Friday, January 14, 2011

Anne & Avonlea & The Island

Anne of Avonlea / Lucy Maud Montgomery
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1984, c1909.
277 p.
Anne of the Island / Lucy Maud Montgomery
Toronto: Penguin Canada, 1987 , c1915.
244 p.

I've been rereading the Anne series, ever since I got the bug and reread Anne of Green Gables for the Readathon in October. I am enjoying revisiting these books, and the further along I get, the more I realize I've forgotten about the contents of the later books in the series.

In these two, Anne is teaching in the Avonlea school (two years) and then goes to Redmond College (four years). I never really connected with the Avonlea years as deeply as the first and third books; I was always impatient for Anne to get to college, and to find her kindred spirits and to move into Patty's Place, a home I always wished for during my own college years. One of the defining elements of Patty's Place, besides the scenery and the congenial roommates, was the pair of china dogs on the mantelpiece -- named Gog and Magog. I once mentioned these two during a conversation as a young teenager and was reprimanded for swearing ;)

Still, a reread is a marvellous thing. During this time through, I saw much more in Anne of Avonlea. Knowing how little time I'd be spending in Avonlea as I read further along in the series I relished each moment, and each of the characters who represent Avonlea at its finest. The innocence and the enthusiasm of youth, as Anne and her fellow educated young men and women form AVIS (the Avonlea Village Improvement Society), was fun and entertaining. As usual Anne finds her way into the centre of mishaps, as when the community hall that AVIS has raised money to rejuvenate gets painted a horrendously bright blue. There are light moments and there are more somber moments: Ruby Gillis, the light, flirty character from earlier books comes down with TB, and her discussions with Anne about dying and her fear of death really made me tear up. Anne grows up a bit through her hard work as a schoolteacher; her non-violent disciplinary principles are challenged by one student in particular, and another student leads her toward another romantic plot in which she plays a role in connecting lost lovers (a common occurrence for Anne). And of course, she develops a true friendship with Gilbert Blythe, who had given her the Avonlea school so that she could stay near Marilla, at the end of Anne of Green Gables.

Once Anne heads to Kingsport, Nova Scotia, and Redmond College, in Anne of the Island, I feel like Anne's future really begins. I loved this book, and the reread held up. There are a wider range of characters, some who are silly but loveable, some who are simply silly. And Anne experiences her first wild romance, with the dashing but ultimately dull Royal Gardner. I enjoyed these characters, the sense of freedom the girls had studying for their BAs (a big deal then), the friendships and camaraderie. Also, I really liked the idea, even as a very young woman, of having time to simply study -- I was always bookish, and this ideal led me to consider university a non-negotiable step in my life. The wider scope of her social circle and her classmates was also fascinating, and in this book, I felt like the entire story was based on Anne rather than being simply an episodic story of Anne's community and all its funny inhabitants.

Something I noticed in both books however, was Anne's resistance to romantic entanglements. She seems almost neurotically resistant to any of Gilbert's attempts to express his feelings for her, even while she knows exactly what he wants to say. He finally does speak, and it causes an estrangement, only broken finally when Anne hears a local report that Gilbert is dying. Anne pushes away all hint of romance and/or sexuality with an insistence that seems a bit excessive, especially considering that her best friend Diana was married at 18 and is already a mother by this time.

In Elizabeth Waterston's Magic Island, she discusses the elements that were present in Lucy Maud Montgomery's life at the time she wrote each of her books. The stresses she was under, the earlier incidents in her life that may show up in her writing, and her varied reading that influenced her are all part of these discussions. It is fascinating to read each brief chapter along with each book. Some of the highlights for me in regards to these two books were:

In Avonlea, LMM is delaying Anne's romantic trajectory; the romance in the book deals with the successful conclusion of another long-delayed romance, with Anne's assistance of course. This reflects LMM's own drawn-out engagement, as she wouldn't marry until her grandmother had passed. Also, one of the inspirations for the theme of "village beautification" in this book was LMM's reading of Elizabeth of the German Garden, one of my own favourites and an author with whom LMM felt a kinship.

LMM originally wanted the title of Anne of the Island to be Anne of Redmond, reflecting the focus of the book. But in this book, Anne does self-identify as an Islander, denying that she is a Nova Scotian even though she was born there, so perhaps that is why the title change fits. Also, Waterston argues that while the implied emphasis is on academia, Anne remains within the traditional Island expectations for womanhood, and ends up spending most of the book dealing with romantic entanglements of her roommates and eventually of her own, with the end neatly tied up with an engagement. I still think that the drive Anne has to succeed and come first in 'the lists' after exams is a powerful statement about ambition, but perhaps Waterston is correct, as later books show Anne fading in her intellectual prowess and settling in as mother of a large family.

In any case, these are fascinating reading, and I will continue this series side-by-side with the commentary on how they fit into LMM's life as she was writing them. Have you read them all? Are you an inveterate re-reader of Anne? Which volume is your favourite, if so? I'm not sure yet which is mine at this point in my life...I always loved Green Gables best as a child, but will see how this rereading shifts things!


  1. I read the whole series a few times as a kid. I remember Gog and Magog, but not much else in the way of details. I don't know that I could name a favorite.

  2. Definitely a big Anne fan, but must admit the only one I've reread (many times) is Anne of Green Gables. My favourite by far. Would be interesting to reread the others too if I could fit it into my full reading schedule! Have fun with this project.

  3. Love the new blog template! I just watched the made for tv movie over the holiday break. I've seen it so many times I can practically quote the whole thing.

  4. I reread Anne of Green Gables when I first moved to the Maritimes a year and a half ago, and was visiting PEI for the first time. At first I was struck by the shocking richness of the environment Montgomery creates - particularly because I was reading it surrounded by the beaches and red earth of northern PEI. But as the book wound on, the charming cavalcade of nostalgic incident that I remembered from my childhood reading emerged instead as a strangely wooden series of similar incidents - Anne repeatedly falling victim to calamitous oversights that were only partially her fault and being plunged into ecstasies of repentance or defiance. It wasn't quite what I had hoped it would be upon a reread, so I didn't make it very far into the series.

    That said (and with the admission that I haven't read Gilbert and Anne's continuing romance in great detail in many years), do I remember correctly the possible implication that her reluctance to make the transition from friendship/spirited competition with Gilbert to romance is a function of the fact that once she marries, a certain sphere of independence and intellectual activity will be lost to her? She will no longer be able to compete or collaborate with Gilbert as his equal in social engagement, but rather as his help-meet? That conflict - between an active life of employment in the public sphere and longstanding romantic feelings - would certain be enough to produce neurotic behaviors in me! How fascinating if that is what Montgomery was portraying.

    I'm not sure I ever did read the post-marriage Anne books, so I am curious as to what happens to Anne after that transition....

  5. softdrink - I find it funny that I remember those dogs so well, but forgot so much of Anne's life ;)

    jeanne - I have a feeling Green Gables is still going to be the classic read; but I've really enjoyed House of Dreams (just finished it)

    Duckthief - thanks! And I had the same experience rereading Green Gables -- felt as if I could quote the lines before they appeared! So far I've only had that experience with GG.

    Sycorax Pine - thanks for your thoughts! Some very intriguing possibilities. And you know, I was struck by the episodic nature of Green Gables when I reread it. I hadn't remembered it being quite so...disjointed, for lack of a better word. I haven't read the whole series for YEARS ... Emily was always my favourite of LMM's works. I do like what you've suggested about the contradiction between roles for Anne re: married vs. friendship with Gilbert, and perhaps that was part of it. She certainly has a much smaller sphere once she's married.

  6. I read Anne obsessively as a child and have recently reread the first three. I'm considering continuing on at some point. I'm not loving them now as much as I did then, but it's still fun to remind myself of what they are like.

  7. Oh my, as if it's not hard enough to choose a favourite book of any sort, but to have to choose a favourite Anne book?!? It feels disloyal to single one out! Like you, as a girl, my reader's heart belonged to the first. It's hard to see beyond those years of unexamined devotion...

  8. Dorothy - I hope you will continue on...I've just finished the primary 8 books in the Anne series - only Chronicles of Avonlea to go now - and I've found reading them all together has been interesting!

    BIP - I'm not sure I could pick one either...still Anne of GG I think, but I was impressed by Anne's House of Dreams this time around as well


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