(I am probably back now. But having just arrived after four weeks, I likely won’t have time for blogging yet. Hope I had a good time! I’m sure I did.)
I read this probably fifty years ago when I was very young, and I never forgot it, just like there were movies from the fifties I couldn’t forget either. (I wrote a review of the 1950’s movie, The Incredible Shrinking Man.) I reread Anne of Green Gables recently, out of curiosity, to compare it to what I remembered.
This is a YA novel about a girl with a vivid imagination, an orphan who comes to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. They wanted to adopt a boy from the orphan asylum (doesn’t that sounds like a grim place, the orphan asylum?) to help out on the family farm. But there was a huge misunderstanding and a girl was delivered to the train station instead of the boy they expected.
Matthew and Marilla are not married, they are brother and sister, and they reside in the family homestead at Green Gables in Avonlea on St. Edward’s Island, Canada. I wondered why the author chose to have them be siblings as opposed to spouses, but in the end, I believe it was because of Matthew’s debilitating shyness. He never could have found his way to talk to a woman other than his sister. And Marilla wasn’t romantic enough to have ever found anyone.
Matthew went to the station to fetch the orphan home, and was aghast to discover it was a girl waiting for him there. A boy would have been bad enough to make conversation with on the way home, but a girl? Whatever would he say to her? It turned out not to be a problem because Anne did all the talking. Matthew was quite taken with her, but Marilla was a harder sell. It took her an additional day, before she decided they should keep Anne.
Marilla is sensible. Frugal and industrious with God-fearing ideas of what is and isn’t proper behavior. I remembered her as being much stricter, and much more dour than when I reread the book. I knew that Anne was an orphan and they had taken her in, but I thought they were related, as in aunt and uncle. But no, they were no relation.
The novel covers five years of Anne’s life, from eleven until she turns sixteen. It’s the Little Golden Book The Ugly Duckling all over again, which was maybe my favorite childhood story book of all. I always hoped I might be like the ugly duckling, and turn into a beautiful swan, I guess.
Anne bewitches everyone, the townspeople, the students in school, and most of all Matthew and Marilla with her enthusiasm, her imagination and her appreciation of life and all that is good in it. The descriptions of the countryside are breath-taking, which I probably didn’t appreciate back then when I first read it.
She finds her nemesis in Gilbert Blythe, and I remembered that as being more two-sided, but it really wasn’t. From the fateful day Gilbert called her “carrots” because of her red hair, Anne hated him, and Gilbert regretted those words, because he actually liked Anne a great deal, and wanted to be friends. But Anne held onto her grudge.
She’s a fair-skinned, freckle-faced, red head and these physical traits were not good ones to have back then, and she was thin too, and grew tall. The ugly duckling characteristics firmly in place, it’s so very heartwarming when she evolves into an attractive young woman, with freckles faded, and her hair turned auburn. She is never described as pretty, but the reader perceives her to be beautiful in a Cate Blanchett, or the very attractive actress in Brad Pitt’s new arty movie, The Tree of Life, Jessica Chastain, type of way.
One of the How-to-Write-Better books I read discussed the evils of telling vs. showing, but then went on to say in effect: But really, we can advise about show don’t tell all we want but talk to Jane Austen about that. In other words, develop your own style and do what comes naturally, like Ms. Austen did. Ms. Montgomery reminds me of Jane Austen, there’s a lot of telling instead of showing, but I think that’s what authors did back then, at least more so than now. They didn’t have the benefits of writing how-to’s so they just did the best they could, and the good ones were really, really good.
Here’s an example:
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.
I believe that could be construed as “telling” but so what? I like it.
What I remembered most was Anne’s desire to own a dress with “puffed sleeves”. Marilla considered puffed sleeves the ultimate in frivolity, and refused to make dresses for Anne that weren’t sensible. Who of us, at maybe, twelve years of age, can’t sympathize with Anne, and her desire to be fashionable, and to dress like all the other girls? I remember that. And when Matthew finally takes matters into his own hands, and Anne gets her puffed sleeves, it brought such a feeling of satisfaction to me, I felt like a kid again.
I am very glad I reread it. It was just as good as I remembered, even now when I’m older and more cynical. No one writes YA novels like it any longer. They weren’t even called Young Adult Fiction back then I don’t think. I also read the Cherry Ames Nurse series, and of course, Nancy Drew, in addition to the Anne books. I doubt any of the others can have the kind of appeal of Anne though, at this more advanced stage of my life.
Heartily recommended for all those who would like to recapture something they felt at a (much) younger age!