Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thoughts on Anne's 100th

Have you ever found yourself moved by passages in books you've already read multiple times? I've been listening to Anne of the Island on Librivox while knitting, and this paragraph (among others) got me all teary:
Mrs. Rachel Lynde said emphatically after the funeral that Ruby Gillis was the handsomest corpse she ever laid eyes on. Her loveliness, as she lay, white-clad, among the delicate flowers that Anne had placed about her, was remembered and talked of for years in Avonlea. Ruby had always been beautiful; but her beauty had been of the earth, earthy; it had had a certain insolent quality in it, as if it flaunted itself in the beholder's eye; spirit had never shone through it, intellect had never refined it. But death had touched it and consecrated it, bringing out delicate modelings and purity of outline never seen before--doing what life and love and great sorrow and deep womanhood joys might have done for Ruby. Anne, looking down through a mist of tears at her old playfellow, thought she saw the face God had meant Ruby to have, and remembered it so always.
I've lost track of how many times I've read Anne of Green Gables. Looking back on my childhood, I see how crucial the series was in my creative development. In these gloriously sentimental novels, I found a model for my own teenage years—it became important to me to live a "secret life" inside my notebooks and on the canvases I albeit rarely finished. Anne has a lush imaginative life that spills out into the world around her, brightening the lives of everyone she meets.

But as I reread these books as a 27-year-old, I get a certain nagging feeling about Anne's adult choices. There's an Anne appreciation group on Ravelry (all those cozy Victorian cardigans in the films, you know), and someone posted a link to this essay re Anne's 100th anniversary. As Meghan O'Rourke writes, a lot of critics say Anne lets us down when she gives up on a writing career for full-time domesticity, though O'Rourke believes she's still a proto-feminist for all that.

I'm not saying L.M. Montgomery ought to have kept Anne from marrying Gilbert, but why does she have to give up on her writing altogether? In Anne's House of Dreams she spends most of her time baking, sewing, and rejoicing in her pregnancies. There's no mention of Anne sitting down with pen and paper except for letter-writing. There's an opportunity to write the life story of an elderly sailor friend, Captain Jim, but Anne tells herself she isn't up to the task. (A visiting journalist eventually takes on the project, and fame and riches follow the book's publication.)

Meghan O'Rourke writes, "Her physical offspring have to share the house with her fertile imagination." I don't know about that. The last three books in the series focus on the dreams and exploits of her six children, none of whom are anywhere near as interesting as she is. And by the last novel, Rilla of Ingleside, Anne is only ever mentioned in passing.

I suppose the only way to read these later novels is to keep reminding yourself that Anne, like all literature, is a product of her time. As O'Rourke points out, her critics are coming at it with a 21st-century notion of feminine success.

At any rate, it's the first three books I come back to, the stories in which Anne's future is still a bright and shining thing.

1 comment:

Mawrter4 said...

I TOTALLY agree about 'Anne of Green Gables'! The older I get, the more I realize that the poetry of Montgomery's writing and Anne's indelible charm and spirit are things that I have aspired to and tried to develop in my own life and writing.

Books on tape are tricky - always hard to find one that you like. But this version is good, you say? I'll try to find it if I can.

You might be interested in an article I wrote about five years ago, about books and movies and the blank space in between. I use a lot of 'Anne' quotes and stuff from 'The Great Gatsby' as well. I'll try to find it and e-mail it to you.

Thanks for linking my blog from yours!