In a time when we have increasingly found ourselves indoors and spending more time alone, it is only natural that we should reflect. I for one can say that the pandemic has allowed me to learn a lot about myself and introspect. Yet, solitude is not necessarily an easy thing to bear. One thing that can help, however, is imagination. With that in mind, here’s what I learnt re-reading L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables a decade after I first bought it.
In all my previous articles, I have only ever implied that you should read a book. Here I am telling you right now that YOU MUST, ABSOLUTELY MUST, READ ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. Perhaps the elite among you have already been blessed enough to share your childhood with everyone’s favourite Canadian redheaded orphan. Regardless, Montgomery’s book is unequivocally the best book I have ever read in my entire life. Anne is an elegant mixture of childish mischief, innocence, picturesque countryside, morals, forgiveness… it is quite simply 384 pages of pure, unadulterated serotonin. Every single word is poignantly chosen. Every sentence beautifully evocative. And every minute spent reading it the ultimate guarantor of joy.
We follow the life and mishaps of Anne Shirley, an 11-year-old orphan who is mistakenly sent to live with the middle-aged siblings, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, on Prince Edward Island. And with a name as beautiful as Prince Edward Island, you already know that every description of nature is set to make you cry with nostalgia for a childhood in the countryside you’ve never even had. Over the course of this book, we watch Anne grow up and blunder her way through life as she tries to integrate into the society of Avonlea, the village on Prince Edward Island.
A recurring theme in Montgomery’s work is the power of imagination, especially in our eponymous heroine. Indeed, Anne regularly finds herself in trouble because of it. One time, while helping to prepare the plum pudding sauce, she gets carried away using the cloth meant to cover it as a white veil and forgets to cover the bowl. The next day when she fetches it, she finds a mouse has drowned in it. But in spite of the chaos, Anne’s reaction of ‘I suppose in the end it was a rather romantic way to perish for a mouse’ still remains one of the best formulations of speech to have ever been spoken. Another time, while playing the corpse of Elaine from Tennyson’s 1859 epic poem Lancelot and Elaine, Anne almost drowns when the flat-bottom boat, on which she is pretending to be dead, takes on water.
So, obviously Anne’s rampant imagination is often the source of her unintentional mischief, and when she recalls her time in the orphanage or with previous families, we see just how important her imagination is in escapism. Before joining the orphanage, she was overworked by helping to take care of the many children in her foster family and was witness to the drunkenness and violence of the family’s father. Anne’s imaginary friend, Katie, was her own reflection and the only person she felt she could confide in. Besides that, Anne mentions how Katie’s world, despite looking so much like her own, seemed infinitely better. With the pandemic, and the rather dystopian-feeling events we hear about and experience every day, escapism might seem like an increasingly appealing prospect.
But for all her imagination, and romanticisation of past eras, Anne undoubtedly lives in the present. The fact that she is ‘devoured by secret regret she had not been born in Camelot [because] those days… were so much more romantic than the present’ does not make her any less appreciative of the world she finds herself in. For all its shortcomings and the trials she faces, Anne’s imagination helps her value what she sees and experiences around her.
Anne’s imagination is inspiring, but more than that, it makes her brave. Anne is the poster girl for making the best of what you have. It has often been said that children see the world differently to adults. Maybe they see it more clearly and more purely because they are perceiving the essence of what they observe around them, whether good or bad. Montgomery’s use of the young Anne’s perspective is therefore a powerful tool, because she presents to her readers the world through the eyes of a little girl so grateful for her chance to be in a new family that she, as much as possible, looks for the best in anything. The name ‘Barry’s Pond’ is transformed into ‘The Lake of Shining Waters’; the so-called ‘Avenue’ – a ‘stretch of road four or five hundred yards long, completely arched over with huge, wide-spreading apple-trees… [and] one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom’ – becomes ‘The White Way of Delight’.
For over a decade now, Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables, has been my hero and idol. And we could all learn a thing or two from her. Use and appreciate your imagination. Romanticise the banality of everyday life. Tap into your inner child to see the beauty in the places, people, or objects around you. Appreciate your place in life, even if your plans or expectations have been dashed by this seemingly everlasting pandemic. Realise like Anne that ‘kindred spirits are not so scarce as [you] used to think’. Savour every second of every moment. Because for all the bad things that might get you down, focussing on a single positive thing might just be enough to make you mutter:
Dear old world, … you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.
Picture from Wikimedia Commons