On Wednesday, Binghamton University professor Liz Rosenberg debuted portions of her new book, “House of Dreams: The Story of L. M. Montgomery,” in a lecture to students and faculty.
Rosenberg, the author of nearly 30 books and an English professor at BU for more than 30 years, presented her new book as part of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities (IASH) Fellows’ Speaker Series.
Her book is about the life of L.M. “Maud” Montgomery, one of Rosenberg’s favorite authors, and how Maud turned her own story of abandonment into one of rescue in the novel “Anne of Green Gables.”
Maud’s mother died before she was two and her father abandoned her at age seven, leaving her maternal grandparents to raise her. Contrary to her own life, Maud creates a life for Anne that is full of hope, in which Anne is rescued from an orphan asylum by a loving elderly couple.
“I’ve always loved L.M. Montgomery’s books, and I think she lived a fascinating, complicated life,” Rosenberg said. “It is one of my favorite books in the world. I call it a literary anti-depressant.”
She said Maud was “remarkable” because she was able to write light-hearted stories despite suffering from depressive disorders and personal setbacks.
“Her life story is worth telling,” Rosenberg wrote in an email. “She raised herself up from a background of abandonment and loneliness, a time when expectations for women were very low. She received very little encouragement- she had to encourage and believe in herself and her mission. Yet she had faith in writing and faith in the beauty of the world. Despite her own life struggles she managed to be, as she said, ‘an emissary of light.’”
Fascinated by the idea of biography, Rosenberg wanted to explore the people who shaped Maud’s life and characters in her novel.
“I already had an affection for the author,” Rosenberg said. “The germ [to write her story] wasn’t there until I listened to the book on tape. Listening to the portrait of a very stern, but ultimately lovable, character of Marilla, I said to my husband, ‘I wonder who Marilla is the cleaned up version of.’”
Rosenberg said that after long deliberation, she chose to target her biography towards young adults, rather than young children.
“I chose to write a young adult book, the somewhat more difficult path,” she explained. “It gave me the freedom to write about what I like.”
Rosenberg used Maud’s journals, letters and other biographies extensively in her work.
“It all comes from Maud’s own memory,” she said. “I would not allow myself to invent those things. My biggest problem was to not quote her every other line because she writes so damn beautifully.”
She likened her research to detective work, calling it “exciting and interesting.” Rosenberg even ventured to Canada over the summer to investigate some details for her book.
“I’m certainly interpreting the facts,” Rosenberg said. “Others would take the same facts and interpret them differently. It’s like translation.”
She said it was a privilege to write a book honoring the life of a woman she has long admired.
“I just have to say, I loved her when I started and I love her even more now,” Rosenberg said. “To know her is to love her. I would like to think she would like my book. I have to believe it because I’m trying to honor her the best I can.”
Rosenberg’s book is scheduled for publication in spring 2014.