Category Archives: Observations

UPDATED: Anne Shirley and a craving for friendship

“Oh, Marilla, you’d be excited, too, if you were going to meet a little girl you hoped to be your bosom friend and whose mother mightn’t like you.”

We’ve often heard of the saying “you can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends.” But Anne Shirley — orphaned as a babe and merely taken in grudgingly by neighbors — had neither the opportunity to bear the complexity of family dynamics or the luxury of selecting friends.

Anne learned at a very young age the cruelty and isolation of being friendless. Anne didn’t want friends, she needed them. She needed them so badly she made up imaginary friends out of bookcase reflections and echoes. Here was a person so in need of human interaction that she clung even to those who haven’t particularly warmed up to her (yet). For example, she opened up very very quickly to Matthew and Marilla, despite being relative strangers and in spite of knowing they probably wouldn’t adopt her. Earlier in my Anne-reading years, I chalked this up to her lack of “proper bringing up” and ignorance of social dynamics. Now I think it’s that AND she was just that starved for companionship.

Even as a kid, I was weirded out by Anne’s first encounter with Diana Barry. I mean, who does that — decide in a few swift moments to be bosom buddies for life with a girl whom she just met? Not to mention, make her new bosom buddy take a solemn vow. This extreme lack of caution over whom she’d invest her affections in is dumbfounding and slightly disturbing. But to Anne, friendship was a need, just like food and shelter. And with regard to needs, beggars can’t be choosers.

As Anne grew up and gained some stability in her life in terms of relationships, she did learn to be more discerning in choosing her friends. But that emotionally hungry child in the first few chapters of Anne of Green Gables is a strong illustration of the necessity of friendship.

Personal anecdote:

When I was 5 years old, I was semi-transferred to my grandmother’s house in San Juan while my entire family lived in Quezon City. This was because the school I was enrolled in was in San Juan. The house was isolated in the sense that we had no neighbors. For a 5 year old kid, it was a gigantic house — by my count, it had 7 bedrooms at the time.

Having no other kids in proximity to play with, I resorted to my imagination. I claimed one of the second floor rooms (the yellow painted one) as my playroom. I pretended that the closet was full with dresses and that I had a carriage. And of course, I had an imaginary friend named Becky (based on the Becky character in the animated series, Princess Sarah). Needless to say, I can relate with Anne Shirley — when you can’t have real friends, make up your own.


Anne of Ingleside: On Punctuation and Pace

(First things first: Happy 2013! I have sorely neglected this project in the past year — no new posts at all! — and this is me trying to make amends.)

Out of the eight books in the Anne series, it is Anne of Ingleside that is my least favorite. Though full of entertaining and amusing stories of Anne and Gilbert’s brood, what makes the book less enjoyable to read is L.M. Montgomery’s constant use of the ellipsis.

Here’s a sample to refresh your memory:

Dull! Anne almost laughed in her caller’s face. Ingleside dull! With a delicious baby bringing new wonders every day… with visits from Diana and Little Elizabeth and Rebecca Dew to be planned for …with Mrs. Sam Elison of the Upper Glen on Gilbert’s hands with a disease only three people in the world have ever known to have before… with Walter starting school…

As you can see it in the quoted excerpt, Montgomery excessively uses ellipses when she could have very well used commas. This ‘style’ is prevalent throughout the entire book. What this does, for me, is slow the pace of the story and create unnecessary long pauses between complete thoughts. Whenever I reread Anne of Ingleside, I get impatient with the writing — it seems as if every character (as well as the narrator) is constantly taking mental breaks.

I’ve often wondered about why this constant use of ellipses is only present in Anne of Ingleside and not in any of the other Anne books. It is interesting to note that Anne of Ingleside is the last of the series to be published, most likely also last to be written. Perhaps Montgomery tried to experiment with punctuation during the latter period of her writing career (she would soon die a few years after the publication of Anne of Ingleside). Or maybe there wasn’t enough time and attention put into editing it.

Also, Anne of Ingleside seems to lack a level of coherence and tightness evident in the other books. It’s like Montgomery compiled several stories of Anne’s children into one book. Nevertheless, Anne of Ingleside still possesses some pleasurable aspects such as the antics of the infuriating Aunt Mary Maria and the return of Rebecca Dew.

Do you have any theories on Montgomery’s overuse of ellipses in this book? Does it hamper your enjoyment of it in any way? What is your least favorite Anne book? I’d really like to know 🙂

Marilla and Matthew’s Parenting Styles: Which worked best?

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.  Continue reading

Anne Shirley and orphans in fiction

*Note: I started writing this post as an attempt to capture my observation of the role of orphans in stories, I didn’t mean it to be this serious. Apologies for the sort of “academic” tone.

There have been numerous orphan protagonists in various works of literature. Besides Anne Shirley, we have Cinderella, Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist, Harry Potter, the Baudelaire siblings, Dorothy Gale, Mary Lennox, Heidi, Huckleberry Finn, and Tarzan among others. Before I started writing and researching for this post, I never imagined there were that many fictional orphans. Why are orphans and their journeys interesting?

Caroline Myss writes of the archetype of the orphan child:

The Orphan Child is the major character in most well known children’s stories, including Little Orphan Annie, the Matchstick Girl, Bambi, the Little Mermaid, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Cinderella, and many more. The pattern in these stories is reflected in the lives of people who feel from birth as if they are not a part of their family, including the family psyche or tribal spirit. Yet precisely because orphans are not allowed into the family circle, they have to develop independence early in life. (Source)

In elementary school, we are taught that family is the basic unit of society. Orphans are defined as having lost one or both parents — rendering them without that basic form of community most of us possess at birth. Family is a child’s first source of belongingness and identity. Orphans, then, are the outsiders of society, left to make their own connections and circles in the world. In stories about orphans, our fears of being abandoned and left alone are drawn out.

While the lack of a family most often causes abandonment and neglect, orphans are in a special position to create their own identity and eventual “destiny.” As kids, we begin building our identities and our possible futures based on the lives of our parents and the opportunities available to them. Orphans like Anne Shirley can develop traits like imagination, sensitivity, resourcefulness, and survival skills earlier than most children would have, if they even ever did.  Continue reading