7. Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables
This is an unlikely pick.
(Art by Kim Jihyuk)
Considering it is such a densely written novel written way back in 1908, Anne of Green Gables sure manages to maintain its popularity. There have been multiple Western adaptations but, I especially loved the CBC film versions. An entire franchise was spun around Anne in Japan, with the anime version Akage no Anne, expensive Pullip dolls to Shinzi Katoh zakka.
To some degree, I did enjoy the book as a kid. Anne is hilarious and endearing in her literary grandiosity and vanity – the book is full of funny throwaway details like Anne’s increasingly florid pseudonyms (from “Anne-spelled-with-an-e” to “Cordelia” to “Rosamond Montmorency”). There is the dreaminess of Prince Edward Island too, described in its pink blossomed orchards and violet hued pathways. While I have no thoughts on puffed sleeves, I have a particular soft spot for the Edwardian period, boater hats, picnics, black velvet ribbons, and bookish characters who start story clubs with their friends.
But…there was something super annoying about these aggressively “plucky” types with their unrelenting optimism. If I had to fall in love with a neglected, unwanted, ugly, orphaned, Edwardian-era literary girl, then I’d naturally go for the, um, other one: Mary Lennox. Sorry, I was a grim child. In fact, I initially planned to write about the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series today. Something something about hardwork and blah blah basic survival and whatsmore etc etc.
But somehow my mind started to fixate on Anne and I realized that, wait, no, this book is weirdly awesome. For 230 pages, the book is aggressively forward-thinking, with Anne overcoming each new challenge in episodic form, and setting off for college on another happy adventure. Very dull. Then, it reaches the end abruptly and bleakly with Matthew dying, Marilla going blind, and Green Gables to be sold. Wait, what?
Anne changes her plans immediately. She simply notes:
Oh I’ve dozens of plans, Marilla…When I left Queen’s my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla. I wonder how the road beyond it goes – what there is of green glory and soft, checkered light and shadows – what new landscapes – what new beauties – what curves and hills and valleys further on.
Suddenly this book was meaningful to me.
Anne overcompensates for her hardened childhood by being outrageously romantic and imaginative. She is constantly warned that she needs to acquire sensible habits and ideals before she becomes an adult, so that she can set the foundation for a productive and respectable life. But her imagination enables her to be flexible and hopeful. She can imagine endless happy endings, endless versions of herself, endless parallel lives. Also, after 240 pages of shenanigans, Anne doesn’t ever really get it together.
There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.
I was in graduate school and the top of my cohort. Things were unexpected but my future stretched out like a straight road as well, with little notches of appropriate successes to tick off on Facebook. This is the path: get a fellowship/grant, go on my research trips, defend, get a job, get tenure, complain about book contracts, whatever. And get married, have a baby, buy a house, age gracefully, whatever. Raise the baby with love, teach him to read, put him in little league, feel mixed emotions at the start of kindergarten, cry at graduation, cry more at his wedding, promise to raise grandchildren but spoil them silly, whatever.
My father had a heart attack. My husband’s job took us across the country, abruptly. Between 2010-2013, I think I lived in 6 different addresses. I had a miscarriage-thing, never really sure. I was massively depressed during my 2 years off and on in Japan. My entire department underwent major upheaval with all but one of my committee members fleeing to different universities (that in itself will fuck your career up). We had a baby that never slept and now a toddler with special needs. I take my 1 year old baby to endless therapies and they tell me to increase it to 20 hours a week come his 2nd birthday. I am now one of those grad students that just “disappear” after exams and gave up. There are so many bends in life and I cannot cope. It has been really hard.
So I want to remember that there such a lot of different ME’s still and that I can still imagine so many different kinds of paths than the ONE version I had assumed would be the right one. Use your imagination, you know?
2016: It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla.