In particular, I paid a lot more attention to Marilla than I ever have before. I've always been so wrapped up in Anne's journey from painfully unloved orphan girl to happy and determined young woman that I've never paid a lot of attention to Marilla, who gets the thankless job of playing the bad guy a lot of times. She's always scolding Anne, keeping her affection for the child hidden, reprimanding her for mistakes large and small alike. I'm sad to say that, until this reading, I actually never liked Marilla all that well. I mean, I didn't dislike her, but I never felt like, "Wow, what a remarkable and wonderful woman."
This time, though, I was really struck by Marilla's character arc. She goes from a rigid, rule-bound woman who had only her brother Matthew to care for and about to a mellow, understanding woman who loves her adopted orphan fiercely. She learns as much as, if not more than, Anne does during the years chronicled here, opening up slowly and sometimes unwittingly as Anne thaws her out. Her quiet, orderly life got turned upside down by adopting Anne, and she was all the better for it.
If you'd like to read someone else's thoughts on Marilla's journey, please check out this post, "How to Mellow Like Marilla Cuthbert." I stumbled on it while writing this review, and it's excellent.
Matthew, I've loved for years. He's gentle and shy and kind and generous from the get-go, and it would be a hard-hearted person indeed who couldn't love him. And Diana, and Gilbert, and Miss Stacy -- I've always loved them too. But Marilla, I'd only liked, until now.
I've read several reviews over the past few years where people say they don't like this book, or Anne herself, because Anne is such a chatterbox, she gets too carried away with her imaginings, she doesn't suffer enough consequences for her mistakes, or she's too vain. I was a bit worried, going into this reread, that I might think so too. Happily, I don't. I still love Anne.
Yes, she's a chatterbox, but the things she says delight me so much I wouldn't curtail any of them. Yes, she gets carried away by what she imagines -- what a spiritless and dull girl she would be if she did not. Yes, she always comes through her scrapes with a smile at the end, but she does suffer consequences such as abject humiliation, losing her bosom friend, having privileges revoked, and the like.
And as for vanity, yes, she spends a lot of time worrying about how she looks, but she strikes me as the opposite of vain -- she's convinced she is ugly, while vanity is being excessively proud of one's looks. She's concerned with fitting in and dressing like her peers because in her very horrible first eleven years of life, she was never allowed to even look even respectable. After eleven years of dressing in the cheapest clothes possible while the children of the families she served dressed nicely, of caring for children while a child herself, and of being neglected in every way possible by "a world that had not wanted her" (p. 40), I would find it very strange if she did not long for nice clothes!
I love this book, that's all there is to it.
Particularly Good Bits:
"It's been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will" (p. 37).
"Oh, Marilla, looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them," exclaimed Anne. "You mayn't get the things themselves; but nothing can prevent you from having the fun of looking forward to them" (p. 94).
"There are so many responsibilities on a person's mind when they're keeping house, isn't there?" (p. 124).
"I think you ought to let Anne go," repeated Matthew firmly. Argument was not his strong point, but holding fast to his opinion certainly was (p. 150).
At that moment Marilla had a revelation. In the sudden stab of fear that pierced to her very heart she realized what Anne had come to mean to her. She would have admitted that she liked Anne -- nay, that she was very fond of Anne. But now she knew as she hurried wildly down the slope that Anne was dearer to her than anything on earth (p. 186).
"I don't like green Christmases. They're not green -- they're just nasty faded browns and grays" (p. 201).
"I believe in a girl being fitted to earn her own living whether she ever has to or not" (p. 242).
For Anne the days slipped by like golden beads on the necklace of the year (p. 246).
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G for glorious. Perfectly fine for all ages.
This is my 31st book read and reviewed for The Classics Club, and my third for the Women's Classic Literature Event.
And it's my first book read for the Anne of Green Gables Reading Challenge! Elyssa has kindly provided some discussion questions for this book, which I'm going to answer here.
Q: This first installment of Anne Shirley’s story is about her finding a home after years of displacement. While we often consider ‘home’ to be synonymous with ‘house’, it’s also a state of being. What does home mean for you and what makes it special?
A: Home is wherever I'm staying for more than a single night. I used to refer to my college dorm room as "home." I've sometimes referred to a hotel room as "home" if we were staying there for more than one night. Home is where I go back to after sallying forth into the world, so it's a haven and a refuge, a place to return to.
Q: Friendship is such a huge theme in this book. There are many elements that make up a great bosom friendship like Anne and Diana’s but if you had to pick three of those elements, what would they be?
A: Mutual respect, loving each other in spite of one's flaws, and a willingness to do things together you don't particularly enjoy if your friend does.
Q: Of course, we love Gilbert Blythe but the real sweetheart in the first book is Matthew Cuthbert. What makes Matthew such a great father figure in Anne’s life? And (if you’ve read the books before) what effect do you think his love and influence has in the rest of Anne’s life?
A: I think he taught her that kindness with no strings attached is one of the best gifts you can give anyone. And he taught her that listening to someone is another. When she begins to mentor younger people, and eventually becomes a mother, you can see her giving them those same gifts that Matthew once gave her.