I first attempted to read the Anne series in fourth or fifth grade along with a friend, one of those almost-kindred spirits who leads you on just enough for the eventual disillusionment to disappoint. We made it a good way through Anne’s House of Dreams before I moved away and became too busy with remembering the names of Muslim Sultans and the pairing of nitrogenous bases to trifle myself with the Pringles’ wrath or the elephants in Tomorrow.
My middle school library stocked the whole series, all eight books snuggled away in a secluded corner between the L’s and the N’s. They had yet to adopt barcode scanners in those days, or perhaps my school was rather behind the times. We brought the books we wanted to check out to the front desk and the librarian would stamp the out date and due date on a card glued to the inside cover with one of those rolling rubber date stamps. Anne of Green Gables had a stamp or two, the others none at all, and despite the yellowing pages, the edges were crisp and angular and the covers unmarred. Evidently, the Anne books were little loved by my peers.
Others have remarked, explicitly (in the case of my mother) or implicitly (by the way my english teachers crinkled their brows and tilted their heads at my drafts), and I have sensed — having read my classmates’ essays during dreaded peer-editing sessions — that I write oddly. I never understood why this was, until now.
Rereading a book is something like retracing your steps, and as I wend my way down this once-trodden path, I have become acutely aware of Montgomery’s not insignificant influence upon my writing. I don’t presume to write like her. Far from it. But if you squint (really squint), you’ll perhaps notice, in my partiality for the words “partial” and “seldom”, my liberal (or excessive) use of appositives, or my propensity for winding, mile-long sentences (which my speech and debate teacher took warped pleasure in chopping the tails off of), some wanting impersonation of her whimsical, picturesque prose. Loathe as I am to acknowledge it, Freud was right when he reasoned our childhood experiences have great bearing upon our adult lives.
As a child, I resolved that I would never “grow too old and wise, nor too old and silly for fairyland.” It’s been scarcely a decade. I’ve hardly grown wiser, possibly sillier. But I can’t help but feel I’ve grown too sour for fairyland. I can no longer muster up a heartfelt smile at Elizabeth’s dreams of Tomorrow, only a simpering curl of the lip. I’m no longer a stranger to depressive spells. Anne’s cheerless lapses, transient and glossed-over, unremarked in my first reading, leap out today, breaking the spell of her rose-tinted existence.
My opinion of Anne’s character is perhaps one of the few subjects I and my ten-year-old self might agree: I prefer Anne’s character as a child. After attending college, Anne surrounds herself with those who are inferior in ambition, education, and intellect, or those whom she believes need her (Elizabeth, Pauline, Catherine, to name a few). The former situation is not entirely by her choice, given that comparatively few pursued higher education in Montgomery’s time, but she does seem to enjoy being the cleverest of the bunch. She is at present rather like Emma Woodhouse, with the matchmaking and the “improving” of those about her. Concurrently, she develops a liking for gossip that runs somewhat contrary to the fanciful artlessness that first drew me to her. Nevertheless, I can’t help but forgive her. My impressions of Anne are so colored by nostalgic fondness that she can’t be capable of any serious wrongdoing in my eyes.
The depiction of 19th century rural society simultaneously distresses and comforts. I hope never to return to a time when novel-writing was indecent and singing too close to Sabbath a crime. Nevertheless, it’s a solace to know that once upon a time, teachers cared enough to pay a personal visit to the home of a promising student so his uncle might let him finish out school; once upon a time, daughters sacrified marriage and a home of her own to care for a waspish mother; once upon a time, children with chubby hands offered apple turnovers to passing strangers. This knowledge I wrap about myself like a fleece blanket, for warmth against today’s world — one at once infinitely more connected and infinitely more distant.
After a series of somber reads, it’s been pleasant to meander along Spook’s Lane knowing that whatever insult Jen Pringle may throw, however prickly Cyrus Taylor’s sulking, everything will turn out well and dandy by the last page. If only one could be so sure about life.