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.