April has been called the “cruelest month,” and certainly I often find it hard to get through–the weather just can’t seem to quite settle into spring. Or even quite make its mind up what it’s doing – I woke this morning to snow coating the ground, flowers and all, but by mid-afternoon it was mostly melted, the the flowers that seemed a bit crushed just this morning were jubilantly celebrating the arrival of warmer weather once again.
Of course, this year I have a month full of children’s classics to cheer me whenever the leftover winter sneaks back in. My first post is really a cheat – I read this back in the fall of 2015, but haven’t managed to post before now. I’m in the middle of several other books at once, but with any luck should have my first “proper” read for the month done and posted on this week.
I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people know more…though I know that is the noblest ambition…but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me…to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.” (ch 7)
One of the things I find Montgomery does so well with her Anne books is the ways in which she shows Anne growing up. It is a gradual thing, fits and bursts, but over the course of the eight novels in the series, we see Anne changing, naturally, as a real girl/young woman would do.
Anne of Avonlea is the second Anne book, and so she is still young—especially by today’s standards; she is only 16 and yet a school teacher. Mind boggling! There is still very much the child about her, with her fancies and whims, and with the “scrapes” she still manages to get into. The images of Anne and Diana chasing down the cow in the neighbor’s field or of Anne sticking through the Copps’s shed roof are indelible. Yet Anne also holds much more responsibility than she did in Green Gables; not only is she a school teacher, but she is assisting Marilla in the care of twins, Davy and Dora, and Davy’s inquisitive nature and knack for trouble keep both Anne and Marilla quite occupied.
Past the spruces the lane dipped down into a sunny little open where a log bridge spanned a brook; and then came the glory of a sunlit beechwood where the air was like transparent golden wine, and the leaves fresh and green, and the wood floor a mosaic of tremulous sunshine. Then more wild cherries, and a little valley of lissome firs, and then a hill so steep that the girls lost their breath climbing it; but when they reached the top and came out into the open the prettiest surprise of all awaited them.
Beyond were the “back fields’ of the farms that ran out to the upper Carmody road. Just before them, hemmed in by beeches and firs but open to the south, was a little corner and in it a garden…or what had once been a garden. A tumbledown stone dyke, overgrown with mosses and grass, surrounded it. Along the eastern side ran a row of garden cherry trees, white as a snowdrift. There were traces of old paths still and a double line of rosebushes through the middle; but all the rest of the space was a sheet of yellow and white narcissi, in their airiest, most lavish, wind-swayed bloom above the lush green grasses. (ch 13)
Now that Anne is older, the scope of the story stretches wider. No longer are we confined to Green Gables, the Barry Farm, and the school yard. New locations, new stories, new friends come to Anne. The little garden of Hester Gray, whose tragic story and garden are catnip for the romantic Anne. Echo Lodge, with its charming inhabitants Miss Lavendar and Charlotta the Fourth, and Miss Lavendar’s own broken romance. But here too are introduced notes of melancholy, not just the fate of Hester, but the loneliness and sense of loss suffered by Miss Lavendar.
I’m just tired of everything…even of the echoes. There is nothing in my life but echoes…echoes of lost hopes and dreams and joys. They’re beautiful and mocking. Oh Anne, it’s horrid of me to talk like this when I have company. It’s just that I’m getting old and it doesn’t agree with me. I know I’ll be fearfully cranky by the time I’m sixty.” (ch 27, Miss Lavendar)
It is striking to read this note sadness in what has otherwise to this point been a mostly happy and optimistic series, not without tragedy altogether, of course, but this scene reminds us: growing up means dealing with gray days as well as sunny ones.
Indeed, I am perhaps most impressed with the way Montgomery imparts life lessons gently, without bopping us over the head. They are the natural resultant of a girl growing up and learning them for herself. We learn them with her, or are reminded of those we have already learned, perhaps all too well. But in the end, just as Anne herself, Anne of Avonlea remains an upbeat story. No matter the crises, we may always remember that “this too shall pass.”
That’s the worst…or the best…of real life, Anne. It won’t let you be miserable. It keeps on trying to make you comfortable…and succeeding…even when you’re determined to be unhappy and romantic.” (ch 23, Miss Lavendar)
Look, do you see that poem?” she said suddenly, pointing.
“Where?” Jane and Diana stared, as if expecting to see Runic rhymes on the birch trees.
“There…down in the brook…that old green, mossy log with the water flowing over it in those smooth ripples that look as if they’d been combed, and that single shaft of sunshine falling right athwart it, far down into the pool. Oh, it’s the most beautiful poem I ever saw.”
“I should rather call it a picture,” said Jane. “A poem is lines and verses.”
“Oh dear me, no.” Anne shook her head with its fluffy wild cherry coronal positively. “The lines and verses are only the outward garments of the poem and are no more really it than your Ruffles and flounces are you Jane. The real poem is the soul within them…and that beautiful bit is the soul of an unwritten poem. It is not every day one sees a soul…even of a poem.” (ch 13)
That’s a lovely idea, Diana,” said Anne enthusiastically. “Living so that you beautify your name, even if it wasn’t beautiful to begin with…making it stand in people’s thoughts for something so lovely and pleasant that they never think of it by itself. Thank you, Diana.” (ch 21)
(Ellipses in all quotes from the original.)