Digitized scans of 1142 pages went live earlier this year and it is one of the most important artifacts from L.M. Montgomery’s life. The pages, of various types and sizes, include crossed-out passages, revisions, and notes on the back of the pages. The online exhibit also includes the original publishing contract, and 24 articles written by authors from 15 different countries, exploring the book's international impact.
"From your first moment entering the site, you'll be invited to explore every intriguing detail of the digitized manuscript. Every pen stroke and scribble, every edit and revision and every intriguing mystery or lingering question," L.M. Montgomery scholar Emily Woster told CBC News.
The origins of the manuscript date back to the summer of 1905, when Montgomery started writing the story in the Kitchen of her grandparents’ home in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. With the pages being over a century old, and it being 115 years after the book’s initial release, the pages required very careful handling.
“A golden piece of card stock was placed behind each page of the manuscript to capture the colour.” Woster had told The Globe and Mail, as some of the sheets were almost translucent. The card stock was also acid free.
The pages were scanned at the Robertson Library’s Digitization Lab at the University of Prince Edward Island. L.M. Montgomery scholars Emily Woster and Elizabeth R. Epperly (founder of the L.M. Montgomery Institute) spent hundreds of hours transcribing and annotating the manuscript with text, images, and helpful commentary.
"It really was a huge effort but I think the final product is really worth it," Woster told CBC News.
The physical manuscript has been kept in a climate-controlled environment in the Confederation Centre of the Arts archive, where only a few pages are typically displayed at a time. The manuscript has been noted to have been on display on other occasions, such as at a "Book Week Event" at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto sometime around 1935, where the first page was displayed. Since then, some pages have also traveled to Japan. In April of 1993, the entire manuscript was brought to the launching of the L.M. Montgomery Institute.
The idea of digitizing the manuscript came about in 2002, when Montgomery’s scrapbooks were falling apart and becoming digitized, creating the first major Montgomery digital project by the Confederation Centre of the Arts. No one could imagine taking hundreds of photos of the manuscript and exposing them to heat. However, years later digitizing has become more possible and affordable without damaging the pages. Epperly agreed in 2018 that it would be a good time to approach digitizing the manuscript.
“We submitted the proposal for this exhibit to Digital Museums Canada in the fall of 2019 and began work in earnest in the spring of 2020. Pandemic lockdowns delayed our digitization work, but our web developer began building the framework for our site based on a rough sketch Emily Woster made that fall,” the project team told Quill and Quire.
The exhibit took more than two years to complete, with more than a dozen people, and funding of $250,000 from Digital Museums Canada. The exhibit is co-presented by the L.M. Montgomery institute, the Confederation Centre of the Arts, and UPEI's Robertson Library.
While the manuscript gives a rare insight into the author’s creative process, there are still some mysteries that remain, such as certain numbers on the pages and the exact date the manuscript was written.
“There’s always something new to find or learn about Montgomery or about Anne," said Emily Woster to CBC News.
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