Reading Lucy Maud, Part 1

DSC_2475(She could be Anne-with-an-e except she’s no orphan. She’s the cherished youngest.)

HOW did I make it through my youth without reading Anne of Green Gables? There is no explanation. I first met Anne Shirley after I was married. I gasped at the nonstop sentence of Anne talking to Matthew Cuthbert on the way from the train station. A while later I read Anne of Avonlea; I birthed sons, abandoned Anne, and started reading Henty.

Each year I  pick an author and read as much of his/her work as possible. My default would be to hunt down every last novel, bibliography and online essay. But I’m trying to get over my compulsive tendencies. Last year, I read through Carol Ryrie Brink of Caddie Woodlawn fame.

So this is my summer of Lucy Maud, my summer of Anne, my summer of Rilla, my summer of Emily. [Yes, I’m holding on to summer until September 21!] I’ve read print books and Kindle; I’ve listened to dramatized versions and I’ve listened to the 147 short stories on Librivox. I could only listen to a few at a time in order to keep my nostalgic blood sugar from spiking.

There are recurring motifs in Montgomery’s work: the shape of noses; imaginations; emotionally isolated orphans; friendships; cold and impregnable aunts, a high view of education; music; words; books; flowers; the ocean. Lucy Maud’s characters share a palpable yearning, an intense desire to be wanted, to belong.

Reading through Montgomery’s work, one would think the mortality rate of birthing mothers to be 90%. Mothers aren’t the only thing missing in this fiction. Strong fathers—strong men— are on the endangered list. Fathers are either absent, dying, or overseas. I had hoped that Gilbert Blythe might be the exception in Rilla of Ingleside; alas, he is the absent father caring for distant patients.

What about Matthew Cuthbert?  Matthew is sweet, Matthew is empathetic, but I wouldn’t call him strong in the masculine sense. In my mind I’ve been kicking around the matriarchal nature of most of the households in these stories. And wondering how that colors the narrative.

Who stood out in my mind?

I loved the harum-scarum Meredith family (in Rainbow Valley) headed by the absent-minded widower, the Rev. John Knox Meredith. The descriptions of a brood of lively siblings in a motherless house rang true to my experience in such a family. But it could not be denied that there was something very homelike and lovable about the Glen St. Mary manse in spite of its untidiness.

It goes without saying that I love Anne. I was drawn to Rilla, the youngest Blythe who discovers she has gumption and at fifteen raises a war-baby. Emily was endearing, an aspiring writer whose coping mechanism of thinking how she would write the scene got her through many tongue lashings.

The short stories are not Chekhov. I’ve come to the conclusion that the short story is the one of the most difficult genres. A few of her good ones make it word-for-word into one of her novels.

I have more thoughts. I will corral them and sort them into categories. And sift through the heaping pile of quotes I’ve highlighted. It has been a fun reading summer. And there are still more books to read!

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