We know that the Cuthbert siblings, Matthew and Marilla, wanted to adopt a boy to help with the farm and they got Anne Shirley instead. It was Matthew who was first taken with Anne, telling Marilla that they ought to keep her. Matthew’s connection with Anne was sparked by some instinctive desire to keep this wide-eyed, talkative, wild child in his life.
Marilla, on the other hand, was more cautious and critical of the new presence in their lives. In my opinion, it was her moral conscience that tipped the scale in favor of letting Anne stay at Green Gables. She couldn’t bring herself to give Anne to Mrs. Blewett. She was eventually convinced that raising Anne was the right thing to do — perhaps her Christian duty.
Anne’s bringing up years was from 11 – 15 years old. By the time she went to Queen’s, she was quasi-independent and had been integrated into society. So for this post, I’ll focus on those years.
Marilla and Matthew had a deal: Anne can stay but Marilla will do the bringing up and Matthew shouldn’t put his oar in. Matthew assented, because he had a phlegmatic personality and it isn’t really in his nature to take charge.
Marilla viewed Anne as an almost heathen girl. Anne didn’t pray, she verbalized her thoughts all too often, and she was emotional most of the time. The best way Marilla thought to deal with Anne’s personality was with strictness, economy, and social propriety.
As a “parent,” Marilla’s priorities were clear. What was the first thing she taught Anne to do? In Chapter 8 (Anne’s Bringing Up is Begun), Marilla taught Anne to memorize the Lord’s Prayer. Godliness and salvation were on top of Marilla’s priorities.
In the first chapter of the book, Green Gables was described as painfully clean. Tidyness was also one of the traits Marilla wanted to instill in Anne. She chided the child for not folding her clothes, for dripping grease on the floor, and for bringing flowers into the house (petals fall all over the place.)
Marilla also valued social propriety. She was embarrassed when Anne went to church with real flowers on her hat. She was mortified when Anne threw a tantrum in front of Mrs. Lynde. Anne was a child who initially didn’t have boundaries — she didn’t have an inner and outer self. In short, she had no filter. Marilla’s parenting (combined with Anne’s schooling) taught Anne that not everything she felt or thought should be articulated in public.
Vanity was another trait that Marilla sought to squash in Anne. I don’t think that Anne was a particularly vain child — her fixation on her appearance was rooted in how different she felt she looked compared to other children. But Marilla thought that Anne thought entirely too much of her looks. How did Marilla “remedy” this? She made Anne very plain clothes. Noticeably plain. This is the one area of Marilla’s parenting I am against. By dressing Anne differently from other Avonlea girls, she only affirmed the alienation Anne felt — which caused Anne to further focus on her “looks.”
Because of Anne’s horrible childhood, she became extremely dependent on her imagination for her emotional survival. Anne would often stare into space, imagining things. While a good and healthy imagination should be cultivated, Anne’s imagination had a danger of keeping her from healthy human relationships. I don’t know if Marilla had the same opinion but she definitely taught Anne to keep her imagination in check, significantly in Chapter 20: A Good Imagination Gone Wrong. Anne had imagined a Haunted Wood and Marilla forced her to face her imaginary fears. Good call, Marilla, I say! Anne needed to learn to not get lost in her imagination.
Before I move on to Matthew’s parenting, I will point out one area I think Marilla showed her wisdom. Marilla (rightly, in my opinion) believed that Anne’s personality was too extreme. To her, Anne felt things to much. The child could be deliriously happy one moment and at the “depths of despair” the next. (I can really relate because, as a kid, I was very much like this, but was more inhibited than Anne to show it.) Because Marilla was aware of this, she perfected a timing of when to tell Anne things. She told Anne she could stay at Green Gables in the morning because if she told her at night, Anne wouldn’t sleep with excitement. Another part in the book where Marilla had great timing was when she waited until Anne ate something before relaying that Mrs. Barry had forgiven her about the currant wine incident and invited Anne to tea. Parents can really learn from Marilla’s discernment.
Now onto Matthew Cuthbert. Matthew, as pointed out above, has a very phlegmatic personality and has the makings of a hermit. He is scared of women and girls, rarely associates with other people, and hides when they have company. He is very passive, minds his own business, and has very little opinions about the world around him. It is very telling, therefore, of Matthew’s love for Anne, that he can be “aggressive” for Anne’s sake.
Three significant events when Matthew “put his oar in:” 1. He told Marilla they should keep Anne. 2. He pushed Marilla to let Anne go to the concert on Diana’s birthday. 3. He gave Anne her first fashionable dress without Marilla’s approval.
I would say Marilla’s parenting style is something like sculpting — whittling away pieces of Anne’s personality she thought was excessive and buffing and shaping Anne’s “good” traits. Matthew, on the other hand, was more of a support beam for Anne. He was always on Anne’s side. He was the figure of unconditional love for Anne. Matthew was the first person in Anne’s life (apart from her biological parents) to love Anne without rhyme or reason. To be fully and healthily “integrated” into society, Anne needed to be accepted, even by just one person. Ironically, it was a “freak” of society who gave her the love she needed.
Marilla’s and Matthew’s parenting styles combined helped Anne to keep her unique nature and helped her to find her place in Avonlea society. I think Marilla and Matthew did a pretty good job. What do you think? Do you have a preference in parenting? Would you have liked Marilla more than Matthew or vice versa?
*** On a slightly different note, if Anne didn’t have Marilla, I think she would be a total Manic Pixie Dream Girl character type. As it was, Anne Shirley is only a Pixie Dream Girl without the Manic. (Click on the link to find out what that is.)