Rilla of Ingleside

I have heartache, dearest reader.

A heartache borne of the most insipid of things. It’s tragic, really. So painful. The world is so bleak and old, yet so young and fresh.

A long time ago, when I was a wee mite of eight years old, I acquainted myself with Anne Shirely. She lit my life, I assure you. She was eclectic and electric, and her mind soared through mine, influencing everything I touched and saw after that.

Just everything.

I only had the first three books growing up, and the sixth. And oh, how fitting, really. No pain or fear or sorrow touched my soul, the literary world remained quite tame.

Now, I am 23 years old, and have tripped back to old Prince Edward Island, only Anne is older and she has a budding family. Today, I finished reading the last proper book in the Anne of Green Gables series, ‘Rilla of Ingleside.’

I am left feeling bereft. Almost in grief, and it is so stupid, because it isn’t even real, and real life is so much more than this. So why do I feel this way?

You see, in the later ‘Anne’ books, the Anne Shirely we know and love so dearly recedes further and further away from us. In fact, she has already receded by the end of Anne of the Island. Going into Anne of Windy Poplars, we have her in epistolary form, and it isn’t quite tangible because she spends all her time talking about other people. People who aren’t the old, loved Avonlea people, at that! In Anne’s House of Dreams, it is much the same way. Anne starts a new life with Gilbert but we actually learn far more about those around them, than we do about Anne and Gilbert. It’s sad, but Montgomery seems to have drifted away from them. I don’t feel like we had a proper goodbye.

Anne’s House of Dreams introduces us, in so many words, to the first sore loss suffered by Anne. Her first born child dies mere hours after birth, and little ‘Joyce’ is buried in the garden of her ‘House of Dreams’. Montgomery skirts ever so delicately around the subject, dressing it with literary frills, most likely due to the impropriety of uttering such things aloud.

But, in Rilla of Ingleside, it is much worse. Oh, so much worse. Anne is a mother, and we barely ever hear from her except a reaction here, a comment there, an illness over thataway and a reproachful look or two. We learn Marilla Cuthbert has died, but not how or when. We learn Mrs Rachel Lynde has made a throw for the spare room bed, but never hear a single peep from the respected lady. In fact, we’ve heard neither a peep or pipe from neither of the two ladies since Anne’s House of Dreams, and even then they barely said two sentenced. As for the prolific, bursting-with-character Davy, why, he went off and married and had kids and that, reader, seemed to be that! This book is about Rilla Blythe, the youngest of the Blythe children, during the First World War.

This book is about growth and pain. This book is about the blooming of life, and the suddenness of death. This is about anticipation and terror, about love and suffering and patience and, well yes, laughter. Plenty of it. The same spirit of Anne of Green Gables, the same odd characters, but tinged now, tinged with the burnt brush of life. Singed and papery, ready to crumble at any moment.

The older I grow, the more my mind expands, the more I am aware of the sheer finiteness of life. The definite end, looming in sight. The pain, just around the corner. The sheer love, enveloping everything. The yearning hunger that is humanity, always reaching, always wanting, always crying out for more. But can we handle more? So much love, yet so much pain.

Rilla of Ingleside brought all that to the forefront in the most raw way possible.

You see, Anne has always been in my heart. Her children have always been in my heart. I dreamed their lives were so wonderful, and they are, they are such fantastic people, one can very well see why Montgomery wanted to escape her grim life and lose herself amongst her almost-perfect characters.

And because Anne has always been in my heart, her joys and pains are my joys and pains. Her children, in some strange way, feel like mine. Rilla’s siblings, feel like mine.

Walter Blythe (oh it hurts) feels like my brother, my son, my lost beautiful soul following the call of the piper, part of the dead army, fighting for the freedom of his loved ones.

Why, when he isn’t real?! When none of them are real?!WHY? And why does it hurt so much to say goodbye?

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Anne with an E.

I started watching the recently released Netflix show, with high hopes because of how beloved Anne of Green Gables is to me. The previous TV film and spin off series was captivating and mostly true to the books, if you disregard ‘The Continuing Story’.

I understand that all TV shows and productions are adaptations of original sources, and are to be seen as interpretations, not ‘real life versions of written work,’ no matter how desperately we want them to be. I don’t like watching an adaptation which has been changed drastically to demonstrate another person’s interpretation, merely because I love an original piece of work and don’t like to see that work marred by another, more morbid piece, masquerading as the original source. Do you understand me? I loved Montgomery’s Anne because she was Montgomery’s Anne, and I didn’t like Moira Walley-Beckett’s Anne because it is a fan fiction Anne. Moira would have been better off creating an entirely different character with a similar story, but I guess that is not how adaptation works.

Anyway. I began watching the show, and from the opening scenes I decided that actually, I was peeved and irritated and this was not for me. What first got me was the speech. Anne spoke very much like Megan Follows did, in terms of language applied, however her intonation and expression was highly modern, reeking of the millennial generation and its snarky, questioning lilt. I disliked that so I began to skip through the whole series.

Anne with an E is extremely morbid. People have said it is a good show because it dealt with ‘PTSD, rape and gender equality in the first few episodes’ (reference). Anne appears in this show to deal with her new life as a victim of abuse, suffering extreme PTSD and shrouding all her previously lighthearted ‘scrapes’ in a darkness only alluded to in the books.

This bothers me because this generation seems to be fixated on darkness and illness and pain, thinking that these things and social issues need to be represented on TV shows and films. While that makes sense, it also is worthy to note that not everything needs to be about social justice. One can enjoy the vitality of Anne of Green Gables, and learn some wonderful morals, without being reminded that she suffered in her past.

The greatest thing about Anne was that she never let her suffering determine who she was. She overcame it with positivity and love, she grew and transformed into a sensible and wonderfully strong and able young woman because she was loved when she came to Green Gables. She found a home, and solace, and the books were very much focused on the vibrant characters she encountered and who, essentially, made her eventually who she was; a brilliant mother and a wise and accomplished woman. Completely different from the homely, carroty chatterbox with an overly fanciful nature with a knack of getting into trouble that she was when she first arrived on the scene.

I don’t see anything wrong in viewing Anne as a survivor of mental and physical abuse, because, ultimately, that is exactly what she was. I know that this series is meant to allow the viewer into the deeper, darker recesses of Anne’s brain, because in the books we only ever saw Anne in the third person.

Montgomery wrote about Emily Starr, through Emily’s own eyes and words, in Emily of New Moon and the sequels, and in there we do see some darkness and hints of abuse and more adult themes, I suppose. However, Anne, for me, was a focus on the love, light and beauty in the world. I want it to remain so, and for that reason I will not be watching the new Netflix adaptation. Anne is the voice of my childhood, and there are some things that shouldn’t be tainted through adult eyes, and Anne is the ultimate of these things for me.

If you do watch it, I hope you enjoy it, as it seems to be well-made with love for Montgomery’s original work.

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Love Letters #36

Dear Tom,

It was Anne Shirley who told her darling husband-to-be Gilbert that she was ‘alone but not lonely’ one beautiful evening whilst walking through the graveyard of Summerside, that year she was away teaching there. A mighty dreadful time she had with those Pringles, I tell you. I was reading of her walks on the train; the countless descriptions of wind surging through the tree lined avenues of the most wondrous places on P.E. Island, and I felt the cool breeze on my face, I saw the violets in their numerous beauty, I smelt the flowers in bloom and the voice of Rebecca Dew echoed uncomfortably close to my ear, that I looked up abruptly, only to see the heads of my fellow modern train passengers, oblivious to my rapture, in raptures (or otherwise) of their own. I laughed loudly at some point, her characters do come up with the most curious things! A rather stern Aunt Mouser told her niece to not quote the bible flippantly, and then turned to Anne and said, ‘You must excuse her, Miss Shirley, she just ain’t used to getting married.‘ Tom, forgive me when I tell you that I found this so funny that tears streamed down my face!

When I turned the book over, there was a little ode to Montgomery, saying that her work ‘continues to draw countless visitors to Prince Edward Island each year.’

I will be very frankly honest with you, dearest, when I say that my heart sank when I read that. I imagined the Prince Edward Island will not be as I imagined it if I ever do go. I made up my mind then and there to never go. I don’t want to see roaring cars and buses and city roads with white paint. I don’t want to see areas of desolation and corrugated iron roofs. I don’t even want to see people wearing modern clothes. I don’t want to see tourists. Granted, they may be like-minded tourists, but tourists they will be nonetheless. I want it to be just how Anne and Emily and Pat describe it, and my heart aches to know it will never be so. I was born too late, I suppose.

I last read Anne of the Island at the age of fifteen. I was reading the first three books over and over again, and only recently did I stumble upon the fourth book, all these years later.

I was trying to fault Anne, I found, whilst reading the fourth book of the Green Gables series. I was trying to fault her for being ‘too perfect’ or ‘too beautiful’ or ‘too well liked’. She is well liked enough, and is able to deftly turn everybody and make them adore her, sure. However, I couldn’t help but fall in love with her adult self again, all these years later as an adult myself and not a child.

Anne is timelessly incredible. She is not too beautiful, because she doesn’t see herself so, and many others pointedly tell her of her carroty hair. She is not too perfect, because she tells Gilbert in an epistolary fashion that she has to accept that not everybody will like her, when certain people very vehemently do not. She is not too anything, and yet she is perfect. She is who I aspire to be.

She is hopeful, she is resourceful. Her words dance with life and laughter, and I imagine her grey eyes to be starry and full of light. She talks to everybody, is friendly with everybody, tries to help all sorts of people. She even cancelled her trip back home to sit with forty year old Pauline Gibson because she knew Pauline was lonely and henpecked by her grumpy old mother. How selfless is that? I don’t doubt that a lot of people were like that at the time, and didn’t think twice of being so generous with themselves and their time. Nowadays everybody is so ‘busy’, so ‘private’, so ‘personal’; never talking to strangers or even trying to find out who one’s neighbours are! Nobody just calls on a newcomer anymore, nobody sends each other cake, nobody calls each other over for supper unless they know them very well, and that is why, I suppose, a lot of us are so lonely!

A little sprinkle of Anne makes any day brighter. I found my day to bloom after reading a few chapters of her, and my heart ached a little, because I would never be able to meet her or become chums with her or wonder the nooks and crannies of the Island with her. She makes a small town like a little heaven here on earth.

I learnt from her to find joy in every aspect of my life. I learnt that even though I don’t live in Avonlea with her, I can find my own little Avonlea just where I am.

I love Anne Shirley, and I can see why others do too; and I am excited to finish following her journey through the eight precious books penned by our very own Lucy Maud Montgomery. Over and over again, delving into the land of magic, spirits and the most eccentric little characters one could ever dream up. She makes my heart yearn for something I can’t quite touch.

Yours most truly,

Amelia.

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James Hill