Seperis (seperis) wrote,

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books: anne of green gables and sequels, reviewish

If anyone is curious, my reading is in direct proportion to internet access at work; they put in a nanny block, but that's not, I think, the problem, since I can get through just fine some days. It's annoying. But boy has it done wonders for my not-fanfic literacy. I'm currently running at an average one book a day since Julyish, though to be fair many of them are short and some I read in my teens and rediscovering.

For the record:

"Oh, well, it may be a superstition or it may not, doctor, dear. All that I know is, it has happened. My sister's husband's nephew's wife's cat sucked their baby's breath, and the poor innocent was all but gone when they found it. And superstition or not, if I find that yellow beast lurkin gnear our baby I will whack him with a poker, Mrs. Doctor, dear." -- Susan Baker to Anne and Gilbert Blythe, Anne's House of Dreams by LM Montgomery

...where did that cat breath thing come from?

Anne of Green Gables and sequels

Like Great Maria by Cecilia Holland--though no two books could ever be so different--I love the Anne series for the complete submersion in the lives of women, their work and daily routines, their relationships and their families, but above all about them. Anne as student, teacher, wife, mother, and friend doesn't live her life through any man or in relation to any man, but has an internal and external social life wholly her own and independent of her husband's work and life with her. It's also an extremely feminist book not necessarily in the attitudes but in the focus on not just the lives of women, but their ambitions, their friendships, their personal joys and tragedies.

I've always had a hard time defining a good feminist book, because feminism, like religion, is as much interpretation as personal opinion and the canon changes with the waves. This one I'd say is both feminist for it's time period, but also a good view of how women created their own lives and independence before they had the power of the vote or equality in the workplace. I love stories about women becoming doctors, lawyers, politicians, who were activists and had fantastic careers before civil rights, before suffrage, but I also love stories of ordinary women who could and did carve a place for themselves and lived full, honest, happy lives living within the purest principles of feminist thought; that every woman has the right to decide her own life and fate as an independent being who is owned by no one but herself.

Anne's both the bootstrapper and the beneficiary of both family and community; she fulfilled her ambitions while always understanding duty, but was always aware of and grateful for the help of her family and friends and their assistance that helped her achieve her goals. And all her goals were good ones; a student, a de facto daughter helping her mother and caring for children in the same position she once was in, going on to get a BA and becoming a principle of a school, marrying a man whose goals and aspirations she knew and whose character and disposition she could trust (as well as being madly in love with him), being a helpful, good neighbor, a good friend, an excellent wife and mother to a husband and children who loved and respected her for her intelligence and strength and sense of humor.

And like Great Maria, the daily lives of women are unfolded; even with Susan in the house, Anne's day to day work, not to mention her social work with the Church, like many of the women, her work in her home painting or whitewashing, caring for the farm as a girl and caring for a large house of a husband and six children as well as her involvement with social work through the church, illustrates that even women who didn't work outside the home worked, and especially in these books, are partners with their husbands and their contributions both necessary and appreciated.

But the thing that always strikes me most is how much the books focus on women as both primary, secondary, and tertiary characters, with fewer prominent male roles than most books with more modern-minded female protagonists (I'm looking at you, Mercedes Lackey). The most prominent males through the five books are all very, very secondary or tertiary characters and most have very little to do with the forward motion of the story, but almost every women met in the books has a story, a plotline, a life; Marilla Cuthbert, Ms Rachel Lynde, Jane Andrews, Diana Barry, Leslie Moore, Miss Cornelia, Phil Gordon, Stella, Priscilla, Katherine Brooke, Jen Pringle, Ruby Gillis, Rebecca Dew, Little Elizabeth, the widows at Windy Poplars, Susan Cooper, Aunt Jamesina, Miss Lavender, Josephine Barry, Janet Sweet; that doesn't even include the smaller portraits of women met and socialized with, their romances and their pasts and their futures, or continuing acquaintances such as Josie Pye.

In contrast, the male secondary characters who are given that same amount of attention include Gilbert, Matthew, Captain Jim, Paul Irving and Mr. Harrison, with most others relegated to high tertiary or random speaking parts only.

That doesn't mean to say there aren't flaws, including implicit and occasional more overt racism (prominent in anti-French and anti-foreigner, as well as some class issues that aren't necessarily explored well but surprisingly are acknowledged somewhat,and due to time period, misogyny. Other stories by the author have an extremely high racism, classism, and uncomfortable-levels of misogyny that the Anne books somewhat avoid (I do wonder about that, actually; reading some of her other work, the contrast is painful, especially the classism and racism with First Nations, Christ). I'm really not familiar with the racism--is that the right word?--involving the French in Canada to make any kind of statement on it other than I can really tell it's there; as a kid, I early on read it more classist, but as I got older the focus on the French became a lot more noticeable.

I don't think the author meant to create a social commentary out of this, but inadvertently, I think she did a good job with some less savory aspects of society at the time, observing and condemning without whitewashing (mostly), including child abuse, spousal abuse, rape, abandonment, and the practical enslavement of orphaned or impoverished children. It's also surprisingly both subtle and overt; as I was telling [personal profile] cofax7 in comments earlier, LM did a fascinating job in implications that become obvious only when the reader has the life experience and understanding to know what they were reading. More importantly, it made for books that, for me, stand the test of time and age. I can go back and see so much more of the canvas now that I know what I'm looking at.

Specific Spoilers for Anne's House of Dreams, Leslie Moore:

Leslie's marriage was hideous, and only in my late teens and early twenties did I catch on how hideous. As a kid, a forced marriage to a guy who drank too much that I didn't like to save my mom's house was nightmare enough (with maybe the implication he hit her, but I was twelve and shuddered away from that like whoa). My late teens I picked up the implicit admission of spousal abuse; it was my twenties before I connected it all together to an earlier comment by a character that Leslie also confirms, a story about Dick and 'a shore girl' and realize spousal rape was also a part of the equation. For a kid, the horror of a marriage to someone you didn't know and like and who was mean and drank was bad enough; the rest came with time and understanding, and I think it worked very well.

The exception to the eight book series and children below. Ouch.

Specific Spoilers for Rainbow Valley, the Meredith children:

This is the only book that feels off and not-right compared to the rest; the story of the Meredith children. I hated their father for his utter neglect, and considering up until that book that child neglect and father/husband abandonment was treated fairly severely, it blew me away how badly off the children were purely due to parental neglect. They had a home, and their father had a decent income as a minister, but they were starved, underdressed, and just--no. Even when brought to the father's attention, his contrition was mixed with his supposed inability to fix it, which seriously, it's hard to get the kids decent food? Or make sure Faith had some goddamn stockings? That the congregation responded instantly when it was brought to their attention while their father never did I couldn't forgive.

I wish the movies had been more faithful; I still get cold horrors just knowing the fourth movie exists, and the third one was not exactly, what's the word, "faithful". OTOH, the first three had Megan Follows and she's so Anne to me I can't get over it. I'd love to see a new interpretation of the books--this time a faithful one, dear God, or even a passing acquaintance with someone who, say, read them--but I'm not sure I can ever see anyone but Megan as Anne.

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