In troubling times, I find comfort in old favorites, the books I read when I was a child, when life was simpler. One of those novels is Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, a Canadian writer who authored dozens of books and hundreds of short stories in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
Lately, when I’ve wanted something “new” (as in new-to-me) to read, I’ve turned to KindredSpaces, an online database of the LM Montgomery Institute Research Collections at the University of Prince Edward Island. (I wrote about this free online tool in No Ordinary Girl in 2016, which feels like a lifetime ago).
One of the short stories in the database is The Quarantine of Alexander Abraham, which was published in Everybody’s Magazine in April 1907. The word “quarantine” caught my eye. My family is currently under a stay-at-home order as my state’s governor (along with other governors) tries to stop the spread of Covid-19, a deadly respiratory virus, in the absence of federal leadership in the United States.
We are not allowed to leave our homes except under very narrow conditions. My kids’ school district closed on March 10th, and I’ve been working remotely since then, trying to adjust to mounting emails and endless Zoom meetings. I am lucky I get to work from home. Many people have lost their jobs, many people are in homes where they are not safe or do not have reliable access to food, and many people in my area are sick with this new illness.
This is the first time I’ve ever been forced to stay in my home for public health reasons, but stay-at-home orders were more common in my country in the past. L.M. Montgomery’s short story, which takes place in a neighboring country, provides a little taste of what it used to be like.
The story is told from the perspective of Peter MacNicol, a person who identifies as a woman but has chosen a traditionally masculine name for herself instead of the traditionally feminine one her parents gave her. She doesn’t like men, saying in the beginning of the story:
I had always disliked men. It must have been born in me, because, as far back as I can remember, an antipathy to men and dogs was one of my strongest characteristics. My experiences through life only serve to deepen it. The more I saw of men, the more I cared for cats (pg. 495).
She believes that the problem with men stems largely from the way they are raised, and so she accepts an opportunity to teach a Sunday-school class for boys, saying, “if they are taken in hand young enough they may not grow up to be such nuisances as they otherwise would (pg. 496).”
The class is a success, but Peter begins to wonder why one of the boys, a farmhand named Jimmy, stopped coming. She heads to his place of work, the farm of Alexander Abraham Bennet, a reputed “woman-hater who threatens that if a woman comes into his yard, he’ll chase her out with a pitchfork (pg. 496).”
Peter sees Alexander Abraham as a challenge, saying, “well… he won’t chase me out!”
With gusto, and her cat, Peter ventures to Alexander Abraham’s farm, and finds her way into his house, only to learn that it’s under a quarantine order. Alexander Abraham has been exposed to smallpox, and now Peter must stay quarantined with him! Thankfully, despite his reputation, he does not turn out to be a dangerous person.
The story unfolds like a typical romantic comedy, except that it’s much heavier on the comedy than the romance. It’s genuinely amusing, despite being a reminder that a woman from the turn of the last century can only challenge traditional stereotypes so much.
Peter and Alexander Abraham decide to “make the best of [the quarantine] like sensible people,” (pg. 500), which is good advice for all of us finding ourselves stuck inside as we mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Stay safe, everyone.
*The illustration at the top of this post is by Rollin Kirby. It appeared with LM Montgomery’s story in Everybody’s Magazine (April 1907).
Oh, what a delightful post! I’ll have to track down a copy of this story through the links you provide. Knowing Montgomery, the gender-haters end up together, and for some reason I always delight when she does something like that. Apparently, in my deepest heart chambers, I want the crotchety folks to end up together.
My husband pointed out that there are now two daffodil flowers outside our window (we live in an apartment complex that has a wooded area behind us), so I read your daffodil post to him, and he was very happy. We noticed in some of your pictures that the petal part of the flowers point in back and in others they go forward. Is this because they are in a different part of their development, or is it a species thing?
I’m glad you liked this post! I highly recommend exploring KindredSpaces (the link to the short stories is on the periodicals page: https://kindredspaces.ca/ryrie-campbell-periodicals-guide). The Quarantine of Alexander Abraham is very funny. As for daffodils, it’s so exciting to hear that you can see them from your window! Are they growing in the wooded area, or is there a garden back there? The petals in my pictures look different because they’re different varieties. There are 13 divisions of daffodils (and 27,000 varieties!), and the cyclamenius group has swept-back petals (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_cyclamineus).
The area behind my house is wooded, and on the other side is the toll road. There is a cluster of trees and plants in an oval shape. I think the little old lady downstairs from us might have planted the daffodils. She’s in her 80s now, so there is no longer a bird bath. I used to see her out there filling that thing in July, wearing a jacket. Even when her children stop by I notice they are also quite old. I keep thinking about them and then pandemic and wondering who’s taking care of whom. The woman below us is quite deaf, so we’ve never developed a relationship with her.
“The more I saw of men, the more I cared for cats” that’s gold right there! We too are making the most of it. I am able to work from home, but James is not, fortunately his company is still paying him, at least for now. He got to take a little “vacation time” for a week, but now he has a list of house projects to work on to keep him busy. Stay safe and well!
It’s such a funny story! It’s no surprise that L.M. Montgomery’s writing remains widely read. The KindredSpaces database is a gold mine of material. I highly recommend exploring it. I’m glad you and James are safe and well.
I have written something similar – hope you read it and let me know your thoughts.
Thanks! Did you also write a post on LM Montgomery’s story? I read your uplifting post on the lockdown (https://devyanidikshit.wordpress.com/2020/03/27/grey-colour-of-the-lockdown/). I agree with you that there’s a lot to enjoy in the silence and solitude. I’d enjoy it more if I weren’t so worried, but I’m trying to stay calm and make the best of it.
Hey I did read it and also commented on your post. The way you made the connection between LM M’s story and current situation really made me smile. Unexpected situations can arise out of this crisis as well. For example I got back to my blog after 4 years, exercising a bit, connecting with family and friends. Its really giving a chance to pick up things we ignore during the normal course of life!
Quite an interesting take on quarantine! And it definitely lifts hope that here is a lot of good that come out of this lockdown.. keep the good ones coming!
Proud UPEI alumnus here! I love that there is a whole research institute dedicated to LM at my university. It’s actually just a 20 minute walk away from my house.
I’m sure I’ve read that short story. I love that LM was aware of gender issues back then.
Good luck on your quarantine; we are also staying home.
I’d love to be within 20 minutes of the LMMI! It’s wonderful that they provide so much material online and for free. Stay safe and well!