Chapter 9: A Special Providence
By, Heather Ladd
Chapter 9 could have been titled “Emily’s Epiphany” for what the young heroine identifies in a touching, ill-spelled letter to her late father as “a great diskoverry [sic]” (119). She pens this self-realization— “I can write poetry” (119)—when her Aunt Laura gives her a “precious booty” of discarded paper, her grandfather’s old “letter-bills” (112). Later, her Uncle Jimmy provides her with the blank notebooks (“Jimmy-books”) that she steadily fills throughout her childhood and youth. In possession of the ability, confidence, and materials to write, Emily “began to write feverishly” (113).
In this chapter, the narrator light-heartedly refers to Emily’s “destiny” (111) as a scribbler. Writing—so necessary to her mental well-being as a sensitive, imaginative, often love-starved orphan—becomes central to Emily’s identity, for, as Elizabeth Epperly astutely notes, “Like Anne Shirley, Emily imagines herself a heroine, but Emily’s heroism is tied to her identity as a writer” (151).
Emily’s scribbling—often catalyzed by “the flash”—a rapturous awareness of the world’s beauty and fascination—is closely connected to her voracious reading, as it was with Montgomery herself. Chapter 9 is as much about “Emily, the reader” as it is about “Emily, the writer” and indeed “throughout Emily of New Moon, Emily is tasting words and testing ideas; she is groping towards a sense of self and an understanding of her gift to see and her desire to tell” (Epperly 150).
Like other episodes in this novel, recognized by scholars as more autobiographical than Anne of Green Gables, Emily’s moment of artistic self-realization has its origins in the author’s journals. Both Emily and Montgomery read The Seasons (1730), a book-length poem by Scottish writer James Thomson. After reading this extremely popular eighteenth-century work, “a little curly black-covered book in Aunt Elizabeth’s bookcase” (119), Emily is inspired to write her own seasonal poem. Emily’s fledgling poem begins with:
Now Autumn comes ripe with the peech [sic] and pear,
The sportsman’s horn is heard throughout the land,
And the poor partridge fluttering falls dead. (119)
Emily is excited and proud (a version of the famous “Murray Pride”?) of her newfound talent, but soon discovers that others are not necessarily so impressed by her creations. After she runs to Aunt Laura with her poem, composed in blank verse (unrhyming lines of iambic pentameter, used by Thomson as well as John Milton), she finds her relative “took it very coolly and said it didn’t sound much like poetry” (120). In many ways, Emily is both a misunderstood child and misunderstood genius, as her artistic ways of communicating are, at best, viewed by those around her as eccentric, and at worst, cruelly stifled.
Early in the chapter, she is slapped by her unfeeling teacher, Mrs. Brownell, for a spontaneous show of enthusiasm for Tennyson’s verses while she is supposed to be doing sums on her slate. Significantly, she receives the precious trove of scrap paper the same “ill-starred day” (109) she is publicly humiliated in front of her classmates. This chapter then moves away from the schoolhouse, however, and into the home and the more intellectually satisfying realm of private reading and writing.
The books Emily mentions in this chapter are varied and include Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel Rob Roy (1817) and Lewis Carroll’s imaginative Victorian fantasy Alice in Wonderland (1865), as well as non-fiction like a Spanish travelogue and religious works such as Richard Newton’s Nature’s Mighty Wonders (1871).
Hilariously, she tests the extent to which she can creatively engage with the quotidian world of New Moon and more widely, Blair Water and its environs. For example, after reading the story of a young martyr, Emily tries speaking in hymns like Anzonetta B. Peters. Aunt Laura asks if she would prefer red or blue striped winter stockings and Emily allusively answers: “Jesus Thy Blood and Rightchusness[sic] / My beauty are, my glorious dress” (121). Her aunts Laura and Elizabeth consider her reply “crazy” and “irreverent,” respectively (121).
Although much of this chapter focuses on Emily’s relationship with literature, the closing lines of the letter that conclude “A Special Providence” are a PS that hints at the heroine’s emotional needs as a parentless child in a new home: “I think Aunt Laura loves me. I like to be loved, Father dear.” Emily’s confiding letters—addressed to “Mr. Douglas Starr, / On the Road to Heaven” (113)—like much of her later creative writing, are an emotional outlet for pent-up feelings and opinions, but clearly no substitution for human contact. This final observation and confession reveals Emily’s increasing awareness as a reader of other people and of herself—that gift or “special providence” of good writers like L.M. Montgomery and the authors she continues to influence.
Epperly, Elizabeth Rollins. The Fragrance of Sweet-Grass: L.M. Montgomery’s Heroines and
the Pursuit of Romance. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.
Montgomery, L.M. Emily of New Moon. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2014.
Dr. Heather Ann Ladd is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. She primarily works on British literature, but has co-written (with Dr. Erin Spring, University of Calgary) a forthcoming book chapter on Anne of Green Gablesand eighteenth-century seasonal poetics.