It’s still May, right?  Okay!  Where were we?  Oh right, that chapter I’ve been avoiding for, like, a year.  “Anne Says Her Prayers.”

“‘I never say any prayers,’ announced Anne,” on the first page of the chapter.  Neither do I, Anne.  Neither do I.

Here’s the thing.  People whom I love read this blog.  I’m pretty sure some of those people say their prayers.  I really do not want to hurt their feelings, but there is a really good reason I never talk about religion with, say, my mother.  (Hi, Mom.)  Despite the presence of religion in the Anne books – L.M.M. herself was married to a Presbyterian minister, Ewen MacDonald (sometimes misspelled “Ewan”) – it never helped convince me that religion was useful.  (Neither did going to church, ever, or attending an Episcopal school for a few years in elementary school, or going through confirmation during those years.)

Obviously Marilla is horrified by Anne’s irreverence.  She informs Anne that the little girl is probably a terrible person because she does not perform the nightly ritual of prayer.  I mean, yay, Jesus, amirite?

Anne’s response has always struck me as a pretty sound reason to question religion.

“‘You’d find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair,’ said Anne reproachfully.  ‘People who haven’t red hair don’t know what trouble it is.  Mrs. Thomas told me that God made my hair red on purpose, and I’ve never cared about Him since.  And anyhow I’d always be too tired at night to bother saying prayers.  People who have to look after twins can’t be expected to say their prayers.  Now, do you honestly think they can?’”

Now, there are two separate but entwined issues at play here.  The latter – being too exhausted to bother with spiritual obligation – may for some people be even more reason to embrace and practice religion.  I’m sure it is comforting for some people to engage in that sort of psychological organizing of one’s troubles.  But I have always found it more frustrating than helpful.  I feel like it puts me in a passive relationship with my struggles.  I don’t draw strength from outside sources like that, in a way that I can use.  It has to be internally generated with me.  So, religion as a support system doesn’t convince me of its usefulness because I find no comfort there.

The former issue is far more interesting to me – the idea that God made things the way they are on purpose.  Now, on a world-stage level, I find the entire concept of forced trial and suffering as a means of achieving spiritual purity completely offensive, flawed, and a means of upholding systems of subjugation.  If you want to, like, fast or give up your worldly possessions or self-flagellate, you go right on ahead.   But there is a lot of suffering in this world in which people have no choice in the matter, and I find it pretty problematic that it’s all supposed to be part of God’s plan.  Plus, why would I turn to God for comfort if he’s the one putting me through that mess in the first place?  As a test?  I know about Job and all of that.  God must be pretty insecure if he’s got to play those kinds of games.  NO, THANK YOU.

I relate to Anne’s bitterness about her red hair on another level as well.  In short, this is what I want my body to look like -

Ballerinas are basically physically perfect.

 

And this is, more or less, what my body does look like (no matter how hard I work to change it) -

Artist’s rendition of me in a tutu.

 

Now, it is one thing to come to terms with the fact that as far as the genetic lottery went, I didn’t get lucky.  It’s quite another to believe that someone, somewhere out there, MADE THIS HAPPEN ON PURPOSE.  If that is true, if I ever meet that someone, I will throat punch him (or her) repeatedly and with extreme prejudice.  Jokes about animated hippos in tutus aside, it has caused me more psychological trauma than I care to recount here.  And continues to do so…

RETURNING TO ANNE, but still on the subject of nice legs, CHECK OUT THE GAMS ON L.M.M!

Maud on the beach, Cavendish, late 1890s. WHAT A BABE!

No really, back to Anne.  A really interesting point she brings up to Marilla in this chapter is the issue of sincerity in religious ritual.

“‘Why must people kneel down to pray?’” Anne asks, “‘If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do.  I’d go out into a great big field all alone or into the deep, deep woods, and I’d look up into the sky – up – up – up – into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness.  And then I’d just feel a prayer.’”

Going through the motions is about as useful as speaking in platitudes (a problem I have previously discussed in Chapter Three) and Anne’s questioning of religious habits is a very fascinating theme in this book, one which I think is particularly poignant given LMM’s literary imperative.  The typical Victorian Sunday School heroine was LMM’s bread and butter before she published the Anne books, and Anne Shirley is quite a departure from that character.  Anne is flawed, she is fiery, and she intelligently questions authority not to be subversive for the sake of it, but to learn and grow as a person.  These issues will come up again so consider this a preview of discussions to come.

Spirituality derived from nature is likewise an integral theme in the Anne books, and another one I will save for a later chapter.

So now, I open the floor.  Let’s talk religion.  Or body acceptance.  Or both!

So… it turns out that regular blogging about books takes up a lot of time!  It was a little overwhelming to keep it up after moving to a new part of the country (where, frankly, I’m not super thrilled to be), then starting a new PhD program and commuting back and forth between there and where my husband and kitty live.  Did I mention that it’s a six hour drive and there are no direct flights or trains?  I really need to look into Anne audio books.

But seriously, have you seen how totally adorable my kitty is?  She is my baby.  I defy you not to drive six hours for these kitty-snuggles.

"Oh, hello. I am wearing a jaunty sweater."
Yes, I am the crazy lady who crocheted my cat a sweater. WHAT ABOUT IT? I mean, she is the crazy cat who likes wearing sweaters!

Anyway, I would be lying if I did not also mention that I was getting a little tired of Anne’s perpetual optimism when I was (am) so unhappy, myself.  Like, “Okay, Anne.  I would be cheerful, too, if I got to move to PEI instead of this unholy crossroads of the South and the Midwest.”  (Bitter?  Me?  Totally…)

But I kept getting email notifications about comments to my blog.  I mean, really great, encouraging, interesting comments!  So I checked in and it turns out that even during my hiatus, people have been reading this blog.  And yes, I am so vain as to think, “OMG PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ANNE!  THEY NEED ME TO TELL THEM ALL THE ANNE THINGS!”  Also, the school year is almost over!  How did that happen?  I don’t know, and I have no idea how I survived my first year as a PhD student but I just have to write several amazing papers by the end of the month and it’s in the books.  And although I have a summer of research and learning to read foreign languages planned, I will have much more time to dedicate to Anne-ing.  Yes, I just turned Anne into a verb.  WHAT ABOUT IT?

So, I am going to go write my several amazing papers and then, in May, this blog will be revived and regularly updated!  Yay!  Until then, I leave you with a picture of my cat doing her best Tyra Banks impression.  For no reason other than, for real my cat does a fierce Tyra Banks impression!

"I'm smiling with my eyes. I'm fierce. I have twelve beautiful girls standing before me, but I only have eleven photos in my hands. I don't have hands. I am a cat. Who can smize. Fierce."

I swear, I don’t intend to make a habit of letting weeks and weeks go by before posting another chapter but, to be honest, lately I haven’t much felt like spending a lot of time with Anne and her unshakable optimism.  Let’s just say that it hasn’t rubbed off on me, despite years of reading these books, and at the moment I’m not feeling especially positive about my new locale.  I miss my life and my friends and my city and I just want to go home.  But I can’t.  So I mostly mope around the house here.  About every other day I go to the hippie grocery store and buy ingredients to cook amazing things.  At least I have a great kitchen in this hell hole.  Recently, I made green tea cupcakes (not with matcha powder because I couldn’t find it here) with adzuki paste filling (which I had to make from scratch because I couldn’t find it canned) and plum buttercream.  I even piped those little royal icing blossoms myself.

Not even cupcakes can cheer me up.

Also, the local heirloom tomatoes have been gorgeous so I made a tomato pie with a parmesan herb crust and some roasted garlic goat cheese concoction I whipped up.

You can't pacify me with your beautiful tomatoes, Arkansas. They are no match for sushi and the ocean and civilized movie theaters with assigned seats for optimal Harry Potter viewing without waiting in lines.

Chapter six has nothing to do with food, unfortunately.  Rather, it continues to build on something that becomes a bit of a theme for LMM in these books, something that I suspect was really important to her.  It certainly becomes integral to Anne and it’s something that I have consciously worked to integrate into my own life, especially as a teacher (both ballet and art history).  I’m having trouble coming up with a way to put this “something” succinctly so I’ll just launch into the chapter and point it out when I get to it.

At the end of chapter five, Marilla and Anne had just arrived at Mrs. Spencer’s house, both of them expecting that Anne will be left with Mrs. Spencer to be returned to the orphan asylum.  Mrs. Spencer is somewhat horrified that the mistake had occurred but insists that “‘Robert sent the word down by his daughter Nancy and she said you wanted a girl…I’m dreadfully sorry.  It is too bad; but it certainly wasn’t my fault, you see, Miss Cuthbert.  I did the best I could and I thought I was following your instructions.  Nancy is a terrible flighty thing.  I’ve often had to scold her well for her heedlessness.’

‘It was our own fault,’ said Marilla resignedly.  ‘We should have come to you ourselves and not left an important message to be passed along by word of mouth in that fashion.’”

Um…you think?!?!?!!?  And just when you thought that the orphan adoption process in this book couldn’t get any worse, Mrs. Spencer tells Marilla that the mistake is “‘positively providential’” because a neighbor, Mrs. Peter Blewett, had just been saying she wished she’d asked Mrs. Spencer to bring her an orphan to do housework and take care of her children.  It’s like re-gifting, but with an eleven year old child.  Nice.

Mrs. Blewett, LMM tells us, is “a small, shrewish-faced woman without an ounce of superfluous flesh on her bones…and discharged servant girls told fearsome tales of her temper and stinginess, and her family of pert, quarrelsome children.”

Fortunately for Anne, Marilla doesn’t care much for Mrs. Blewett.  And more importantly, at this moment, she understands something about Anne that Matthew knew from the first.

“Marilla looked at Anne and softened at the sight of the child’s pale face with its look of mute misery – the misery of a helpless little creature who finds itself once more caught in a trap from which it had escaped.  Marilla felt an uncomfortable conviction that, if she denied the appeal of that look, it would haunt her to her dying day.”

Marilla tells Mrs. Blewett that they hadn’t actually made up their minds what they wanted to do about the situation and, in any case, she had to discuss it with Matthew, who was inclined to keep Anne.

Of course, Anne seizes the potential in Marilla’s answer.  “‘Oh, Miss Cuthbert, did you really say that perhaps you would let me stay at Green Gables?’  she said, in a breathless whisper, as if speaking aloud might shatter the glorious possibility.  ‘Did you really say it?  Or did I only imagine that you did?’

‘I think you’d better learn to control that imagination of yours, Anne, if you can’t distinguish between what is real and what isn’t,’ said Marilla crossly.  ‘Yes, you did hear me say just that and no more.  It isn’t decided yet and perhaps we will conclude to let Mrs. Blewett take you after all.  She certainly needs you more than I do.’”

It’s interesting to me that this is such an important factor to Marilla.  The usefulness of a person isn’t always measured by what that person can do for you.  Recall the end of chapter three, when Matthew muses that perhaps he and Marilla could be of some good to Anne.  I think that being needed, being able to do some good for someone, to bring some measure of hope or happiness or enlightenment into their life, is sometimes as important – if not more so – than what that someone can do for you.  This is part of that “something” I had trouble explaining above.

The privilege of having someone to whom you can give your love, your kindness, your respect, and your support is as crucial to happiness and fulfillment as having someone to love you, show you kindness, respect you, and support you.

Marilla will come to understand this as the story unfolds, and I think in this chapter LMM is showing us that Marilla is more complicated than her brusque first impression paints her to be.

But her response to Anne in Mrs. Spencer’s parlor certainly doesn’t reveal to that distressed little girl the complexity of her character or the change of heart she’s experiencing.

“‘I’d rather go back to the asylum than go live with her [Mrs. Blewett],’ said Anne passionately.  ‘She looks exactly like a – like a gimlet.’”

Now…I’m not entirely sure what a gimlet is, other than a rather delightful summer cocktail made with gin or vodka, soda water, and lime juice.  This summer I’ve also been enjoying basil gimlets, which are basically the same recipe with a little basil-infused simple syrup added (some recipes for this drink call for simple syrup).

Basil gimlets are perfect for helping you forget that outside it is 100 degrees and humid. And Arkansas.

 

But somehow I don’t think that this is what Anne means when she calls Mrs. Blewett a gimlet (and is subsequently admonished by Marilla for speaking that way about “‘a lady and a stranger.’”).  Google tells me that a gimlet is also a sort of hand drill.

Yup, those look mighty pointy.

A person may be described as “gimlet-eyed” if they have a particularly piercing gaze, one that makes you feel as if he is boring into you with his eyes, or if he is particularly sharp-sited.  Maybe this is what Anne meant?  I have no idea, what do you think?  Maybe it was something Anne read in a book and misunderstood its context?

When Marilla and Anne return to Green Gables, Matthew is visibly relieved.  He and Marilla discuss the matter privately.

“‘I wouldn’t give a dog I liked to that Blewett woman,’ said Matthew with unusual vim.

‘I don’t fancy her style myself,’ admitted Marilla, ‘but it’s that or keeping her ourselves, Matthew.  And, since you seem to want her, I suppose I’m willing – or have to be.  I’ve been thinking over the idea until I’ve got kind of used to it.  It seems a sort of duty.  I’ve never brought up a child, especially a girl, and I dare say I’ll make a terrible mess of it.  But I’ll do my best.  So as far as I’m concerned Matthew, she may stay.’

Matthew’s shy face was a glow of delight.

‘Well now, I reckoned you’d come to see it in that light, Marilla,’ he said.  ‘She’s such an interesting little thing.’

‘It’d be more to the point if you could say she was a useful little thing,’ retorted Marilla.”  She goes on to demand that Matthew not interfere with her child-rearing methods, telling him that when she fails “‘it’ll be time enough to put your oar in.’”

Matthew assures her that he won’t interfere, asking only that Marilla “‘be as good and kind to her as you can without spoiling her.’”  And here is the other part of that “something” I couldn’t describe very succinctly, but of course man-of-few-words Matthew does:  “‘I kind of think she’s one of the sort you can do anything with if you only get her to love you.’”

I think that Matthew is absolutely right, and that most people are of that sort.

 

 

I feel that I ought to begin this post with apologies – it has been several weeks since I’ve updated.  And I feel like I have a pretty good reason for that lapse!  On June 26th I was married to my soul mate and a few days later, my mother and I packed up all my worldly possessions (which, I must confess, did not fit into an old carpetbag as did Anne’s) and my sweet kitty Lydia, and we drove from Los Angeles to Fayetteville, Arkansas.  My husband took a job near Fayetteville this past spring and he’s been here since March.  I’ve been here for about ten days and I finally unpacked the last of my boxes so you could say I’m more or less settling in, albeit with significantly less optimism than Anne when she moved to Green Gables.  I miss Los Angeles desperately and to say that I’m experiencing extreme culture shock would be the understatement of the century.

We're married! Notice how I managed to avoid the whole "What sort of sleeves should I have on my wedding dress?" conundrum.

Lydia is trying to kiss your nose.

So now I am sitting in this coffee shop across the street from my new house (which is two doors down from where they are building a new Firestone car service place, WTF?) and this coffee shop does not have non-fat milk (WTF?).  There have been a lot of WTF moments in the past ten days.  I am trying my best to channel Anne’s optimism but it’s an uphill battle.

Speaking of Anne, let’s get back to chapter five.

At the end of chapter four, Marilla was taking Anne to see Mrs. Spencer to find out how the mistake occurred and to possibly send Anne back to the orphan asylum.  Matthew unaccountably wants to keep her.  During their drive to White Sands, Marilla asks Anne to speak a bit about her life before coming to Green Gables.  Besides Anne’s indefatigable optimism, and her belief in the uplifting power of beauty, Anne’s narration also reveals what I believe is one of the key components of true happiness.

“‘Do you know,’ said Anne confidently, ‘I’ve made up my mind to enjoy this drive.  It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.  Of course, you must make it up firmly.  I am not going to think about going back to the asylum while we’re having our drive.  I’m just going to think about the drive.’”

And that, my friends, is the secret to happiness.  Right there.  It’s so simple.

When you have the opportunity to experience something nice, be completely present in the moment.  Ruminating on the past or fretting about the future is often an exercise in futility that prevents you from fully taking in the present.  Being able to recognize those moments that deserve, or rather that you deserve, to be given the full attention of your mind and senses is, I believe, one of the most important aspects of happiness.  Second, of course, to actually being able to be present in the moment.

(And obviously, everything in moderation because there are a lot of times when we need to be thinking about the past or future.  That’s why I say that being able to recognize these moments is so important.)

This is a very valuable lesson I learned from Anne, and even though I’m not always able to achieve it, I think knowing that it’s often really just that simple is comforting when it seems like happiness ought to be this enormous, profound, or complicated undertaking.

So, there you have it.

Both of Anne’s parents died of fever when she was three months old.  She tells Marilla that the woman who took her in as a baby, Mrs. Thomas, informed her that she “‘was the homliest baby she ever saw, I aws so scrawny and tiny and nothing but eyes, but that mother thought I was perfectly beautiful…I’m glad she was satisfied with me anyhow; I would feel so sad if she thought I was a disappointment…’”

Mrs. Thomas had an alcoholic husband and life was tumultuous for Anne there.  Although she was young herself, she was obliged to watch the Thomas children, and the entire family was very poor.  She eventually was shuffled off to another rather dismal family, the Hammonds, where there were eight children for her to look after.  In both places, Anne was barely able to go to school, although she confides in Marilla that she managed to borrow books from other children and memorize pieces of poetry.

Now, memorizing poetry was an integral part of nineteenth century education but to me it seemed like the most novel and wonderful idea to keep terrible realities at bay.  I was always a voracious reader but to be able to walk around with volumes of beautiful verse inside your head sounded like the perfect solution for the endless boredom at school and other difficulties of my life, when it wasn’t practical to whip out a book.  (Such as when I didn’t have a car in LA and had to take the bus.  Reading in a moving vehicle makes me very ill.)

When you look back at my notebooks from classes I particularly detested, there are lines and lines of poetry I’d memorized scribbled into the margins.  Once, I had a particularly horrid art history teacher who made the entire class sit for the whole allotted time during exams, which I’d generally finish in about twenty minutes (thanks to my Academic Decathlon training, mostly).  So one time, I wrote on the back of the exam a conversation between myself and Oscar Wilde, with all Wilde’s responses being actual quotes and lines from his plays.

Anyway, over the years I memorized dozens of pieces of poetry as well as bits of Shakespeare plays.  I still have at least snippets of most of them, and the entirety of a few, floating around in my head and they are often still a great comfort to me.  I especially recommend them for people who are very anxious or who have panic attacks.  Reciting the poetry focuses your mind on something nice, plus the rhythmic nature of the verse actually can help to regulate your breathing and soothe your nerves.

By the end of the chapter, Marilla begins to inwardly question her decision to send Anne back to the orphan asylum.  She recognizes that Anne’s life had been one of extreme neglect, but that she was a bright and kind child who would likely thrive in a more stable environment.

“‘Were these women – Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Hammond – good to you?’ asked Marilla, looking at Anne out of the corner of her eye.

‘O-o-o-h,’ faltered Anne.  Her sensitive little face suddenly flushed scarlet and embarrassment sat on her brow.  ‘Oh, they meant to be – I know they meant to be just as good and kind as possible.  And when people mean to be good to you, you don’t mind very much when they’re not quite – always.’”

I think it takes a great deal of courage and security of self to give people the benefit of the doubt in this way, wouldn’t you agree?

I have been really delighted by the fact that there are people reading this blog.  Like, people besides my mom!  I mean, I write this blog with my friends and family in mind because they know me and there is a lot of me in my interpretations of these books.  So I love that my mom is my first subscriber.  But it has been really exciting to see people reading my blog after finding it on search engines and through WordPress tags.  Hi, strangers reading my blog!  Would you like Diana to pour you a glass of raspberry cordial current wine?

Anyway, today I saw a few hits from the search engine terms “When did Anne of Green Gables take place?”  This is a question I’ve thought a lot about.  Because LMM is not especially clear on dates until the last book in the series, which takes place during World War I.  So I generally work backwards from there.

Rilla, the main character of the last book, Rilla of Ingleside (she is Anne’s youngest daughter), is fourteen years old in 1914.  Which means she was born in 1900.  Her oldest brother, Jem, is twenty-one when she is fourteen, so he was born in 1893.

Jem is born in the fifth book, Anne’s House of Dreams, roughly a year or so after Anne is married at the beginning of the story.

Book four, Anne of Windy Poplars, covers the three years she is engaged, so it begins roughly around 1889.

Book three, Anne of the Island, takes place during the four years she’s in college, beginning around 1885 (look at me, doing math!).

The second book, Anne of Avonlea, is a short period in Anne’s life, just about two years I think.  Which makes Anne sixteen years old around 1883.

Therefore, when Anne is eleven years old at the beginning of Anne of Green Gables, it is some time in the late 1870s.

I sort of wonder if the time of the books isn’t a little ambiguous because LMM didn’t write them in order, so she never puts dates even when she includes, for example, a header on a letter that gives the day and month.  But no years.

Here is what’s also sort of confusing about this.  Puffed sleeves.  In the first book, Anne is desperate for a dress with puffed sleeves.  The thing is, puffed sleeves were NOT the fashion in the late 1870s.

For 1870s fashion (well, for most 19th century fashion), there are a number of primary sources available, including many fashion plates and magazines (Scripps College’s Denison Library has a really great database of them with images) as well as lovely examples of dresses in museum costume collections (the Met Costume Institute has an online searchable database with images also).

Another wonderfully useful source is art from the time, and for the 1870s you can’t do much better than paintings by French artist James Tissot, such as the 1877 The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth), in which we can see what was fashionable dress at the time-

As you can see from this painting, 1870s fashion was more of a party-in-the-back situation with elaborate bustles.

Puffed sleeves were, however, relatively fashionable when LMM published the novel in 1908.  That is to say, puffed sleeves had been very much the height of fashion since around the 1890s (silhouettes start to change around 1908 to a much slimmer overall line with Empire waists and soon, raised hemlines).  Here is an illustration of fashionable “Dinner Toilettes” from Harper’s Bazaar, 1895.

“This is a pretty narrow chair.  How on earth are we going to fit our spectacular sleeves next to one another at the table?”

How fabulous are the bows on Leftie’s hem?

Anyway, so was LMM writing the puffed sleeves (which, P.S. I will talk more about them as they happen in the book) to appeal to her audience, purposefully using contemporary fashion in her story?  Because I have a hard time believing she was unaware of the fact that puffed sleeves weren’t happening in the late 1870s.

Also, when Anne gets married, she  mentions how she’d always dreamed of a wedding dress with huge puffed sleeves, but that the short ones she wears are also nice.  BUT PUFFED SLEEVES WERE FASHIONABLE WHEN YOU GOT MARRIED IN 1892-ish, ANNE!  Eleven-year-old Anne would have killed for this 1890s Worth wedding gown (in the Met Costume Institute Collection).

However, short sleeves would have been fashionable around the time LMM published Anne’s House of Dreams in 1917.  Here is a lovely evening gown from around 1914 by Callot Soeurs, also in the Met Costume Institute collection.

So what was LMM up to when she writes about these fashions in the Anne books?

Where’s a Canadian Lit scholar when you need one?

EDITED TO ADD…!

Well, a Canadian Lit scholar has been located (Hi, Dr. B!) and as per her comment (in the comment section, if you care to read it) I now think the puffed sleeves make more sense.  If Prince Edward Island was receiving fashion in a very delayed manner, third-hand from Boston via New York via Paris, then I wonder if the puffed sleeves in question aren’t more of a bell-shaped sleeve similar to the ones that were fashionable in the 1860s.  Here’s an example from Godey’s Ladies Book, 1861.

Obviously women in a rural community wouldn’t wear crinolines.

In fact, I think there are passages in which Anne describes certain styles of puffs that are consistent with this era’s sleeve fashions.  I’ll point them out as I come to them in the book.  With pictures, of course!

What do you think?

Two very important things are established in this chapter.  One is that Anne falls in love with Green Gables.   It would be very tempting for me to quote half of this chapter with Anne’s speeches about this.

The room in which Marilla put Anne the previous night (not the spare room, which is reserved only for very important guests, which Anne certainly is not, but recall from the last chapter that, being a girl, she wasn’t to sleep on the couch that had been prepared for the intended boy) has a view of the grounds and a cherry tree growing right outside its window, “so close that its boughs tapped against the window, and it was so thickset with blossoms that hardly a leaf was to be seen.”

Flowering cherry trees are more or less spectacular.  It isn’t difficult to understand why Anne names the cherry tree outside the window “Snow Queen.”

Marilla comes into the bedroom to find Anne kneeling beside the window, soaking in the beautiful orchards and gardens and woods beyond Green Gables.

“’Oh, isn’t it wonderful?’ she said, waving her hand comprehensively at the world outside.

‘It’s a big tree,’ said Marilla, ‘and it blooms great, but the fruit don’t amount to much never – small and wormy.’”

Thank you, Marilla, for missing the point entirely.

“’Oh, I don’t mean just the tree; of course it’s lovely – yes, it’s radiantly lovely – it blooms as if it meant it – but I meant everything, the garden and the orchard and the brook and the woods, the whole big dear world.  Don’t you feel as if you just loved the world on a morning like this?’”

Again, beauty – and specifically beauty in nature – helps Anne to transcend her circumstances.  Once again she finds herself in a situation in which she isn’t wanted and her despair dissolves as she basks in beauty.  I can really relate to this.  And in fact, if ever you feel like you are not wanted, I recommend you go to the ballet or go see some beautiful art or sit in a lovely, flowering garden or listen to some beautiful music.   I was once in the depths of despair because I thought someone didn’t want me and the New York City Ballet fixed me right up.

I think the reason this works is because beauty is something that is so much bigger than even your depth of despair, and if you commune with the beautiful, it’s like it touches you with its magnificence and dignity, imparting some of those qualities onto you.  I think it also gives perspective, in the way only something timeless and perfect and vast can give.

The other important thing established in this chapter is that Anne is an incorrigible optimist.

“’The world doesn’t seem such a howling wilderness as it did last night,’” Anne says to Marilla at breakfast.  “’I’m so glad it’s a sunshiny morning.  But I like rainy mornings real well, too.  All sorts of mornings are interesting, don’t you think?  You don’t know what’s going to happen through the day, and there’s so much scope for imagination.’”

When Marilla sends Anne outside to play after breakfast, Anne declines to go.

“‘I don’t dare go out,’ said Anne, in the tone of a martyr relinquishing all earthly joys.  ‘If I can’t stay here there is no use in my loving Green Gables…There is no use in loving things if you have to be torn from them, is there?  And it’s so hard to keep from loving things, isn’t it?  That was why I was so glad when I thought I was going to live here.  I thought I’d have so many things to love and nothing to hinder me.  But that brief dream is over.  I am resigned to my fate now, so I don’t think I’ll go out for fear I’ll get unresigned again.’”

OMG, Anne, you are breaking my heart.  But only for about two seconds because then she asks, “‘What is the name of that geranium on the windowsill please?’

‘That’s the apple-scented geranium.’

‘Oh, I don’t mean that sort of a name.  I mean just a name you gave it yourself.  Didn’t you give it a name?  May I give it one then?  May I call it – let me see – Bonny would do – may I call it Bonny while I’m here?  Oh, do let me!’”

Anne, you are not fooling anyone.  You’ve already named half of the place.  You are not resigned to your fate of not loving anything at Green Gables.  You don’t have it in you.  You are too optimistic.

And this trait, I do not understand.  Not even a little bit.

I try.  I have tried very hard to be more like Anne in my attitude, to adopt her optimism.  I’m sure being an optimist is really pleasant.  But I am not an optimist, and trying to make myself become one is a lot of work.  It’s very frustrating work and I always have this feeling like I’m just lying to myself and it all seems so ridiculous.  I’m not afraid of hard work for self-improvement (not that I am convinced optimism is an improvement over pessimism), but forced optimism never seemed to improve much for me.

I also find that I handle general pessimism better than I handle disappointment, and I feel like optimism inevitably leads to disappointment.   For example, I’m moving to the middle/south of the country from Los Angeles very soon and instead of hoping I’ll find things there I can enjoy, I am going to pretend that I’m camping.  Because then, as long as there’s a hot shower I’ll feel like counting my blessings.  Which is much better than thinking I’ll give the local sushi place a try because I think after the sushi available here, it will feel like heaping insult upon injury.

Are you an optimist?  Please weigh in on this matter.  Are you a natural optimist?  If so, does it make life better/easier/happier for you, do you think?  If not, do you work to become an optimist?  How does that go for you? Do you think innate optimism/pessimism makes certain situations easier or more difficult?

One aspect of Anne’s optimism I do somewhat understand.  Her love of mornings, I share to a certain extent.  I actually do love mornings.  I especially love mornings in the city.  There is just something sort of fascinating and purposeful about a city in the morning, and it’s catching and then I feel fascinating and purposeful as well.  The noise of the traffic and people are different and the light is more diffused and the air smells newer and feels fresher.

I do not, however, like getting up early.  And it is very rarely that I find the perfect combination of being up early for some reason I’m not resentful about,  not exhausted because I am generally a night owl, and in a great city for mornings.  But when I do, it really can make for a nice day, or at least the expectation of one.  Maybe I am an optimist under the right conditions?

The story doesn’t really move too far forward in this chapter.  Obviously Marilla is introduced to Anne, who is not the droid they’re looking for, and I’m sure you’d already concluded that Marilla will play the bad-cop to Matthew’s good-cop and will not want to keep Anne.  If you hadn’t concluded that, I worry for your reading comprehension skills and judge of character.  In fact, if you hadn’t concluded that, you are likely Ashley from the Bachelorette and I’m actually really impressed you can read at all.  But I digress…

What I want to talk about in this chapter are two things.  One is the way Anne calls out Marilla on her disingenuous platitudes.  The second is the burden of being named something you don’t like.  I hope this post doesn’t make my mom feel like I’m beating up on her.  I’m sure she was on a lot of I-just-gave-birth-to-a-nine-pound-ten-ounce-baby drugs when she had to name me.

So as you may recall, Matthew did not mention to Anne that she wasn’t exactly what the Cuthbert’s were expecting.  They are greeted by Marilla at Green Gables with a curt, “’Where is the boy?’

‘There wasn’t any boy,’ said Matthew wretchedly.  ‘There was only her.’

He nodded at the child, remembering that he had never even asked her name.”

Not being Ashley from the Bachelorette, Anne figures out what’s going on pretty quickly.

“’You don’t want me!’ she cried.  ‘You don’t want me because I’m not a boy!  I might have expected it.  Nobody ever did want me.  I might have known it was all too beautiful to last.  I might have known nobody really did want me.  Oh, what shall I do?  I’m going to burst into tears!’”

On second thought, that sounds a lot like Ashley from the Bachelorette.

Matthew and Marilla are obviously not warm and fuzzy people, so you can imagine that they didn’t handle Anne’s totally legitimate heartbreak and tears very tenderly.  Marilla says to her, “’Well, well, there’s no need to cry about it.’”

“’Yes, there is need!”  The child raised her head quickly, revealing a tear-stained face and trembling lips.  “You would cry, too, if you were an orphan and had come to a place you thought was going to be home and found that they didn’t want you because you weren’t a boy.  Oh, this is the most tragical thing that ever happened to me!’”

Later, when Marilla puts Anne to bed (“’We’re not going to turn you out-of-doors tonight.  You’ll have to stay here until we investigate this matter.’”); “’Good night,’ she said, a little awkwardly but not unkindly.

Anne’s white face and big eyes appeared over the bedclothes with a startling suddenness.

‘How can you call it a good night when you know it must be the very worst night I’ve ever had?” she said reproachfully.”

Here’s the thing, people.  Platitudes are really inappropriate.  I mean, think about it.  Think about what the words you are saying to someone really mean in the context of the situation.  I think you’ll find in most cases, platitudes are really inappropriate.  I know that even delivered by the most well-meaning person with the most loving concern, I still find them to be really useless and sometimes even a little insulting.

Think of more genuine ways to express yourself.  It maybe won’t always be as neat and tidy as “There’s no need to cry about it,” or even something as simple as “Good night,” but it has so much more potential to be more honest.  I think that when people are in a heightened state, whether they are in “the depths of despair” as Anne declares herself to be or feeling especially joyful, they will always appreciate a more honest, if less elegant, expression of your thoughts.

Also, I think it is important to take people seriously when they articulate how they feel.  In all of my experiences teaching dance, taking my students’ struggles and triumphs seriously, even when I knew in my infinite wisdom (haha) that they were small in the grand scheme of that dancer’s life, built very important trust and respect that was integral to helping those dancers grow and improve.  My students knew I would always be honest with them and consider their point of view.  I think this approach, tact and honesty, can help people feel less vulnerable in these kinds of moments.

Once I figured out why platitudes bothered me so much (tactlessness and dishonesty), my communication with important people in my life became much better because I could respond to them without getting angry.  I don’t think that most people use platitudes to be insulting, I just think that most people don’t really give much thought to them.  It can admittedly be uncomfortable when someone is very emotional and being able to say something pre-packaged is certainly easier.  It’s just not especially constructive.

And so, I really admire Anne’s completely honest responses to Marilla’s disingenuous platitudes.

Ever the optimist, however, Anne tries to make the best of a bad situation.  When Marilla asks Anne her name, “The child hesitated for a moment.

‘Will you please call me Cordelia?’ she said eagerly.

Call you Cordelia!  Is that your name?’

‘No-o-o, it’s not exactly my name, but I would love to be called Cordelia.  It’s such a perfectly elegant name.’

‘I don’t know what on earth you mean.  If Cordelia isn’t your name, what is?’

‘Anne Shirley,’ reluctantly faltered forth the owner of that name, ‘but oh, please do call me Cordelia.  It can’t matter much to you what you call me if I’m only going to be here a little while, can it?  And Anne is such an unromantic name.’”

Finally relenting, she specifies, “’But if you call me Anne please call me Anne spelled with an e.’

‘What difference does it make how it’s spelled?’ asked Marilla.

‘Oh, it makes such a difference.  It looks so much nicer.  When you hear a name pronounced can’t you always see it in your mind, just as if it were printed out?  I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished.’”

Now, I really, really relate to not liking your name.  My name has a lot of problems.  First of all, it is an actual word in another language, which happens to be a very common language in many parts of this country.  And almost every time I’m introduced to someone new, I’m asked if I know my name means _____ in Spanish.  Um, actually I do!  Because, besides the fact that I am not a total idiot, and have lived in Los Angeles for twenty years, you cannot possibly think you are the only person to ever point that out.  Ugh.  Inappropriate!  So, there’s that.

But Anne brings up a really interesting point, and one upon which I have had ample opportunity to ruminate during my MA thesis, which required some research on the French Symbolists and the poet Mallarmé.

Mallarmé was famous for his Tuesday evening salons, and all manner of poets, artists, and members of the intelligentsia would congregate there.  The American critic Sadakichi Hartmann recalled, in an essay about one of these salons, a Symbolist poet who often wrote about a certain kind of stone.  However, when presented with the stone, the poet had no idea what it was.  He’d never even seen it before.  He just liked the way the name looked and sounded.

To the Symbolist poets, words were important beyond what they stood for.  They must also have meaning in the way they sound and in the way they looked written on the page.  I even pay attention to the way a word feels when I write, or type it.  I notice the way words feel as my mouth shapes to speak them.

And I do not like the way my name feels when I speak it.  The first sound gets sort of smooshed up and caught in the roof of my mouth as I flow into the second syllable from the first vowel.  It’s really uncomfortable.  The first sound is also too harsh for the syllables that follow.  The position of the tongue in the mouth isn’t smooth from the first sound to the next.  These are important things to consider when naming your child, people.

My middle name is Anne, and at least it’s spelled with an e.

As an aside, June in Pasadena is simply a glory of blooming roses and flowering trees.  Del Mar Boulevard in particular is delightful.

However, I think Anne would agree that “Del Mar Boulevard” is an entirely unromantic name for this bower and I hereby rechristen it, inspired by her White Way of Delight, the Purple Promenade of Bliss.

But instead of a natural rose window made by the setting sun, at the end of the Purple Promenade of Bliss is a Whole Foods.  Which, essentially, is just as good, isn’t it?

A few parting thoughts and observations…

I’m glad to read that Marilla has finally seen the cracks in their method of adoption.  “’Well, this is a pretty kettle of fish,’ she said wrathfully.  ‘This is what comes of sending word instead of going ourselves.’”  Um…ya think?

Also, I think it’s really interesting the way that gender is represented in this passage:

“Marilla had been wondering where Anne should be put to bed.  She had prepared a couch in the kitchen chamber for the desired and expected boy.  But, although it was neat and clean, it did not seem quite the thing to put a girl in there somehow.”

I was recently watching the Anne of Green Gables movie with some friends and we were talking about how (spoiler alert!) Anne would never have received the education and opportunities she did if she had been the boy, who was destined to work on their farm.  I’m rather interested in learning more about LMM and her relationship to feminism.

Chapter 2 – “Matthew Cuthbert is Surprised”

There are two things I want to address in this chapter.  One, that you will love Matthew by the end of it.  And two, the way in which Anne venerates beauty, as something with the power to help a person transcend ugliness, sadness, and tragedy, is very important me.

We remember from Chapter 1 that Matthew Cuthbert is somewhat antisocial and that he is on his way to pick up the orphan boy he and his sister are expecting.  LMM’s descriptions of the scenery on his drive to the train station do not disappoint (“The air was sweet with the breath of many apple orchards and the meadows sloped away in the distance to horizon mists of pearl and purple.”).

LMM uses the description of the drive, during which Matthew is obliged to greet every person he passes on the road, to tell the reader that, not only is Matthew painfully shy, but he is in particular terrified of all women because of his “uncomfortable feeling that the mysterious creatures were secretly laughing at him.”

So the reader has an idea of where things are headed when, upon reaching the train station, Matthew only sees a little girl “sitting there waiting for something or somebody and, since sitting and waiting was the only thing to do just then, she sat and waited with all her might and main.”

This is such a succinct first introduction to Anne, who does everything “with all her might and main.”  It also thickens the tension somewhat – we know there is a mix-up, that Anne isn’t what Matthew and Marilla ordered (Paypal dispute, item not as described?), that Matthew is terrified of women, and that Anne is especially eager to be collected.  I know, it’s nail-biting suspense right here.  Stay with me.  This gets important later.

Matthew has a rather humorous interaction with the stationmaster, who assures him that Anne was dropped off for him and that he “hasn’t got any more orphans concealed hereabouts.”  He suggests, by way of being helpful, presumably, that “maybe they were out of boys of the brand you wanted.”  Wow, thanks, buddy!

(I’m imagining that adoption process would have gone something like this – “Um, so I heard these people I know were, like, looking to adopt a kid to do manual labor for them.  Have you got like a BOGO going on or anything, so I could bring one back for them?”

“Weeeelll, I don’t know.  Do they want a boy or a girl?”

“A boy.”

“Well, we’re out of boys!”

“Hey, no problem!  I’m sure they’ll take a girl instead.  That’s almost the same thing as a boy.  And who doesn’t like a surprise?”

“Great, well here you go, take this little girl to these strangers we know nothing about and who could possibly be axe murderers or a scary religious cult.  Thanks so much!”)

Anyway, Anne finally approaches Matthew and proceeds to chatter incessantly for the entire drive back to Green Gables (eight miles).  Their arrival there concludes the chapter, and this is when we, the readers, bond with Matthew.

You see, we’re set up to have this sort of awkward and uncomfortable interaction between Matthew and Anne but what happens instead is that “Matthew had taken the scrawny little hand awkwardly in his; then and there he decided what to do.  He could not tell this child with the glowing eyes that there had been a mistake.”

During their drive back to Green Gables, Anne is totally oblivious to Matthew’s initial fear of her.  She talks with him as freely as if they were already family.  She even draws him out a bit, asking him questions and never feeling rebuffed by his short answers (mostly consisting of “I dunno”).

“’But am I talking too much?’’ Anne asks him at one point, “’Would you rather I didn’t talk?  If you say so I’ll stop.  I can stop when I make up my mind to do it, although it’s difficult.’

Matthew, much to his own surprise, was enjoying himself.  Like most quiet folks he liked talkative people when they were willing to do the talking themselves and did not expect him to keep up his end of it.  But he had never expected to enjoy the society of a little girl.  Women were bad enough in all conscience, but little girls were worse.  He detested the way they had of sidling past him timidly, with sideways glances, as if they expected him to gobble them up at a mouthful if they ventured to say a word.  This was the Avonlea type of well-bred little girl [Really?  Sounds like pretty bad manners to me…].  But this freckled witch was very different, and although he found it rather difficult for his slower intelligence to keep up with her brisk mental processes he thought that he ‘kind of liked her chatter.’”

I really like Anne’s chatter myself.  And she does chatter.  Her speeches go on for pages sometimes.  But they are always just so charming.  I use that word a lot and this is only my second post!  But some things are revealed about Anne’s character in her chatter during this chapter that are just so important for understanding her (and also me).

Anne’s imagination is essential to her character.  But it is not just her vivid imaginings but her passionate reverence for beauty that I want to discuss here.  Reading between the lines, it is clear that Anne believes in not only the very enjoyable quality of beauty, but the redemptive power of beauty.  What keeps her going through a very tragic and ugly childhood is her determination to focus on and cultivate her ability to love beauty.  It keeps her focused on the positive and gives her something to strive for, even in her own head.

For example, when she first begins speaking to Matthew at the train station, she tells him that if no one had come for her that night, she would “’go down the track to that big wild cherry tree at the bend, and climb up into it to stay all night.  I wouldn’t be a bit afraid, and it would be lovely to sleep in a wild cherry tree all white with bloom in the moonshine, don’t you think?  You could imagine you were dwelling in marble halls, couldn’t you?’”

To keep from feeling badly about the “horrid old wincey dress” she wore (“A merchant in Hopetown last winter donated three hundred yards of wincey to the asylum.  Some people said it was because he couldn’t sell it, but I’d rather believe it was out of the kindness of his heart, wouldn’t you?”  Typical optimistic Anne.  Wincey is, by the way, a sort of stiff and cheap material generally used as a ground for quilts and embroidery and things.)  Anne “just went to work and imagined that I had on the most beautiful pale blue silk dress – because when you are imagining you might as well imagine something worth while – and a big hat all flowers and nodding plumes, and a gold watch, and kid gloves and boots.”

Beauty is so important to Anne that her own looks – skinny, freckled, decidedly red-headed – keep her from being “perfectly happy,” breaks her heart, and will be her “lifelong sorrow.”  She says she cannot imagine away her red hair, and in later chapters she hints that she believes her life would have been better, somehow, if she had been beautiful.

For Anne, beauty has the power to uplift a person above negative experiences or feelings.  She is interrupted from her musings on her own looks when a beautiful bit of scenery distracts her.  “The ‘Avenue,’ so called by the Newbridge people, was a stretch of road four or five hundred yards long, completely arched over with huge, wide-spreading apple-trees, planted years ago by an eccentric old farmer.  Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom.  Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of the painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.”

I mean, seriously.  Read that last bit again.  And again.  And one more time.  Even if your imagination isn’t as vivid as Anne’s, that imagery must take your breath away.  Anne calls the feeling “a queer ache,” and declares that “pretty doesn’t seem to be the right word to use.  Nor beautiful, either.  They don’t go far enough.”  She rechristens the Avenue, “The White Way of Delight.”  In case your imagination needs a little help, it looks something like this (imagine driving in an open carriage through that arch):

Anne explains to Matthew that she often renames things or people if she doesn’t find their given names to quite fit.  If you were wondering why this blog is called the Lake of Shining Waters, you are about to find out.

“They had driven over the crest of a hill.  Below them was a pond, looking almost like a river so long and winding was it.  A bridge spanned it midway and from there to its lower end, where an amber-hued belt of sand hills shut it in from the dark blue gulf beyond, the water was a glory of many shifting hues – the most spiritual shadings of crocus and rose and ethereal green, with other elusive tinting for which no name has ever been found.  Above the bridge the pond ran up into fringing groves of fir and maple and lay all darkly translucent in their wavering shadows.  Here and there a wild plum leaned out from the bank like a white-clad girl tiptoeing to her own reflection.”

Glorious description, LMM.  Reading it makes me happy.  Anne is so right about beauty being transcendent.

“’That’s Barry’s Pond,’ said Matthew.

‘Oh, I don’t like that name either.  I shall call it – let me see – the Lake of Shining Waters.  Yes, that is the right name for it.  I know because of the thrill.  When I hit on a name that suits exactly it gives me a thrill.’”

This is the real Lake of Shining Waters, Campbell’s Pond, that inspired the one in the story (it isn’t exactly like LMM described, but obviously someone who invented Anne has a pretty spectacular imagination):

At the end of the chapter is when the reader really bonds with Matthew.  In the beginning, he was afraid of Anne because he doesn’t know how to interact with little girls.  Now he is afraid of her for a different reason, because he recognizes something special in her.  “It was not of Marilla or himself he was thinking or of the trouble this mistake was going to make for them, but of the child’s disappointment.  When he thought of that rapt light being quenched in her eyes he had an uncomfortable feeling that he was going to assist at murdering something…”

ILU, Matthew.

The opening chapter of the Anne books begins with Mrs. Lynde.  As Avonlea’s resident busy-body (“There are plenty of people, in Avonlea and out of it, who can attend closely to their neighbor’s business by dint of neglecting their own; but Mrs. Lynde was one of those capable creatures who can manage their own concerns and those of other folks into the bargain.”), when she notices the painfully shy and socially awkward old bachelor Matthew Cuthbert dressed nicely and leaving the village with his horse and buggy, she visits his house – Green Gables – to find out from his spinster sister, Marilla, what is up with that.  (Marilla and Matthew live together at Green Gables.  They are brother and sister.  Yeah, I don’t know.)

Marilla explains to Mrs. Rachel that she and Matthew have decided to adopt an orphan boy to help them around the farm.  Mrs. Lynde is sort of horrified by this (not because someone would adopt a child for the purposes of manual labor, but because someone would bring “a strange child into your house and home and you don’t know a single thing about him nor what his disposition is like nor what sort of parents he had nor how he’s likely to turn out.”) and they talk about everything that could go wrong, such as having the orphan set fire to your house or poison your well.

Of course, they do not discuss the thing that actually does go wrong, which obviously as the reader we’re kind of expecting because we read the summary on the back of the book – that the orphan turns out not to be a boy.  In this chapter, we’re already clued into how the mix-up occurs, if we’re paying attention.  Marilla tells Mrs. Rachel that she and Matthew heard a friend of theirs was going to an orphanage to pick up a little girl for herself and so they sent word via relatives of the friend to bring them a boy.  Because, gee, how could anything go awry with that method?  (Okay, can we talk about the adoption process in 1880s Canada?  “Um, so I heard these people I know were, like, looking to adopt a kid to do manual labor for them.  Have you got like a BOGO going on or anything, so I could bring one back for them?”  Yikes…)

So, that’s the gist of the chapter.  What is so lovely about it, though, and what has, I think, really stuck with me is the beautiful and subtle tone of LMM’s writing.  Her descriptions of the lovely Prince Edward Island natural scenery – and tune in periodically if this interests you, as I intend to dedicate a good amount of time to the role of nature in these books (it’s almost like another main character) – are not merely indulgences, but LMM often uses them to move the story forward or to develop characters.  The lyricism of the descriptive passages can be just delicious, and as I read and re-read them I do so slowly and mindfully, savoring every word and phrase.

For example, LMM doesn’t just tell us that Mrs. Lynde is a busy-body.  She doesn’t even show us by having Mrs. Lynde gossip or boss someone around.  Rather, in the first paragraph, LMM describes a brook:

“…that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade [See what I mean?  How delicious is “dark secrets of pool and cascade?”]; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.”

It’s just such a charming way to establish a character’s personality.

It occurs to me as I think more about that passage (see, this is why I can read these books over and over again) that this paragraph also plants a very subtle symbolic seed about Anne’s character.  It implies that the woods of the Cuthbert place are capable of supporting something “intricate” and “headlong.”  LMM goes on to describe in this chapter how the Cuthbert’s house, Green Gables, is set waaaaay back from the road, right at the edge of these woods.  Mrs. Rachel reflects on this as she walks to Green Gables, finding it very odd.  Obviously, her house is right on the main road (“Since Avonlea occupied a little triangular peninsula jutting out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with water on two sides of it, anybody who went out of it or into it had to pass over that hill road and so run the unseen gauntlet of Mrs. Rachel’s all-seeing eye.”)

Of course, those woods are where Anne ends up spending a lot of her time and she is, like the brook, intricate and headlong.  However, Anne doesn’t become decorous by the time she is under the eye of Mrs. Lynde, and gets into all sorts of trouble as a result.

LMM’s glimpses into Marilla’s personality are equally as charming.  As Mrs. Rachel approaches Green Gables, LMM describes the yard and, in so doing, tells us a little about Marilla.  “Very green and neat and precise was that yard, set about on one side with great patriarchal willows [such a great way to describe trees!]  and on the other with prim Lombardies.  Not a stray stick or stone was to be seen, for Mrs. Rachel would have seen it if there had been.  Privately, she was of the opinion that Marilla Cuthbert swept that yard over as often as she swept her house.  One could have eaten a meal off the ground without overbrimming the proverbial peck of dirt.”

Once inside the kitchen of Green Gables, LMM describes the east window, “…greened over by a tangle of vines.  Here sat Marilla Cuthbert, when she sat at all, always slightly distrustful of sunshine, which seemed to her too dancing and irresponsible a thing for a world which was meant to be taken seriously.”  These passages are so much more insightful than later in the chapter, when LMM expressly describes Marilla as “a tall, thin woman, with angles and without curves…She looked like a woman of narrow experience and rigid conscience, which she was…”  It’s only page 5 and I defy you to have pictured Marilla as anything but what LMM describes her to be, after having read the previous passages.

The description goes on to assure us that “there was a saving something about her mouth which, if it had been ever so slightly developed, might have been considered indicative of a sense of humor.”  This assurance is hardly necessary.  It becomes pretty clear as the story unfolds, even in this first chapter, that Marilla has more depth than we think.

Still, I just love LMM’s style.  Although she is rather effusive in her descriptions of nature throughout the Anne books, she actually does a great job with subtlety and deadpan.  The Anne books are delightfully humorous but the delivery is half the charm.

For example, the conversation that Marilla and Mrs. Rachel have about adopting orphans is kind of hilarious.  When Mrs. Rachel is regaling Marilla with every tale she can recall of an orphan harming his benefactor, she mentions an orphan who poisoned the family well with strychnine, “’and the whole family died in fearful agonies.  Only it was a girl in that instance.’

’Well, we’re not getting a girl,’ said Marilla, as if poisoning wells were a purely feminine accomplishment and not to be dreaded in the case of a boy.”

This is the kind of off-hand humor, often delivered by Marilla but sometimes embedded in LMM’s storytelling itself, that I find delightful.  It’s the kind of humor that makes you pause, reflect, and sort of smile to yourself as if you found a little unexpected gem.

Another wonderful thing about the Anne books is the food.  They always seem to be cooking, eating, or talking about wonderful things to eat.  And the role of food in the events of the books, as well as the kind of food in them, is actually very interesting to me from a cultural history perspective.  LMM is of course writing from her own experiences and so food is matter-of-fact in the narrative.  Which makes sense – you probably wouldn’t give a whole lot of back-story or a history lesson on the characters’ relationship to food in a book you were writing unless it were somehow relevant or necessary (like if you wrote a book set in a time or place very foreign or unfamiliar to your intended audience).

So you get a lot of lines like, “There were three plates laid, so that Marilla must be expecting someone home with Matthew to tea; but the dishes were every-day dishes and there was only crab apple preserves and one kind of cake, so that the expected company could not be any particular company.”

If you ever come to my house, and I feed you crab apple preserves and only one kind of cake on my every-day dishes, please know that it is not because I do not consider you to be any particular company.  I’m sure you are lovely company.

Finally, there are some words and phrases I use in my day-to-day speech that I picked up from these books.  My favorite is from Mrs. Lynde.  She says it all the time.  I don’t know why I like it but I find it sort of adorable and I encourage you to work it in to your own day-to-day speech, too.

Mrs. Lynde often emphasizes a statement by saying “that’s what” at the end of it.  For example, when she’s reflecting on how odd she finds the placement of Green Gables, so far away from the road, it says that “Mrs. Rachel Lynde did not call living in such a place living at all.

‘It’s just staying, that’s what,’ she said as she stepped along the deep-rutted, grassy lane bordered with wild rose bushes.”

That’s what, indeed.

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