12 February 2011

On Marilla ...

So I hinted mysteriously (well I hope it was, it felt kind of crass, in a ‘stay tuned, we’ll be right back after these messages’ sort of way) about the fact that I didn’t think a certain ranga heroine was the real protagonist of Anne of Green Gables. Then I promptly disappeared for a month. Sorry.

I’m ready to back my claim.

BTW, for those who have privately expressed consternation as to my maligning of Anne’s character, never fear. I am not going to trample your dreams too much (mostly because I don’t think that it’s necessary).

My claim:

Anne is Not the True Heroine of Anne of Green Gables

Pish, you say, not to mention poppycock. We all know the story is about Anne. It’s right there in the title! Well, yes, I suppose, there is a name in the title – in fact there’s two – but it’s the latter of these that holds the clue. You see this is not a story about how Green Gables changes Anne; as I wrote rather incoherently in the post, Anne doesn’t change – she just ignores any past issues in her life. This is a story about how Anne’s presence changes those around her.

The real heroine of this story? Marilla. She is hands down the best character in the book. Matthew is sweet, Anne is a funny idiot, but this is Marilla’s story. Anne is just a bit player with delusions of Grandeur.

Look at the way the story is structured. The first chapter is all about Marilla explaining to Rachel what she and her brother had decided to do and Rachel tsking something chronic over it. Anne is not chosen in person; in fact it is never explained how Anne was chosen from an entire orphanage of children. What does that tell you? Who she is is not that important. That she is what she is is merely details. This story is about Marilla learning some humanity by caring for another human being.

Anne herself doesn’t come into the story until the half-way through the second chapter, and even then she is seen through Matthew’s eyes. Indeed, the vast majority of the stories about Anne in the book are told from Marilla’s point of view: she watches Anne and we watch along. We see what happens to Anne, but we also see Marilla’s reaction to the events of the story.

Failing Marilla, there is always a sense that we are watching the action of the story as a bystander, or as though someone is recounting the anecdote to us at a later date. Anne is never the absolute centre of any story – she may be the subject, but she is not its purpose. We never see very far into Anne’s head – never more than could be surmised by just guessing – so we are never given leave to really embrace Anne as a true heroine, just a character involved in the action.

In the course of the story, Anne goes off to school, a period interspersed by letters home (as read by Marilla) and Anne worrying about making Matthew and Marilla proud (so they are still front and centre of the story). Anne gets the fairy tale ending – scholarship to university, class honours. But the camera is on Matthew and Marilla as Anne gets them, and this one event shows brings about the primary example of why Anne is not the heroine of this piece.

The scholarship surrounds the main climax of the story. If this book were really about Anne, she would take that scholarship and run, cheered on by her ailing but supportive Marilla. After all, we all know that the fantasy ending always goes to the Heroine, after much sacrifice and trouble. This does not happen. Instead, Anne’s glory is undercut by a series of calamities for Marilla. She loses her brother, her saving and is in danger of losing her house and her eyesight. Anyone who reads the book forgets about Anne’s achievements the moment Matthew dies. She’s like the BFF who gets the token moment in the sun (hence Diana’s relegation to bit player) before the real action takes place.

So Anne (as a character) doesn’t gain or lose any status in her decision to not take the scholarship she’s offered. She’s just submitting to her role as supporting actress – and then things fall into place so that Marilla gets her dream ending. Hooray! I actually rather love watching that particular character slap-down. There’s something so heartwarming about seeing Anne get one ...

Anne is, dare I say it, the Mary Sue of Green Gables, the ideal that LM wishes she had been growing up with her grandparents on PEI. Anne, for all her flaws, manages to charm those around her into what she imagines life should be. Reality would make short work of a real Anne. Marilla is the real author behind the Mary Sue, well aware that the little girl is her fantasy and laughing at herself for indulging in said fantasy.

I love Marilla much more now than I did as a child. She is so dry, so deadpan, that you don’t realise that she is laughing at first until you go back and read carefully. She goes right over the heads of the children reading the story, so dazzled are they by the red hair and big words. A return visit to Avonlea as an adult ...

I’m going to have a few more posts on Anne – but I really want to start Amelia Jane, so I’m going to intersperse them a bit (and try to make them shorter ... Look at me, under 1000 words!)

Next stop – the Nursery, where we get to meet the one of Enid’s greatest creations ... Amelia Jane!

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