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.
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.
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).
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.
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.