The Two Selves:
From early on, Maud wrote of feeling like an outsider at school and at home. She was raised by her grandparents, who having already raised their children, were not interested in indulging a spirited, curious, social child. At school, where she was often at the top of her class, she felt separate from her classmates intellectually. Though loved by her grandparents and extended family, they found her book love and imagination both strange and obsessive. As a result, Maud learned to keep her true nature largely to herself. There are certainly parallels between her life and her characters, Anne and Emily, to be sure.
I have grown years older in this past month. Grief and worry and heartbreak have done their work thoroughly. Sometimes I ask myself if the pale, sad-eyed woman I see in my glass can really be the merry girl of olden days or if she be some altogether new creature, born of sorrow and baptized of suffering, who is the sister and companion of regret and hopeless longing.
Before taking her third school (1897-1898), Maud became engaged to Edwin Simpson, a decision she immediately regretted that threw her into months of turmoil. At the same time she started a secret relationship with her landlord’s son, Herman Leard. This portion of her life was a turning point, where her two selves became — and continued — to be more separate than they ever had been before.
The pressure she felt, both real and (possibly) imagined, to keep a calm external life continued to dog her for the rest of her life. In the years she cared for her grandmother, she was often lonely, stifled by the old woman’s set habits (which included heating only the kitchen through terrible winters), and overwhelmed by depression that often abated in warmer months but could attack at any time without any warning.
It was difficult for me to read of her depression this time through, knowing things would only become darker. As she corresponded with her fiance and future husband, Ewan MacDonald, she was distressed to read of his own mental and emotional anguish, something that played a huge role in their future marriage and his future calling as a minister.
Maud often described her journal as a place to record and make sense of things (a place to “write it out”) and a “grumble book” — somewhere she could honestly, privately share her frustrations and woe. As an occasional journaler, I can relate to both of these and often wonder, as Maud sometimes expressed, of the skewed picture such a journal paints. How much of the true person can be known when a journal is used this way?
As readers will discover in future volumes, Maud made considerable effort to re-copy and organize older entries, transferring all volumes into the same standard blank books she was to keep for the rest of her life. While there is the possibility cuts were made in the process, she let the honest, the unflattering, the heartbreaking, the sometimes unkind entries stand. She allowed, I think, as much honestly into her records as a person can bring.
Things to consider as we continue reading volumes II-V:
- At what point did Maud decide she was writing for an audience and not just herself?
- Did she knowingly edit as she wrote, softening or omitting things?
- How much honesty and transparency is a person capable of in recording a life?
- In regard to her depression: do you think there were ways she could have asked for help with those she trusted or was the taboo of mental illness too strong?
- Would her books have changed if her life were different?