Sunday, March 7, 2010

Women's Day, Canadian Content, Anne of Green Gables

My friend Lori Weston wrote about the closing ceremony to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics:

"Watched the Olympics closing ceremony, with larger-than-life manly-men sports heroes surrounded by the only female representation present - cancan-kicking "girls" as mini-skirted and midriff-baring versions of Mounties and maple leaves - I couldn't help but wonder if the women athletes felt at all insulted by this one-sided view of Canadian icons. Granted, it was tongue-in-cheek and appeared to be some gay choreographer's vision of a Busby Berkeley number on acid, with enormous moose balloons floating overhead and voyageurs dancers step-dancing inside bottomless canoes hanging off their shoulders. Talia and I agreed that the most surreal element was Michael Bublé in a Mountie uniform warbling the Maple Leaf Forever against a retro stereotypical postcard backdrop of the Rocky Mountains...we expected Jeannette McDonald to come out and join him at any moment."

Thank you Lori. That pretty much sums it up.

Nonetheless, if you still need some more Canadian content, check this out:


Anne of Green Gables

The last book that we discussed at book club was Anne of Green Gables. I facilitated the discussion. Here is my review followed by the facilitating notes, in case anyone wants to use them.

My Review
When we decided to read a children's literature novel in book club, I nominated Anne of Green Gables with enthusiasm. Nonetheless, it was with some trepidation that I went back to the book, because the things that moved you as a child sometimes fail to have the same impact later in life. As a young reader I shared Anne's joy and wonder at the world and its beauty, her fear of not being accepted into the family and society, her longing for romance in an ordinary world, her outrage at the unfairness with which youth is treated. Her attempts and shortcomings to live up to moral standards.

As an older reader, these features still touched me. Reading the book later in life I also paid more attention to the older characters: The sadness of Marilla, who has watched her life shrivel way. Matthew's mute inability to make contact with others. They are both of caring and kindhearted people but their lives lack joy.

It is not difficult to figure out why Anne is such an endearing and enduring heroine. She is intense. She loves and hates passionately. Her bosom buddy/kindred spirit relations. Her romanticism, great imagination, and that fact that she is given to flights of fantasy. She revels in sentimental tragedy. Her outspokenness. Her adventurousness. She is hard working, honest, caring and compassionate. She is aware of her own shortcomings. She sees beauty and looks for goodness. She approaches the world with wide-eyed wonder and openness.

Rereading Anne of Green Gables brought me back to the Leslie Anne I used to be.

Happy International Women's Day to all!


Anne of Green Gables by
Lucy Maud Montgomery
Book Club Facilitating Notes

1. Plot Summary
2. List of Characters
3. L.M. Montgomery Biography
4. Bibliography, Awards and Recognitions
5. Some historical facts addressed in the novel.
6. Comparative study: Anne of Green Gables and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
7. Discussion Questions
8. My review

1. Plot summary
Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, unmarried middle-aged siblings who live together at Green Gables, a farm in the village of Avonlea, on Prince Edward Island, decide to adopt a boy from an orphan asylum in Nova Scotia as a helper on their farm. Through a series of mishaps, the person who ends up under their roof is a precocious girl of eleven named Anne Shirley. Anne is bright and quick, eager to please and talkative, but dissatisfied with her name, her pale countenance dotted with freckles, and with her long braids of red hair. Although wishing she was named Cordelia, she insists that if you are to call her Anne, it must be spelt with an 'E', as it is "so much more distinguished." Being a child of imagination, however, Anne takes much joy in life, and adapts quickly, thriving in the environment of Prince Edward Island. She is something of a chatterbox, and drives the prim, duty-driven Marilla to distraction, although shy Matthew falls for her immediately.

The rest of the book recounts her continued education at school, where she excels in studies very quickly, her budding literary ambitions and her friendships with people such as Diana Barry (her best friend, "bosom friend" as Anne fondly calls her), Jane Andrews, Ruby Gillis, and her rivalry with Gilbert Blythe, who teases her about her red hair and for that acquires her hatred, although he apologizes many times. Anne and Gilbert compete in class and Anne one day realizes she no longer hates Gilbert, but will not admit it; at the end of the book, they both become very good friends.

The book also follows her misadventures in quiet, old-fashioned Avonlea. These adventures include her games with her friends (Diana, Jane and Ruby), her rivalries with the Pye sisters (Gertie and Josie) and her domestic mistakes such as dyeing her hair green. Anne, along with Gilbert, Ruby, Josie, Jane and several other students, eventually go to the Queen's Academy and obtains a teaching license in one year, in addition to winning the Avery Prize in English, which allows her to pursue a B.A. at Redmond College.

The book ends with Matthew's death, caused by a heart attack after learning of the loss of all his and Marilla's money. Anne shows her devotion to Marilla and Green Gables by giving up the Avery Prize, deciding to stay at home and help Marilla, whose eyesight is diminishing, and teaching at the Carmody school, the nearest school available. To show his friendship, Gilbert Blythe gives up his teaching position in the Avonlea School to work at White Sands School instead, thus enabling Anne to teach at the Avonlea School and stay at Green Gables all through the week. After this kind act, Anne and Gilbert become friends.

2. Characters
Anne Shirley - An imaginative, red-headed orphan who comes to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, siblings

Marilla Cuthbert - A crisp, practical, no-nonsense woman who doesn't approve of Anne's wild imagination although she does grow to love the orphan. Her sense of humor develops greatly upon Anne's arrival and Mrs. Lynde states that she became "mellow".

Matthew Cuthbert - Marilla's brother, a shy, awkward man who takes a liking to Anne from the start. The two become fast friends but he dies in the end.

Diana Barry - A bosom friend of Anne, Anne's kindred spirit. Anne and Diana become best friends from the moment they meet. She is the only little girl who lives close to Green Gables. While Anne does not think Diana is very imaginative, Diana is noted for being pretty, merry and very amiable.

Gilbert Blythe - Anne's enemy from the beginning for pulling her hair and calling her "Carrots". Even though Gilbert apologizes shortly after the incident, Anne remains scornful toward him for a few years but Gilbert never abandons his quest for her friendship as he is in love with her. Anne forgives Gilbert by the end of the book and the two become friends - and eventually marry (an event which takes place a few books later in the Anne series).

Rachel Lynde - A neighbor of Matthew and Marilla and the nosiest person in town. Although she did not take a liking to Anne in the beginning, she soon warms to the freckled faced orphan. She is incredibly industrious, helpful and loves doing work for the church, her husband follows her orders.

Miss Stacy - Anne's new teacher. Miss Stacy is truly a mentor to Anne. Miss Stacy worked hard to be accepted by Avonlea, as her teaching methods were new, and she was a "woman teacher."

Josie Pye - Anne's sometimes friend, sometimes rival, and classmate. She is vain and generally disliked by the girls of Avonlea like all the other Pyes. Her younger sister is Gertie Pye.

Jane Andrews - One of Anne's friends whom she is very fond of, although Diana remains her closest friend. Jane is described as rather staid, plain and with very little imagination.

Ruby Gillis - Another one of Anne's friends. Ruby is flirtatious and always discusses beaux. She is portrayed as pretty with long, golden hair and an imagination like Anne's. Ruby loves getting the attention of the boys but will eventually die after finding her one true love.

Reverend and Mrs. Allen - The minister and his wife, two friends for Anne. Mrs. Allen becomes Anne's hero.

Mr. Philips - Anne's first teacher at Avonlea, whom she despised (he spelled Anne's name without an 'E', among other things).

3. Biography of Author

Born on Nov. 30, 1874, on Prince Edward Island, Canada, L. M. Montgomery was raised by her maternal grandparents after the death of her mother when Montgomery was two years old. Her grandparents, a pair of strict Presbyterians, raised Montgomery in their Cavendish farmhouse in a religious environment and isolated her from much social involvement with other children. “I had no companionship except that of books and solitary rambles in wood and fields,” wrote Montgomery in one of her many journals. “This drove me in on myself and early forced me to construct for myself a world of fancy and imagination very different indeed from the world in which I lived.” Her natural surroundings gave her a “passport to fairyland” as she used her imagination to escape the day to day life on the farm.

While Montgomery’s grandparents fulfilled the material side of her childhood needs, they were unable to supply the additional emotional and mental support she required. As a sensitive child, she was especially vulnerable, and when her grandmother harshly reminded her of such things as her father’s abandonment of Maud, she recoiled into her own world.

As a child, Montgomery began keeping journals. She found a safe outlet for her temperaments in these records. Later, as Montgomery grew up and became more introspective, the journals were a method of keeping herself in control and a place to express her thoughts. She kept a record her entire life.

From childhood, writing was Montgomery’s dream. “I cannot remember the time when I was not writing, or when I did not mean to be an author. To write has always been my central purpose toward which every effort and hope and ambition of my life has grouped itself.” In 1890, at the age of sixteen, her poem, On Cape Le Force, was published in Charlottetown’s newspaper. Shortly after, she started publishing articles, essays, short stories, and verse in other newspapers.

Meanwhile, Montgomery went to school and earned her teacher certificate in 1894. The next year, she received her first class license to teach. She taught at schools throughout the Island until her grandfather’s death in 1898. At that time she left the teaching profession in order to return home to Cavendish to help her grandmother. She nursed her grandmother until the woman’s death in March of 1911.

Montgomery found inspiration for the Anne story from an old entry in one of her notebooks. “Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy. By mistake a girl is sent them.” She thought this would make a nice story for the serial she wanted to write. The novel took shape in the evenings between the spring of 1904 and the fall of 1905. After receiving several rejection slips from publishers, she put the book away for two years before revising and submitting it to the Boston publishing company L. C. Page. On April 8, 1907, Montgomery received an acceptance letter, and in slightly more than a year, Anne of Green Gables was published.

The book was extremely popular. In response to her publisher's request for a sequel, Montgomery produced Anne of Avonlea. Montgomery was a prolific writer. Besides Anne series, she also wrote many other novels, including several other series, poetry, and short stories, while her letters and journals have been separately collected and published posthumously.

Montgomery married the Reverend Ewan Macdonald on July 5, 1911. She gave birth to three sons, one of whom was still born, in the early years of her marriage. Her husband suffered from long-lasting episodes of deep depression, and Montgomery bore the burden of nursing him and of keeping the secret for him during the large part of her marriage life.

Among her difficulties, Montgomery was also involved with a lengthy lawsuit against her first publisher, L. C. Page. Along with the strain of coping with her husband’s mental disorder, Montgomery had health problems of her own, especially towards the end of her life. The years of covering for her husband took their toll, as did worries about her law suit, the two world wars, and her own concerns. In 1938, she suffered a physical and nervous breakdown, and another in 1940. She died on April 24, 1942. (68)

4. Works
Novels: (20)
•1908 Anne of Green Gables
•1909 Anne of Avonlea
•1910 Kilmeny of the Orchard
•1911 The Story Girl
•1913 The Golden Road
•1915 Anne of the Island
•1917 Anne's House of Dreams
•1919 Rainbow Valley
•1920 Rilla of Ingleside
•1923 Emily of New Moon
•1925 Emily Climbs
•1926 The Blue Castle
•1927 Emily's Quest
•1929 Magic for Marigold
•1931 A Tangled Web
•1933 Pat of Silver Bush
•1935 Mistress Pat
•1936 Anne of Windy Poplars
•1937 Jane of Lantern Hill
•1939 Anne of Ingleside

Poetry: (2)
•1916 The Watchman and Other Poems
•1987 The Poetry of Lucy Maud Montgomery

Short Story Collections: (12)
•1912 Chronicles of Avonlea
•1920 Further Chronicles of Avonlea
•1974 The Road to Yesterday
•1979 The Doctor's Sweetheart
•1988 Akin to Anne: Tales of Other Orphans
•1989 Along the Shore: Tales by the Sea
•1990 Among the Shadows: Tales from the Darker Side
•1991 After Many Days: Tales of Time Passed
•1993 Against the Odds: Tales of Achievement
•1994 At the Altar: Matrimonial Tales
•1995 Across the Miles: Tales of Correspondence
•1995 Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories

•1985 The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery Volume I: 1889-1910
•1987 The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery Volume II: 1910-1921
•1992 The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery Volume III:1921-1929
•1998 The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery Volume IV:1929-1935
•Soon The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery Volume V:1935-1942

•1960 The Green Gables Letters: from L.M. Montgomery Ephraim Weber, 1905-1909
•1990 My Dear Mr. M: Letters to G.B. MacMillan from L.M. Montgomery
•2006 After Green Gables: L.M. Montgomerys Letters to Ephraim Weber, 1916-1941

•1934 Courageous Women

•1907 The Island Hymn

•1917 The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career

In 1923, Montgomery became the first Canadian woman to be made a member of the British Royal Society of Arts. In 1935, Montgomery was made a Companion of the Order of the British Empire by King George V and was elected to the Literary and Artistic Institute of France. After her death in 1942, the National Sites and Historic Board of Canada declared Montgomery a person of national historic significance. In 1999, Montgomery was voted one of the top 20 Canadian heroes in a Dominion Institute and the Council for Canadian Unity internet survey. In the same year, CBC held a millennium poll and Montgomery was voted the most influential Canadian writer of the twentieth century. In 2000, L.M. Montgomery was chosen by Maclean's magazine as one of twenty-five Canadians who inspired the world.

Map of Prince Edward Island. Anne's Avonlea is thought to correspond to Cavendish.

5. Historical facts in the Novel

Orphans in Canada
Thomas John Barnardo (1845-1905) is a classically Victorian figure - evangelical, entrepreneurial and philanthropic. His crusade to 'rescue children from the streets' was one the best known social interventions in the last half of the nineteenth century.

Child migration
The export of destitute and orphaned children has a long history in Britain - with around 130,000 children being shipped off to various parts of the Empire over some 350 years. The first group was arguably sent in 1618 to Richmond, Virginia in the USA; the last was dispatched to Australia in 1967. The various groups and agencies sending children to Canada, Australia and other countries generally thought they were providing them with a new start:

He was also able to convince host governments such as that of Canada of its efficacy. Reception homes were established and from them children were placed. Those still at school stayed in the homes until they finished schooling - after which they were fostered with local families. Between 1882 and 1939 the agency sent over 30,000 children to Canada.

PEI red soil
High iron oxide content
The Mi'-kmaq say that the Great Spirit of Creation used the red soil to create "the fairest of all earthly places."

Ipecac is an emetic and it has been used to treat croup and bronchial congestion.

Redmond College
Redmond College is in Kingsport, N.S., but it is fictional although Kingsport NS does exist.

Avery Scholarship
The Avery Scholarship was established in December 1998 by the owners of Cavendish Figurines Ltd., Don Maxfield and Jeannette Arsenault, as a contribution to their Island community in grateful appreciation of the legacy of L.M. Montgomery on PEI and in tribute to the "spirit of Anne." The award is named after the fictional Avery Scholarship in Anne of Green Gables.

God's in his Heaven - All's right with the world!
Pippa Passes was a dramatic piece, as much play as poetry, by Robert Browning published in 1841.

Inherited Politics
Grits and Tories

6. MIRROR IMAGES: Anne of Green Gables and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
By Constance Classen and David Howes
Kate Douglas Wiggin's Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm was published in Boston in 1903. Lucy Maud Montgomery began writing Anne of Green Gables in 1905 and the final version of the work was published in Boston in 1908.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is no longer widely read. However, at the time of Anne of Green Gables‘ publication it was at the height of its popularity and the similarities between the two books must have been noticed by the readers of the day. This was, in fact, the case, judging by the comments of contemporary reviewers. One American reviewer called Anne of Green Gables "a sort of Canadian `Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm‘" (MacLulich 1985: 10). A British reviewer stated that "We can pay the author of Anne of Green Gables no higher compliment than to say that she has given us a perfect Canadian companion picture to Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" (cited in Barry, Doody, and Doody Jones 1997: 489). Mark Twain, who knew how to build a story out of an imaginative child’s rebellion against a repressive adult world himself, spoke in glowing terms of both works. He found Rebecca "beautiful and moving and satisfying" (Smith 1925: 134), and called Anne "the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice" (Eggleston 1960: 80).

Montgomery herself stated that "Anne’s success at school is too good for literary art. But the book was written for girls and must please them to be a financial success" (Eggleston 1960: 73). In "The Bogus Ugly Duckling: Anne Shirley Unmasked", Lesley Willis writes: "What L.M. Montgomery really wants is to engage for Anne the same kind of sympathy which might be given to a fairy-tale heroine, but without making her undergo the same trials" (Willis 1976: 251). However, it was precisely because Montgomery was more interested in entertainment than plausibility that she is able to place her heroine in situations which would be improbable for Rebecca in her more constrained setting. Anne breaks her slate on a classmate’s head and refuses to return to school (118), she dyes her hair green and has to have it cut off (229), she accidentally intoxicates her best friend (136), and so on. Rebecca, at her worst, can do little more than wear her good dress without permission (92) and throw her parasol down a well in a fit of self-mortification (122). Anne certainly has the edge over Rebecca when it comes to adventure.

Critical Reception
Early critics praised Anne of Green Gables as a delightful work for children, especially girls. Subsequent criticism through the first three-quarters of the twentieth century was polite but unenthusiastic, despite the novel's popularity around the world, including in Japan, where young girls became enthralled with the red-headed Anne's adventures. But in the 1970s and beyond, and especially as important contemporary women writers such as Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro began to acknowledge their affection for Anne, the book took on a new critical life, with many feminist commentators noting the care Montgomery took to make Anne a fully developed character. Some critics still maintain that the book is sentimental and overwrought with stereotypical gender depictions, but many regard Anne as a solid role model for girls and young women.

Map of Avonlea

7. Discussion Questions

1. Good behavior is a subject that troubles Anne. Choose two main characters from the novel and discuss the different ways each character approaches the problem of being good.

Answer for Study Question 1 >>
Upon her arrival at Green Gables, Anne immediately comes into conflict with the people of Avonlea, especially Marilla, because of their different conceptions of what it means to be good. Marilla follows a strict definition of good behavior based on traditional roles and propriety, and she uses behavior to judge a person’s underlying moral character. To Marilla, Anne’s ignorance of the proper way to pray suggests that Anne is not only badly brought up but possibly wicked. When Anne decorates her hat with wildflowers on the way to church, she unwittingly draws stares and laughter from established churchgoers. Marilla feels that such Anne’s actions reflect badly on her. Although Marilla understands and sympathizes with Anne’s lack of formal education, she believes that standard rules of behavior should govern a young girl’s actions.
Anne is perplexed by the new moral codes she encounters while living with Marilla. She includes several personal wishes in her first prayer, asking that God make her pretty and change her red hair, which suggests that Anne thinks of prayer as an opportunity to express her fondest desires. Similarly, she does not understand why wearing flowers to church is objectionable, as the other girls wear artificial flowers in their hats. Expectations that conflict with her own common sense confuse Anne. Anne believes that if good intentions drive a person, it does not matter if her actions are unusual, because that person is still inherently good.
As Anne matures and Marilla mellows, their conflict over the definition of good behavior becomes less strident. At the beginning of her stay, Anne thinks that if she feels justified in her actions, it is right for her to act in any way she chooses. For example, Anne attacks Mrs. Rachel when Mrs. Rachel makes a derogatory remark about Anne’s red hair. Although Marilla sympathizes with Anne’s feelings, she insists that Anne follow the accepted code of conduct. Eventually, Anne comes to appreciate pleasant behavior and treating others with kindness and respect. She maintains her independent spirit, but begins to understand the importance of good behavior as a way of getting along with people and that acting as expected puts people at ease.

2. How do Anne’s conceptions of the future evolve throughout the novel?

As an unloved orphan, Anne cultivates the ability to imagine exciting futures. She constructs futures for herself based on imaginative, romantic notions of beauty, eternal love, and tragic loss. When Anne arrives at Green Gables, she dreams of a future in which she is named Lady Cordelia and has a best friend, a home, and people who love her. She imagines that her red hair will disappear and that riches will surround her. When some of these dreams come true, they disappoint or please her to varying degrees. She loves her home and her family, but her dreams of riches fall flat. When she and Diana visit Aunt Josephine in the city, for example, partaking of her wealthy lifestyle, Anne discovers that the fantasy of wealth gives her more pleasure than the fact of wealth.
As Anne matures, she envisions her future differently. Her romanticism fades, and she regards her childhood fantasies as undesirable. Ambition replaces romanticism, and Anne strives to achieve real goals. She studies and works with the same zeal that she earlier applies to daydreaming. At the end of the novel, Anne’s vision of her future draws on her romantic notions as well as her ambition. Anne gives up her unrealistic dream of becoming rich and spoiled and her realistic dream of attending a four-year college. She settles for a future that combines her idealism and her work ethic. She will stay in her well-loved Avonlea, with the house and family she dreamed of as a child. She will continue her studies and teach at the school, but she will also fulfill her duties as a responsible adult by caring for the ones who love her.

3. What role does fashion play in Anne of Green Gables? In what ways do fashion and characters’ differing attitudes toward fashion reveal differences and similarities between various characters?

As a child, Anne dreams of wearing fancy dresses and puffed sleeves, but Marilla, always sensible, considers interest in fashion an expression of vanity. Marilla believes that an upstanding Christian woman should condemn fashion. The conflict between Marilla’s and Anne’s attitudes toward dress reflects broader differences in their personalities and beliefs. Anne often equates morality with physical appearance, saying that it would be easier to be good if only she were pretty and well dressed. Marilla, on the other hand, considers morality to exclude concern with dress.
Matthew’s timid entry into the realm of women’s fashion is the turning point in Anne and Marilla’s conflict. Although Matthew is normally unaware of feminine pursuits, he notices that Anne stands apart from her friends because of her plain, unfashionable clothes. He decides to get Anne a new dress and courageously faces a female store clerk in town, marking an important change in his character. Fashion is a means by which Matthew shows his evolution as a character. For love of Anne, he becomes a bit more brave.
Matthew’s purchase of a dress for Anne changes both Marilla’s and Anne’s attitudes. Marilla sees that Anne is the same person in a plain dress or in a fancy one. Marilla no longer relies solely on dogma for moral guidance but is willing to accept new ideas. Anne realizes that her physical appearance does not inform her morality and that she can be a good person no matter what she wears. Anne learns that beauty is more than just wearing a dress with puffed sleeves and that behavior, not fashion, makes a person good.

1. Discuss the role of imagination in the novel. How does it drive plot events, and how do characters’ imaginations evolve throughout the novel?

3. How does Anne’s character change, and how does her character change those around her?

4. Why are confessions important in Anne of Green Gables? Compare Anne’s confessions and discuss how each one has a different impact on her.

How does Anne compare to the Colombian classic María by Jorge Isaacs?

Roles of women in Anne of Green Gables
Voting: 1916 Canada, 1922 PEI
Mrs. Lynde in favor of allowing women to vote

8. My review

See above.

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