that she lets several of the book's characters talk and write for themselves, sometimes for pages and pages, even from the midst of a third person narration. In my dissertation, The Woman Writer and the Spoken Word, I refer to this as the use of an "inset narrator," and it's a frequent strategy of writers who are influenced by oral storytelling.
Here, we hear.
Though Emily is ostensibly writing to her father, we hear Emily as though she were speaking to us, and as though she were narrating the story itself. We get the sense of her as a young writer through her use of inventive phonetic spellings like "fassinating" and "caracter," but the phonetics also give us a sense of sound. We hear her voice...or voices. As I state in my forthcoming essay, Emily is more than one kind of writer in this chapter. She's writing a letter to her father. She's a reviewer of books she's read. She's discussing herself as a creative writer and sharing her own poems. But she's also a guest-narrator of Emily of New Moon, in her own voice, standing in for Montgomery herself. All of these writerlinesses collide and coalesce in the Tansy Patch chapter, and it's a joy to read.
Hmmm. There are so many ideas I'd like to discuss further. Emily and Harry Potter? Montgomery and inset narration? I feel some essays coming on.
To the keyboard! With the L.M. Montgomery 2020 conference not too far off, we'd all better get to writing.
Just like Emily does.
“Out the Open Window: Avoidance as Conflict Resolution in L.M. Montgomery’s Short Fiction.” Storm and Dissonance: L.M. Montgomery and Conflict. Ed. Jean Mitchell. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2008. 247 – 262.
"Seeing Female Readers, Reading Female Readers, Making Meta-Readers: Montgomery as Depictor and Creator of Scholars." Under review for the Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies.
The Woman Writer and the Spoken Word: Gender, Print, Orality, and Selected Turn-of-the-Century American Women’s Literature. Doctoral Dissertation. Michigan State University, E. Lansing, MI. 1998.
Trinna S. Frever was a tenured professor of English when she "pulled a Weasley" and left to write full time. She's now a fiction writer, independent scholar, international public speaker, sometime Bookstagrammer, and friend to animals (except alligators). Dr. Frever has presented at nearly forty international conferences and lives in Florida. You can follow her on Instagram or her website, www.trinnafrever.com. Dr. Frever is represented by Linda Epstein of Emerald City Literary for her children's fiction and you can find her SCBWI profile here.