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Lost Anne of Green Gables manuscript found

Missing for three decades: Handwritten novel was being used as a teaching tool

Andy Lamey, National Post

A Lucy Maud Montgomery manuscript thought to have vanished decades ago has resurfaced and been donated to the University of Guelph.

Rilla of Ingleside, the eighth book in the Anne of Green Gables series, tells the story of Anne's teenage daughter Rilla, who grows up on Prince Edward Island during the First World War. According to Bernard Katz, head of special collections and library development at the University of Guelph, the manuscript for the 1921 novel was mentioned in a codicil to Montgomery's will, drawn up in 1939, which bequea thed a list of her possessions to her two sons.

"Of the things that were still in her hands at the end of her life -- she died in 1942 [at the age of 67] -- I think Rilla was the most important one that we didn't know where it was," Katz said.

Montgomery published 20 novels, a book of poetry and roughly 500 short stories. Most of the book manuscripts are accounted for, including 15 novel manuscripts that have been gradually acquired by the Confederation Centre Art Gallery and Museum in Charlottetown, P.E.I. But the location of the Rilla manuscript has long baffled scholars, who were not sure if it even still existed.

Now, the past three decades of the manuscript's existence have been accounted for Emily Woods, a retired schoolteacher and church programming director in Guelph, says she obtained it while living in King Township, outside Aurora, Ont.

"I received the manuscript as a gift from a member of [Lucy Maud Montgomery's family]," said Woods. "I can't remember exactly, but it was the end of the 1960s."

In 1911, Montgomery married Ewan Macdonald, took his last name and relocated permanently to Ontario. Woods will not disclose which member of the Macdonald family gave her the manuscript, as "I haven't discussed [the bequest to Guelph] with that person."

She would only reveal that it came to her through a work association.

"I had been teaching creative writing, and so the member of the family gave it to me so I could show it to the students who were doing some writing projects," Woods said.

After using the manuscript in her classes, Woods brought it home. "We would have guests once in a while and we would talk about this, and out it would come from a brown paper bag, where we kept it," she said. "I shudder now to think of the casual way it was treated."

In 1998, Woods and her husband showed the manuscript to a bookbinder and inquired about what could be done to protect it. That began the process of trying to place it in a protective environment, Woods said.

According to Mary Rubio, a professor of English at the University of Guelph, Rilla of Ingleside is important for historical reasons.

"I think it is one of her most interesting novels because it's a women's novel about the First World War and there are very few of them," Rubio said. "I'm not aware of another Canadian one which has anything like the [same] impact."

At 564 pages, the handwritten manuscript is longer than the published book, which tend to run at about 290 pages. Katz and Rubio say there are revisions on every page.

In a 1920 journal entry, Montgomery wrote of Rilla of Ingleside that "I don't like the title. It is the choice of my publishers. I wanted to call it 'Rilla-my-Rilla' or at least 'Rilla Blythe.' [Anne's married name]." The cover page of the manuscript carries all three titles.

The manuscript, parts of which are on public display, will join Guelph's existing collection of Montgomeriana, which includes her original diaries. A ceremony celebrating the donation of the manuscript is planned for Jan. 19.

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