Scan of a photograph of Evelyn Nesbit by Rudolf Eickerman, published in The Metropolitan Magazine, September 1903. From the Photographic History Collection, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institute.
Once of the many interesting things I learned from Irene Gammel's excellent Looking for Anne: How Lucy Maud Montgomery Dreamed Up a Literary Classic is just how much Montgomery was influenced by the magazines of her day. In fact, the model that Montgomery used for Anne's face was this photograph of Evelyn Nesbit, which she came upon in The Metropolitan Magazine. Montgomery clipped it out and hung it in her "den" -- the bedroom where she wrote Anne of Green Gables.
Nesbit, the first American "It girl," was initially famous for her beauty and then because her unstable millionaire husband Harry Thaw shot Stanford White, the New York architect who had "debauched" her as a young girl. All of this is apparently the subject of American Eve, a book I'm very curious to read, published just this past May. (Sarah Weinman interviewed the author, Paula Uruburu, here and there's a tantalizing review here. And Nesbit's own memoirs, apparently well-written, are worth a look too).
I wonder if Uruburu was aware of the link between the real Evelyn and the fictional Anne, two very different "characters" in two very different kinds of stories. It is almost certain that Nesbit never knew she was the model for Anne's face -- and it's not clear that Montgomery realized just who had inspired Anne's face, either. Gammel writes that although the "Murder of the Century" was front page news even in Cavendish, there is no conclusive evidence about whether Montgomery made the connection between the girl in the 1903 photo pictured above and the woman at the center of the 1907 scandal.
I was also very intrigued by Gammel's discussion of how the women's magazines of Montgomery's time endorsed what were referred to as "Sapphic values" and how these in turn affected Montgomery's own relationships with other girls and women, and Anne Shirley's, notably with her "bosom friend" and "kindred spirit" Diana Barry. While proper relationships between men and women and girls and boys were meant to be formal and restrained, girls were free -- and even encouraged -- to have intense romantic involvements with other girls. But more on that another day...