Thursday, December 03, 2015

Anne Shirley and Marilla Cuthbert

A few weeks ago, Lilly and I began reading "Anne of Green Gables" together.

This was entirely my idea.  She was required to read a classic for school, and "Anne of Green Gables" was on her bookshelf; but she had approached the book once before, and the language and miserable character in the first chapter sent her away.

I am reading it to her at bedtime - a rare joy, with our avid and independent young reader.  On this, my first reading as an adult, I love the book just as much as when I was 10 years old.  Yet many things surprise me.  Lilly struggles to understand some of the language; but I remember loving the book as a 5th grader, and she is a much stronger reader than I ever was.  Perhaps the book became antiquated in the past 30 years; perhaps Lilly hasn't spent enough time talking with my grandmother, or anyone of her generation. Lucy Maud Montgomery's wit was understated and sharp, and Lilly frequently misunderstands her criticisms as plain descriptors.  How much did I miss when I read this 30 years ago?

Lilly's opinion of Anne surprises me the most.  She has not fully developed her thesis, but it is clear that Lilly finds Anne silly and frivolous.  Anne's lavish word choices often annoy her and her constant eye to scope for the imagination seems excessive.  Lilly agrees with Marilla - Anne is vain and overly picky, and she talks too much.

She is right on all counts, of course.  But here is the difference:  when Lilly reads the book, she identifies with Marilla most of the time.  When I read the book as a girl, I identified fully with Anne.  I was quite convinced that had I been an orphan girl on Prince Edward Island, I would have been exactly like her; in love with the natural beauty and the unique sense of place, inspired by everything around me, and seeing sparkles in every new thing.  Reading the book, both then and now, filled me with joy and a magical sense of wonder, and a piercing longing to live in the midst of such simple beauty.

It is jarring to read one of my favorite characters to my daughter, and find that she is annoyed.