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?”
“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…”