Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Loving Anne Shirley, Too

I sometimes find Margaret Atwood's nonfiction a little rambley. She doesn't seem to subscribe to the "tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them" school of essay writing. Sure enough, in Nobody ever did want me, Atwood's "salute" to Anne of Green Gables on its one hundredth anniversary, she does meander. But she covers lots of good stuff.

1. She explains the attraction the book holds for the Japanese, which is probably a little more intense than the attraction it holds for Canadians, since Japanese tourists have to travel so much further to get to Prince Edward Island and the Green Gables site. And believe me, they do travel there. A Japanese family was taking pictures in front of the house the day I was there.

2. She points out the grim fate of most orphans at the time Anne of Green Gables was written. "Outside of fiction, however, orphans weren't only exploited, they were feared and despised as fruits of sin...This is why Montgomery goes to such lengths to provide Anne with two educated, respectable parents who were married to each other. But a real-life Anne would have led a Dickensian life of grinding child labour and virtual bondage as an unpaid mother's help..."

3. She talks about author Lucy Maude Montgomery's "disheartening" personal history, which I've been hearing murmurings about over the last couple of years, and how it could have influenced Anne of Green Gables. Atwood says, "Anne's plaintive cry, "You don't want me! . . . Nobody ever did want me", is a child's outraged protest against the unfairness of the universe that seems to come straight from the heart. Montgomery was an orphan sent to live with two old people, but, unlike Anne, she never did win them over. Marilla and Matthew are what Montgomery wished for, not what she got."

4. And, finally, Atwood suggests that, "There's another way of reading Anne of Green Gables, and that's to assume that the true central character is not Anne, but Marilla Cuthbert...Her growing love for Anne, and her growing ability to express that love - not Anne's duckling-to-swan act - is the real magic transformation."

As I said, Atwood has lots of fascinating things to say about Anne of Green Gables. What she doesn't do, interestingly enough, is talk about it in terms of "children's literature," as Janet Malcolm did with The Gossip Girls. But, then, Anne of Green Gables is so huge a phenomena in Canada and internationally that it probably doesn't need to be discussed in terms of anything but itself. And while Malcolm's article leaves readers wondering how much she knows about children's literature, Atwood's leaves us in no doubt that she knows her Anne.

This is another story I found as a result of catching up with my Adbooks reading.


Sarah Rettger said...

I love the idea of looking at Marilla as the main character. I think it's time for another reread!

Gail Gauthier said...

I was really struck by that suggestion, too. While I thought Anne was a wonderful character, I felt she just becomes another conforming adult by the end of the book. So maybe Marilla is the more interesting character.