Canadian author L.M. Montgomery’s Jane of Lantern Hill is another new addition to the expanding range of children’s books upon the Virago Modern Classics list. The novel was first published in 1937, and is set in both Toronto and on Prince Edward Island, where the author herself lived. Montgomery is best known for her series featuring Anne Shirley, which begins with the classic novel Anne of Green Gables.
In Jane of Lantern Hill, one of Montgomery’s standalone novels, Jane Stuart and her mother have lived in a ‘gloomy old mansion’ in Toronto for as long as she can remember: ‘Gay Street, so Jane always thought, did not live up to its name. It was, she felt certain, the most melancholy street in Toronto… though, to be sure, she had not seen a great many of the Toronto streets in her circumscribed comings and goings of eleven years’. Their lives are ‘ruled by her overbearing grandmother’ Mrs Kennedy, who shows distaste about everything which her granddaughter says and does. This causes Jane to harbour feelings about her grandmother which she feels rather guilty about: ‘There were times Jane was afraid she did hate grandmother, which was dreadful, because grandmother was feeding and clothing and educating her. Jane knew she ought to love grandmother, but it seemed a very hard thing to do’.
Jane is a rather lonely child, who has been told that her father is dead. She has also been taught to hate him, despite having no memories of him. She has only one friend to speak of – Josephine Turner, or Jody, who lives in the boarding house next door. One April morning, however, she receives an invitation from her father to spend her summer with him on Prince Edward Island. This single piece of paper drastically changes her life forever: ‘It was only three minutes since Jane had brought the letter in, and in those three minutes the world had turned upside down. Jane felt as if a gulf had opened between her and all humankind’. Despite her foreboding, however, Jane has a lovely time with her father, learning that life is there to be enjoyed and not stifled.
From the start, Jane is a darling character, who has such a vivid imagination and such lovely ideas. She believes that Gay Street should really be filled with ‘gay, friendly houses… with trees that waved hands at you and windows that winked at you in the twilights’. She is a spirited and rather strong protagonist, who does not allow anyone to chastise her without trying to stick up for herself as the book goes on.
The volume’s beautiful cover has been drawn by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, and its artwork suits the book perfectly. Jane of Lantern Hill is a charming, quaint and well-written story from one of Canada’s most beloved authors. It is sure to delight children and adults alike, and is a perfect read for long summer days.