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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It's splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Anne of Green Gables is a tale of acceptance, family, imagination, and the pleasures of a simple life. It begins with the (accidental - they were planning to adopt a boy) adoption of Anne (with an e) Shirley by middle-aged sister and brother Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert on Prince Edward Island, and chronicles Anne's time with the Cuthberts through adolescence and into maturity. [NB: This is the first of a series of books, but I have opted to just read the first one for now. I would imagine Anne is quite a bit more grown up by the end of the series - she is eighteen at the end of this one, I think, or thereabouts.] Anne is an ardent romantic and has an active imagination, while Marilla is of a more somber and sensible disposition. Green Gables is a lovely farm full of lush natural beauty, and as Anne falls in love with Green Gables and its surrounding town, Avonlea, Marilla and Matthew fall head over heels for Anne. Anne's path to adulthood, like any teenager's, is full of stops and starts, and plenty of mini-catastrophes and hijinx ensue along the journey. But, nurtured by the love and affection of the Cuthberts and the rest of the Avonlea community, the erstwhile orphan eventually finds her way.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

While I don't think I've ever read Anne of Green Gables, the Canadian-produced TV movie was a staple in our house growing up, and, like any good video that takes up two whole VCR tapes (hehehe THROWBACK), it stayed quite true to the novel, so I felt like I'd already read it when I dove in. Reading this book was like coming back to an old friend - Anne Shirley occupies the same place in my heart as Josephine March, Elizabeth Bennet, Scarlett O'Hara, or the Pevensie children. Some characters are so familiar to me that I can't remember a time in my life when I wasn't aware of them. They feel like intimate friends, and I know their habits, trials and tribulations, and what makes them tick almost instinctively. Reading about them is less about discovery and more about remembrance of things past (AHGHAGHAG get it? PROUST JOKE. #iknowimawesomeright)
Who are these characters for you? Who feels so familiar to you that you can barely remember a time in your life when they weren't a part of your imagination?

A Quick Character Study:
- As in any great series of books, Anne of Green Gables builds a rich and familiar cast of characters from the Cuthberts, to Mrs. Rachel Lynde, to Josie Pye, Diana Barry, Miss Stacy, and Gilbert Blythe. Here are a few snapshots that capture the leading ladies and gents...

Mrs. Rachel Lynde (the Cuthbert's neighbor, town gossip, and friend of Marilla and Matthew)
  • "She thought in exclamation points." (ex: after she finds out the Cuthberts are adopting a child: "Well the world was certainly turning upside down! She would be surprised at nothing after this! Nothing!") heh heh heh. 
Marilla Cuthbert (Anne's adopted parent and Matthew's sister)
  • "[Marilla was] 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." hear that, sunshine? stop your pesky dancing! I mean it!
Matthew Cuthbert (Anne's adopted parent and Marilla's brother)
  • "Matthew dreaded all women except Marilla and Mrs. Rachel; he had an uncomfortable feeling that the mysterious creatures were secretly laughing at him." Matthew is such a soft, sweet soul. When I think of the word 'avuncular' I see Matthew in my head.
Anne (with an e) Shirley
  • "I didn't mean to be wicked. It's so easy to be wicked without knowing it, isn't it?"
  • To Marilla: "You'd find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair."
  • "Isn't it splendid there are so many things to like in this world?"
  • To Marilla, on spelling Anne with an 'e': "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 was printed out? I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished. If you'll only call me Anne spelled with an e I shall try to reconcile myself to not being called Cordelia." Anne tries to get Marilla to call her Cordelia, but Marilla stolidly refuses. What would you pick as a new name if you could switch yours? I think I might like to be called Katerina - it's my middle name, so it's not really cheating... right?
Gilbert Blythe (Anne's schoolmate, frenemy, crush, etc. etc.)
  • To Anne, after she's been punished in front of the class for smashing a slate over Gil's head when he called her 'Carrots': "I'm awful sorry I made fun of your hair, Anne. Honest I am. Don't be mad for keeps, now." Oh, but Anne IS mad for keeps. It takes her a LONG time to get over that. 
- Anne-isms (aka her penchant for hyperbole):
Part of Anne's charm is her dramatic sensibility - here are a few of my favorite exchanges:

--When Anne thinks she won't be allowed to stay at Green Gables because Marilla plans to return her for a boy:

Marilla - "You're not eating anything."
Anne - "I can't. I'm in the depths of despair. Can you eat when you are in the depths of despair?"
Marilla  - "I've never been in the depths of despair, so I can't say." Welcome to the pit of.. Excuse me. (clears throat) Welcome... to the Pit of Despair.

Marilla - "Good night."
Anne - "How can you call it a good night when you know it must be the very worst night I've ever had?" Poor Anne - it is really a very sad moment, but she's so adorably dramatic about it that it becomes comical. I also found it amusing because I knew already that Anne would get to stay. ;)

--On not being a part of the newest town fashion:
"Anne felt that life was really not worth living without puffed sleeves." Ah yes. What IS life without puffed sleeves?

--Anne, on an upcoming event:
"I don't feel that I could endure the disappointment if anything happened to prevent me from getting to the picnic. I suppose I'd live through it, but I'm certain it would be a lifelong sorrow."

--Anne, on the new dresses Marilla has made:

Marilla - "Well, how do you like them?"
Anne - "I'll imagine that I like them." haghaghahghaghag. Nice, Anne. Reallll subtle. ;)

--Anne, on why she likes the new teacher Miss Stacy:
"When she pronounces my name I feel instinctively that she's spelling it with an e."

--Anne, apologizing to Diana's Aunt Josephine after they've jumped on her by accident when she was sleeping in the spare room bed:
"Miss Marilla Cuthbert is a very kind lady who has taken me to bring up properly. She is doing her best, but it is very discouraging work. You must not blame here because I jumped on the bed."

--Anne, via note, to Diana, after Diana ignores her at school at her mother's behest:
"Of course I am not cross at you because you have to obey your mother. Our spirits can commune."
                          --- Yours until death us do part,
                                             Anne OR CORDELIA Shirley haghahghaghaghaghag. XOXO, ANNA

--Anne, on praying:
"Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I'll tell you what I'd do. I'd go out into a great big field all alone or into the deep, deep woods, and I'd look up into the sky - up - up - up - into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I'd just feel a prayer." I couldn't agree more, Anne. I like to look up when I pray and think of the heavens and nature expanding wide open above me to accept my thoughts.

- Anne's first view of Green Gables:
"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 tintings 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. From the marsh at the head of the pond came the clear, mournfully-sweet chorus of the frogs. There was a little gray house peering around a white apple orchard on a slope beyond and, although it was not yet quite dark, a light was shining from one of its windows."
I think if I could live in any fictional place, Green Gables might just be it. It reminds me of everything I loved about growing up in Lebanon (cooking with 4-H, learning to quilt and cross-stitch, running past cows and cornfields, and knowing everyone tangentially from the grocer to the movie store clerk) and simultaneously stimulates my nostalgia for Rosehaven, the family farm my mother and aunts and uncles grew up on, riding horses, skating on the pond in winters, and making jams and canning vegetables in the summers. My grandmother had to sell Rosehaven when I was only three, so I have almost no recollection of it, but my adult life has been pervaded by a deep longing to recreate the atmosphere and magic of Rosehaven by finding a farm of my own to inhabit. Maybe one day I'll find my own Green Gables. Where would you choose to live if you could pick your own fictional home?

- Anne, to Marilla, on bosom friends:
"Do you think I shall ever have a bosom friend in Avonlea? An intimate friend, you know - a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul." Anne finds a bosom friend in Diana Barry, her next door neighbor. I have been lucky to find many a bosom friend in my time, from my very own next door neighbors the Light ladies, to my roomie Laura Beth 'Longfur' Ryals, to my fellow cellist Margalit Monroe, to my work bestie Michelle Staack, to my longest friend and French buddy, Deanna Blouch Gamon, to my quartet mates Dennis Earl Norris and Halley Jean Cody, to my nearest and dearest darlings, my very own sisters Lexie and Diana. These and many others have filled a space in my heart, and I hope that the future holds more bosom friends for me (and you!) to find. I wish love, hugs, and happiness to all of my bosom friends out there in the world.

- It will not rain! You always Say that, and it oolWays Does!
Anne is terrified it will rain on the day Mrs. Allan (the minister's wife) invites her to tea.
"The rustle of the poplar leaves about the house worried her, it sounded so like pattering rain drops, and the dull, faraway roar of the gulf, to which she listened delightedly at other times, loving its strange, sonorous, haunting rhythm, now seemed like a prophecy of storm and disaster to a small maiden who particularly wanted a fine day."
This line reminded me of To the Lighthouse, when Mr. Ramsay claims that the clouds ominously portend rain for the coming day, and Mrs. Ramsay says to her son James, who desperately wants to visit the lighthouse tomorrow, "Perhaps you will wake up and find the sun shining and the birds singing."

- Who needs city life when you can have the country expanding before you?
Anne: "I wasn't born for city life and I am glad of it. It's nice to be eating ice cream at brilliant restaurants at eleven o'clock once in awhile, but as a regular thing I'd rather be in the east gable at eleven, sound asleep, but kind of knowing even in my sleep that the stars were shining outside and that the wind was blowing in the firs across the brook." I couldn't agree more, Anne. I've found myself living in cities for the last few years, but more and more I ache for country living with crickets and trains sounding in the night.

Passages I parTicularly Liked:
  • "Marilla was not given to subjective analysis of her thoughts and feelings. She probably imagined that she was thinking about the Aids and their missionary box and the new carpet for the vestry room, but under these reflections was a harmonious consciousness of red fields smoking into pale purply mists in the declining sun, of long, sharp-pointed fir shadows falling over the meadow beyond the brook, of still, crimson-budded maples around a mirror-like wood pool, of awakening in the world and a stir of hidden pulses under the gray sod. The spring was abroad in the land and Marilla's sober, middle-aged step was lighter and swifter because of its deep, primal gladness." Spring is on the horizon! Get excited!
  • "A cool wind was blowing down over the long harvest fields from the rims of firry western hills and whistling through the poplars. One clear star hung above the orchard and the fireflies were flitting over in Lovers' Lane, in and out among the ferns and rustling boughs. Anne watched them as she talked and somehow felt that wind and stars and fireflies were all tangled up together into something unutterably sweet and enchanting."
  • "The night was clear and frosty, all ebony of shadow and silver of snowy slope; big stars were shining over the silent fields; here and there the dark pointed firs stood up with snow powdering their branches and the wind whistling through them."
  • On Anne's room at Green Gables - "It was full of a new vital, pulsing personality that seemed to pervade it and to be quite independent of schoolgirl books and dresses and ribbons, and even of the cracked blue jug full of apple blossoms on the table. It was as if all the dreams, sleeping and waking, of its vivid occupant had taken a visible although immaterial form and had tapestried the bare room with splendid filmy tissues of rainbow and moonshine."
  • On the Barry's garden: "It was a bowery wilderness of flowers which would have delighted Anne's heart at any time less fraught with destiny. It was encircled by huge old willows and tall firs, beneath which flourished flowers that loved the shade. Prim, right-angled paths neatly bordered with clamshells, intersected it like moist red ribbons and in the beds between old-fashioned flowers ran riot. There were rosy bleeding-hearts and great splendid crimson peonies; white, fragrant narcissi and thorny, sweet Scotch roses; pink and blue and white columbines and lilac-tinted Bouncing Bets; clumps of southernwood and ribbon grass and mint; purple Adam-and-Eve, daffodils, and masses of sweet clover white with its delicate, fragrant, feathery sprays; scarlet lightning that shot its fiery lances over prim white musk-flowers; a garden it was where sunshine lingered and bees hummed, and winds, beguiled into loitering, purred and rustled."
I know this was a long post, but Anne deserves her fair share of my time, being such a bosom friend and all. I'll leave you with this bit on Anne not wanting any life but her own, in the end:

"'Well, I don't want to be anyone but myself, even if I go uncomforted by diamonds all my life. I'm quite content to be Anne of Green Gables.' Anne's horizons had closed in since the night she had sat there after coming home from Queen's; but if the path set before her feet was to be narrow she knew that flowers of quiet happiness would bloom along it. The joy of sincere work and worthy aspiration and congenial friendship were to be hers; nothing could rob her of her birthright of fancy or her ideal world of dreams. And there was always the bend in the road!"

May you find the joy of sincere work and worthy aspiration and congenial friendship, and if you find yourself stagnating, look once more to your ideal world of dreams. As Anne would say, isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?

Onwards, to days without mistakes yet and Of Alien Servitude. 

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