June 24, 2009

Jane of Lantern Hill

Posted in Canadian Literature, Children's Literature tagged at 8:32 pm by j128

Jane of Lantern Hill

Book cover of "Jane of Lantern Hill"

Jane of Lantern Hill is a novel by Canadian author L.M. Montgomery, published in 1937. The author began writing Jane in 1935 and had it completed by 1936 and she dedicated it to Lucky, her pet cat. She was planning and preparing to write a sequel but it was never completed.

Like many of L.M. Montgomery’s books, namely Anne of Green Gables, Prince Edward Island makes a great part of the plot, yet this story begins in Toronto, Ontario.

Summary

Jane Victoria Stuart, a young girl of eleven years, lives in Toronto, Ontario with her gorgeous mother Robin, her maternal grandmother, and Aunt Gertrude, her grandmother’s sister, at 64 Gay Street. Ironical to the street’s name, Gay Street isn’t cheerful and is quite grey. It was once said that Gay Street actually lived up to its name but in Jane’s time it is awfully gloomy, her only ray of sunshine is her only friend: Jody (Josephine Turner) who is an orphan and lives next door at a boarding house, where she is a servant.

Jane is called Victoria by her family and addressed as Miss Victoria by the few servants, which consists only of a chauffeur and a cook. They don’t have a housekeeper or even a maid because Aunt Gertrude sees to keeping the entire house ruthlessly spic and span, she cannot even stand the sight of dust, and is constantly tidying things and keeping things in order.

Grandmother is a miserable old lady, extremely strict and jealous of anything or anyone that Jane’s mother loves. She is also manipulative and bends people to her will, even if it means by force and as such this is how Jane and her mother live under the same roof with Grandmother. Jane intensely dislikes living with her grandmother and would be glad at any opportunity to get away.

Jane’s mother Robin, who is of said beauty and is youthful-looking is a sad creature and her only comfort is Jane. Jane finds it strange and doesn’t understand how her mother, blessed with beauty and who attends so many parties and social events could be always so sad. Of course, she comes to the conclusion that her sadness stems from the unreasonable suppression and tyranny of her grandmother but neither mother or daughter can seem to do anything about their situation….

Jane’s gloomy world and existence takes a total transformation when she discovers that she has a father and it is confirmed that he is alive. Her whole life, Jane was taught to believe by her grandmother that her father had died, and it was only by her “charity” that Robin and Jane had managed. Naturally, she is quite surprised by this revelation, and dreams of meeting her father and wonders what he’s really like as Grandmother enforced the idea that he was too wild and adventurous for her Robin and that he abandoned her with baby Jane. He’s also a writer.

A letter arrives from Andrew Stuart, Jane’s father, and he writes a request to see “his Jane”, suggesting that she visit Prince Edward Island, where he resides and also Jane’s birthplace. Grandmother is initially against this and stubbornly refuses to let Jane go, but finally consents when an uncle thinks it would be a good idea. Jane doesn’t really want to go to the Island but once she arrives she loves it.

She prepares to go and she goes shopping with her grandmother, who just about chooses every single outfit for her. Robin tearfully chokes not to mention a single thing about her to Jane, a thing that her daughter doesn’t fully understand but obeys.

There she meets Aunt Irene, whom Jane immediately dislikes, and she stays with her overnight. Aunt Irene is her father’s sister and is an uptight aged woman with a sort of “Victorian sensibility” about her and doesn’t understand Jane’s behaviour towards her. Next morning, Jane meets her father for the first time and loves him.

She calls him Father, as she calls Robin Mother, but he tells her to call him just “Dad”, which she likes. They soon by a house for themselves on Lantern Hill and become acquainted with the locals, namely the Snowbeams and the Jimmy Johns and the twin sisters.

They establish their house, supply it with furniture, and Jane grows a little garden of her own with her favourite flowers and assumes the roll of a housekeeper, learning how to cook and also learns other womanly, traditional domestic roles – things that she was never allowed to do in Toronto because her grandmother wouldn’t allow it. She also comes to own two little kittens, which she names Big Peter and Little Peter and her father gets a dog, which they name Happy.

Aunt Irene comes to visit a few times, during which Jane loses complete control of the house as she wasn’t strong enough to stand up to the forceful aunt, and is laughed at by Aunt Irene for all her hard work and taking on the job of keeping house. Jane is rightfully indignant, which she keeps under an immense self-controlled cold calm. Her father is disappointed that Jane doesn’t like his sister but she can’t bring herself to tolerate Aunt Irene, not even for Dad.

Throughout the course of the summer spent on the Island, Jane develops character and gains self-confidence as well as backbone. She reads the Bible to Dad, a thing which she always dreaded to do at home, but it is different reading it to her father and she does so excellently. They dig clams for dinner, have wild strawberries and cream for dessert (a thing deemed as “quaint” by Aunt Irene), etc.

When Jane returns, she is a changed young lady. Because of her developed character, she now stands up to Grandmother – a thing that the old lady dislikes – and relishes reading the Bible, a significant change that Grandmother and Aunt Gertrude can’t comprehend. She is no longer afraid of her grandmother or her aunt and she actually loves school now, whereas before she hated it. She also gets along much more easily with Phyllis, an older cousin of hers that used to always intimidate her.

Grandmother is again jealous of Jane’s love for her father and tries to suck up to Jane by giving her a cat as a Christmas present as she has heard tons about the Peters. Jane receives the cat with little appreciation and the cat is indifferent to her. Jane’s mother tries to make Jane love the cat just a little, for Grandmother, but Jane can’t make herself. When the cat goes missing and Jane and her mother apparently find it one wet evening, they take it home, and feed it and care for it. Suddenly, the cat is much more affectionate towards Jane and she begins to love it but Grandmother gives it away due to the fact that she insists its not the same cat she had purchased – it was another lost cat and only looked like the Christmas cat.

In the summer, Jane returns to the Island, and this summer she learns of the mystery and secret of her parents’ long separation and slowly pieces it together. Her mother and father had met and married as a young, happy couple and soon Jane was born. Despite her parents’ happy marital union, adversary was met on both sides of the family. Aunt Irene disliked Robin and Robin didn’t like Irene’s overbearing, domineering ways and who was also always butting into her relationship with Andrew (Jane’s father). Grandmother didn’t like Andrew and his seemingly “wild ways” and, of course, her jealousy applied as well. She eventually manipulated Robin into returning to Toronto and convinced her to stay there. Jane’s father sent numerous letters to Robin but none were ever replied and he assumed that Robin had dumped him. (In reality, it was Grandmother who burnt all the letters and consequently Robin was unaware.) Due to the external battles from Aunt Irene and Grandmother, Jane’s mother and father grew misunderstandings and confusions and overall, drifted apart from each other – a result and conclusion that was satisfactory for Grandmother.

Jane’s Toronto friend Jody is to be sent to an orphanage but with her intervention, she manages to get Jody adopted by the sister twins who have always wanted to have a child but have never been successful in acquiring one as they constantly argue over whether they want a boy or a girl, and the child’s age range, etc. Jane talks to them about Jody and at first they disapprove (one wants a girl, the other wants a boy and Jody’s age isn’t initially ideal for them) but in the end, they decide that they will adopt Jody.

Jody is of course overjoyed she’s going to the Island and happily anticipates seeing Jane in the summer. When Jane returns, she pieces together more of the puzzle behind her parents’ relationship and when she receives a letter from Aunt Irene that mentions her father going to Boston – probably to get a divorce and marry another young woman that Aunt Irene approves of – Jane goes back to the Island to see Dad. She walks all the way to Lantern Hill in the cold and wet and meets a surprised Dad.

She tearfully tells him about Aunt Irene’s letter and she finds that fortunately the spiteful aunt was wrong. Dad is only going to Boston to meet the publishers for a book he has written – that’s all, and for the first time in her life she cries. (Jane had always done her best not to cry because her mother had said that she’d never cried – not even when she was a tiny baby.) She quickly succumbs to pneumonia and this crisis leads her mother to journey to the Island, despite the strong contradictions by Grandmother.

Jane’s parents finally have a reunion and Jane recovers. As the story closes, Jane starts making plans for her family with her parents.

Note

This story was made into a 1990 made-for-television movie from the same people who had made the series Anne of Green Gables. From the many fan reviews and critic reviews I have read on the Internet, it wasn’t overly successful and wasn’t well-received, nor entirely faithful to the original novel.

Next to Mrs. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, Jane of Lantern Hill is my favourite book by her.