Tomorrow I am leaving to go visit Emily in Pennsylvania; in addition to the pleasure of seeing Emily herself, I have something else to look forward to: she has promised to leave a stack of books on my nightstand for me to look through and perhaps borrow. I’m very curious to see what she chooses. I’ll be back on Monday.
For now I want to write a bit about my Anne of Green Gables rereading. As much as I admire Kate’s plan to read the book slowly, I can’t follow suit; if I hadn’t had a busy couple of days and if I weren’t reading a few other books I would have finished the novel already. I don’t think I’m capable of showing any discipline when it comes to that book; I can’t resist reading just one more chapter.
I’ve been trying to figure out what the source of Anne’s appeal is for me. I’m not at all like her. I don’t talk much, I have little imagination (at least of the sort Anne has), I’m not artistic, and I am not, as the narrator describes Anne, “feminine to the core.” But of course I don’t have to be like a character to feel drawn toward her. I suspect I’m much more like Diana Barry, who is different from Anne in a lot of ways too. Diana doesn’t have Anne’s imagination or talent for coming up with ideas (or for getting into trouble), but she is willing to go along with whatever Anne proposes and is ardently devoted to her. I could see myself happily being Anne’s sidekick. As I read along I find myself wondering if Anne would consider me a kindred spirit if I met her in real life, and I can’t help but hope she would. Perhaps that’s part of her appeal too — the reader can’t help but want to be a part of her inner circle, one of the chosen, one of those people who really gets her.
I’ve also been thinking about religion in the novel, something I’m pretty sure I didn’t pay much attention to as a kid, although perhaps I absorbed some important lessons without being aware of it. I’m struck by Anne’s irreverence and her determination to stick to her own view of God and of people, no matter how much Marilla rebukes her. This comes up, of course, in Anne’s doubtfulness about the value of prayer when Marilla first asks her to say her prayers at night (“Mrs. Thomas told me that God made my hair red on purpose, and I’ve never cared about him since”), and in her response to the minister’s prayers in church (“He was talking to God and he didn’t seem to be very much interested in it, either. I think he thought God was too far off to make it worth while”).
It’s not that Anne doesn’t believe in God, exactly, but that God seems kind of beside the point in her life. As Marilla describes her, she is a “freckled witch of a girl who knew and cared nothing about God’s love, since she had never had it translated to her through the medium of human love.” She also seems to value her own perceptions of the world most of all, and she will admit to the existence and importance of God only to the extent that this makes sense to her. I don’t get the sense that Anne would ever subordinate her own instincts about life in order to conform to traditional piety in the name of religious faith. She trusts herself too much to do this. I find this attitude appealing; it’s a confidence I myself have developed only very slowly and mostly as an adult, but I wonder if I didn’t learn a little bit of it from Anne.
I also am struck by one particular way Anne talks about imagination; in the Aunt Josephine episode, the one where Anne and Diana incur her wrath by jumping into her bed in the middle of the night, she says this:
Have you any imagination, Miss Barry? If you have, just put yourself in our place. We didn’t know there was anybody in that bed and you nearly scared us to death. It was simply awful the way we felt. And then we couldn’t sleep in the spare room after being promised. I suppose you are used to sleeping in spare rooms. But just imagine what you would feel like if you were a little orphan girl who never had such an honor.
Anne is asking Josephine Barry to empathize with her and to do so through an act of imagination. Here is one aspect of Anne’s imagination I care a lot about and hope to share — to be able to understand people, to put myself in their place, by thinking creatively and thereby, maybe, to refrain from judging them or from getting angry at them. There is an ethical aspect to imagination, and I admire Anne for drawing on it here.