On Anne of Green Gables giving up her dreams (or not)

“It’s okay that Anne Shirley never became a writer,” offers Anya Jaremko-Greenwold in a recent Los Angeles Review of Books article cropping up on my Facebook feed. Women who loved Anne of Green Gables weighed in: “it’ll never be okay” (me), in defense of the wife/motherhood Anne chose (others), “I sort of get it” (my friend).

For those of us who hold this book as tightly as Anne Shirley holds everything, Anne will always be a mirror.  It’ll never be okay with me that Anne didn’t become a writer if I don’t “become” one–and the more I look down the barrel of motherhood, the more I feel that fear. It takes so little to stop me from writing as it is, and motherhood is big.

As a perpetual cake haver-eater, what I hope is that I can be both, of course. I’d forgotten this poisonous scene in the final Anne novel that the article author lays out:

In Anne of Ingleside (1939), Anne comes dangerously close to regretting her choices, fearing Gilbert no longer loves her after 15 years of marriage. She frets over looking matronly (a mother of six!) and missing out on adventures. Gilbert’s college beau Christine invites the pair for dinner, snidely asking Anne whether she’s still writing. “I’m writing living epistles now,” Anne fires back, thinking of her kids. For a brief evening, Anne feels foolish for having such a big family, while Christine is childless and free to travel the globe. But when Anne and Gilbert reconcile and reconfirm their mutual affection, she is content once more with her little community. She listens to Gilbert snore and her children breathing in their sleep, and thinks of “[p]oor childless Christine, shooting her little arrows of mockery.” Anne envisions her own years stretching out ahead, with “all the little sweetnesses of life sprinkling the road.”

Nothing can convince me (at least not yet, still being childless and not 15 years deep in marriage), that there isn’t a smallness to Anne’s fears here compared to how wide her world felt when she was a child even though most of of her troubles (green hair, sprained ankles, geometry) were small–that there isn’t a smallness to Anne privately parrying “poor childless Christine” the same way Christine openly hit out at her. If both women have to defend their decisions by offense, I’m afraid neither option can be as satisfying as they wish it were…Gilbert didn’t have to choose between family life and personal ambition and I resent that now more than ever.

The way it goes online is definitive point-counterpoint on either side of the feminist opinion fence but the truth is I really don’t know what to make of the way Anne’s life turned out, but I know it’s the only thing that makes me uncomfortable about this incredibly comforting series. Definitely, motherhood is rich to Anne but life is rich to Anne at every age. Maybe it’s that store of inner wealth I loved in Anne more than her early aspirations but I’m not sure how you keep all your inner wealth when the things you love most go from inside you to outside you…

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