26 July 2013

+JMJ+

Reading Diary: Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

"Do you know, Mrs. Allan, I'm so thankful for friendship. It beautifies life so much . . . If we have friends we should look only for the best in them and give them the best that is in us, don't you think? Then friendship would be the most beautiful thing in the world."

"Friendship is very beautiful," smiled Mrs. Allan, "but some day . . ."

Then she paused abruptly. In the delicate, whitebrowed face beside her, with its candid eyes and mobile features, there was still more of the child than of the woman. Anne's heart so far harboured only dreams of friendship and ambition, and Mrs. Allan did not wish to brush the bloom from her sweet unconsciousness. So she left her sentence for future years to finish.

Make that future years and future books! I decided to read Anne of Avonlea while waiting for the results of my last poll to pile up, because you rarely get more "unabashedly romantic" than Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe (Am I right?), but this novel actually doesn't cover that.

Yet I'm not at all disappointed! There may be "less" romance here than in many stand-alone love stories, but only in the sense that there is less fragrance in a freshly turned bed with lavender sachets between the sheets than in the main floor of a perfume factory.

Another thing I didn't expect was all the adventure. It's such a different kind of adventure from what I normally associate with the word, so if the text hadn't explicitly pointed it out, I would have missed it by a mile.


Diana: "We're not home yet, and there's no telling what may happen before we are. You're such a girl to have adventures, Anne."

Anne: "Having adventures comes natural to some people. You just have a gift for them or you haven't."

For context: Anne has just fallen through a shed roof up to her armpits, and had to stay stuck there through a rain shower because she didn't want Diana to find an axe and hack her out. (It was someone else's shed, so Anne wanted to ask permission first.) 

Now, subtext can be sly. It's the stolen red wagon the guards never notice because they're too busy searching through everything piled upon it for the "real" contraband. (Please tell me I'm not the only one who read that story as a child . . .) So despite all the thinking I've done--for years--about G.K. Chesterton's assertion that girls get in the way of adventures, it wasn't until this week that I saw his sneaky wagon for what it was.

Basically, I've spent all this time passionately trying to prove that girls actually enhance adventures, but never bothered to question the implication that adventures are a boys' domain. In short: GENRE FAIL!

I feel a little foolish about having fallen into the very "kick-butt" trap I tried to warn everyone about; but I could ask for no better friends to help me climb out of it at last than Anne Shirley and Diana Barry. For few other literary heroines (and heroes) have topped the former's talent of slipping into the most unlikely situations and finding the most serendipitous treasures--which is something the latter would swear under oath. And not to make the males feel left out or anything, but every time Anne has another glorious adventure and Diana is dragged in too, there isn't a single boy to be seen!

When life is diverting enough with your girl friends, then I guess romance can wait a little longer. =)

Image Source: Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

13 comments:

Belfry Bat said...

I'm sure Gilbert must have been half-joking there, because to a great extent women are the adventures his men get into (whether they appear or not), or he else forgot it when he got to Beatrice Drake. Of course, "an adventure is merely an inconvenience, rightly considered;" which rings as true of the present example as any other.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Resisting the temptation to argue that Gilbert Blythe never wrote Adventure stories, I think that the argument that "Some of his best characters are women!" seems merely along the same lines as that notorious bromide: "Some of my best friends are black!"

The context of the quote about girls and adventures is an essay on Robert Louis Stevenson's novels--those brilliant bastions of boyhood! Although I obviously have to say it was Chesterton who planted the idea, it is Stevenson who was my real sparring partner.

But now you've given me an idea of how to be provocative on Twitter . . . ;-)

Belfry Bat said...

I didn't say characters, I said adventures. It's a Chestertonian thing. "Men are men, but Man is a Woman". (I... still haven't figured that one out).

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Pretend I am six years old. Would you please repeat exactly what "Chestertonian thing" you meant?

love the girls said...

I love this series of books.

Ann with an e is one of the best character ever devised.

Rapt and radiant Anne continued until they were in the very presence of Mrs. Lynde, who was sitting knitting by her kitchen window. Then the radiance vanished. Mournful penitence appeared on every feature. Before a word was spoken Anne suddenly went down on her knees before the astonished Mrs. Rachel and held out her hands beseechingly.

"Oh, Mrs. Lynde, I am so extremely sorry," she said with a quiver in her voice. "I could never express all my sorrow, no, not if I used up a whole dictionary. You must just imagine it. I behaved terribly to you--and I've disgraced the dear friends, Matthew and Marilla, who have let me stay at Green Gables although I'm not a boy. I'm a dreadfully wicked and ungrateful girl, and I deserve to be punished and cast out by respectable people forever. It was very wicked of me to fly into a temper because you told me the truth. It was the truth; every word you said was true. My hair is red and I'm freckled and skinny and ugly. What I said to you was true, too, but I shouldn't have said it. Oh, Mrs. Lynde, please, please, forgive me. If you refuse it will be a lifelong sorrow on a poor little orphan girl would you, even if she had a dreadful temper? Oh, I am sure you wouldn't. Please say you forgive me, Mrs. Lynde."

Anne clasped her hands together, bowed her head, and waited for the word of judgment.

There was no mistaking her sincerity--it breathed in every tone of her voice. Both Marilla and Mrs. Lynde recognized its unmistakable ring. But the former understood in dismay that Anne was actually enjoying her valley of humiliation--was reveling in the thoroughness of her abasement. Where was the wholesome punishment upon which she, Marilla, had plumed herself? Anne had turned it into a species of positive pleasure.

love the girls said...

And on the subject of boys nowhere to be seen during Anne and Diana's adventures, what are we to make of the exception of Gilberts' rescue of Anne?



Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

My epiphany about "boys and adventures" means only that the former are not always necessary to the latter. They're great to have around, of course, but there's no reason to mope if they aren't. =)

Anne really is wonderful! I'd like to read more of Montgomery's books to see what Emily, Pat and Valency are like, too.

Sheila said...

I always am abashed to say it when other people enjoy them so much .... but I have always hated the Green Gables books. I read three or four of them before giving up. Maybe it's because I have been told I'm "exactly like Anne" way too many times. And because I *am* a true romantic, and I always felt we were meant to laugh a bit at her romantic moments ... and I didn't find them funny, I found them quite serious! The Lady of Shalotte thing was just what I would have done, only I'd like to believe I wouldn't have sunk the boat. :P And I was always annoyed that everybody doted on Anne just for being the same things I'd always been derided for. People just magically gravitate to her and a bosom friend moves in right next door. I guess maybe I'm jealous!

Chesterton seems to have worshipped women, but in a way I don't at all mind. Perhaps because he is willing to admit he doesn't quite "get" women. I think he must have meant that line ironically -- women are always adding twists to his male characters' adventures, but in very good ways. And GKC did write the female heroine I most identified with -- Gertrude, in Basil Howe. She is pretty much exactly like I was, growing up.

You make me want to make a list of "girls' adventure" books. Yes, Anne would have to be on there, but also Betsy-Tacy, Louisa May Alcott's books (particularly Jo's "scrapes") and quite a few more modern things. I have a soft place in my heart for Jacky Faber, the cross-dressing pirate. :D Boys aren't required, but they can be good teammates.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I'd have to revisit Anne of Green Gables to comment on the boating incident and Anne's other scrapes, but I don't remember laughing out loud the way I did with this one.

Take the chapter in which Anne falls through the roof of a shed. She totally takes it in stride, and when it starts to rain, she simply holds her umbrella over her head and manages to stay perfectly dry. As soon as the rain lets up and Diana can keep her company again, Anne longs out loud for writing materials because a lovely idea occurred to her while it was raining. And Diana, without batting an eyelash, produces paper and a pencil. Now, there's something slightly absurd about being in such a position and carrying on as usual. Imagine if someone got his hand stuck in a jar and thought, "Oh, well. I can still get on with my day, and I'm sure everyone will understand," and then proceeded as if nothing were amiss. (Imagine if he were a lawyer and showed up in court that way!) People will stare, and maybe even giggle--but unless they're putting him down in their minds, they're getting some joy from his "otherness."

While I'm not half as beloved as Anne in my own circle, I have managed to elicit such reactions from people when I was just being myself. It doesn't happen very often, and even close family members are more likely to be impatient with than delighted by my eccentricity, but I enjoy my "Anne" moments when they come. That Anne's whole life after she moves to Avonlea is an unbroken chain of such moments seems to be the wide, silver streak of fantasy in this series!

As for Chesterton, yes, I think he did put women on pedestals and want them to stay there. In another essay, he mentioned telling a woman who had asked him to treat her as he would another man that the second he did, she would throw him out of her house. (That is, that the second he let her get off the pedestal, she'd demand to be lifted back on it!) Like you, however, I don't really mind. For one thing, I see that he is going for romance rather than realism. For another thing, it's obvious that after he got married, most of his women characters were just cameos of his wife.

Bellas Shelf said...

I remember the holiday season I received Anne of Green Gables.
I loved how spunky and rambunctious orphan Anne was.
Plus I have always loved red hair.
Its been years and years since Ive read this book. I must re read it soon..

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

It has been a while since I last read Anne of Green Gables as well, but I'd rather read Anne of the Island next. Maybe when I'm done with the whole series, I'll loop back and start all over! =D

Shaz said...

I've read the Little House books 20 times, but never read any of Anne of Green Gables books. I should probably remedy that.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

If you ever find the opportunity, I hope you will read one or two of these! L.M. Montgomery's stile is a far cry from Laura Ingalls Wilder's plain speaking and pioneer spirit (and I imagine that Laura wouldn't like living in Avonlea!), but I recommend her highly. =)