"A Shock of Joy": Transformative and triumphant Trauma in the Fiction and Life-Writing of L. M. Mongomery

  • Shea Keats


L. M. Montgomery's engagement with war (both literal and symbolic) extends far beyond Rilla of Ingleside and her own personal distress during the catastrophic years of both World Wars. Those familiar with Montgomery's full bibliography know she repeatedly explored the effects of personal and social conflict on both a local and global scale. The majority of her characters endure severe trauma, abuse, or mental illness at some point in their lives, and the conflict surrounding these events often becomes the driving force behind the narrative. As one examines these recurring instances of trauma a fascinating pattern begins to emerge: trauma takes on curative and restorative powers. Characters who have been rendered severely dysfunctional by an initial trauma are cured of their ills by a subsequent traumatic event. By examining instances of what I have termed "triumphant trauma" in two of Montgomery's more mature novels, Kilmeny of the Orchardand The Blue Castle, in conjunction with her biography and extensive journals, the reader moves beyond the many simplifications of Montgomery's life and work. I argue that the literature she produced was neither a direct reflection of her life or simple escapism, but a very careful mediation between realism, fantasy, and psychology in her quest to save herself in world ravaged by war.