Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Anne of Avonlea - L.M. Montgomery

Any worry I might have had over falling behind in my personal challenge this year is quickly evaporating.  Months of planning have proven themselves worthwhile and now, three days before our wedding, I am finding myself with time to relax and enjoy the week (This is also due in part to my extremely helpful husband-to-be). Festivities start tomorrow, but tonight I have a quiet evening and took advantage of it to finish Anne of Avonlea.  What a refuge this book has been the past few weeks.  L.M. Montgomery's beautiful prose and the beautiful simplicity of her plot would lift any spirit, but especially that of a bride-to-be who is worn out from trying to balance all the aspects of her life.  Just as Anne of Green Gables did for me last month, Avonlea has proven itself a welcome refuge from the business of life.

Avonlea records dear Anne Shirley's transition from childhood to adulthood.  It encompasses the two years she spends as the schoolmarm in Avonlea.  Though she gets into far fewer circumstantial hi-jinks than she did as a child, Anne's whimsical nature and child's heart are as alive as ever.  She finds new kindred spirits in a student, Paul Irving, and an old maid, Miss Lavender, who defies all images of an imagined old maid.  Anne befriends her grouchy new neighbor.  She and her chums form an Improvement Society to beautify Avonlea and face trials both expected and surprising in its course.  Marilla remains the stalwart figurehead of Green Gables, even has she and Anne take in twin orphan children, Davy and Dora, who are of a distant relation.

Montgomery truly uses all of these scenarios to shape Anne into a woman.  The Anne at the start of the novel is still so young in so many ways.  However, by the final pages, it is evident that womanhood has blossomed in her.  One particular evidence of this, though not the only one, is Anne's perspective on relationships.  The Anne of Green Gables, though desperately in love with love, has no illusions of finding it herself any time soon.  In fact, she brushes aside any gesture that could even be construed as a romantic one.  So we find her at the start of Avonlea.  Anne's loves Marilla and her friends, but there is no thought of a man in her life.  There is a poignant scene where the minister's wife, Mrs. Allan, and Anne are speaking about the beauty of true friendship.  Mrs. Allan begins to say something about, presumably, how much greater even love is, but she stops herself.  As Montgomery tells it:
"Then she paused abruptly.  In the delicate, whitebrowed face beside her, with its candid eyes and mobile features, there was still far more of the child than of the woman.  Anne's heart so far harbored only dreams of friendship and ambition, and Mrs. Allan did not wish to brush the bloom from her sweet unconsciousness.  So she let her sentence for the future years to finish." (131)
That passage stuck with me.  Even to the point that is came up in conversation a few days after I read it.  Kevin and I had just seen the film Looper, which addresses meeting yourself via time travel, and were discussing what we would tell our younger selves if we had chance.  While there are a great many things I would like to tell Young Alise, I do wish I could give her a few more years of "her sweet unconsciousness."  Our culture teaches the importance of finding love so early. While that is not always a bad thing - even young Anne had vivid romantic dreams - I wish I had not been so eager to start looking for it as a young woman.    Innocence and naivete once lost can never be regained. As I stand at the brink of my wedding, I know now that everything I dreamed of and more came in due time.  I should have enjoyed the journey a bit more without hoping so desperately to know the ending.  Don't get me wrong, I have no regrets; yet, Montgomery's words resonated in my heart as a reminder to enjoy each day as it comes and to worry less about what the future holds.

As you can easily see in the passage above and as I mentioned when I wrote about Green Gables, Montgomery writes prose of such elegance and beauty.  The magic of Avonlea and Anne's imagination spills from every page, even the first one where the reader finds this passage:
"But an August afternoon, with blue hazes scarfing the harvest slopes, little winds whispering elfishly in the poplars, and a dancing slendor of red poppies outflaming against the dark coppice of young firs in a corner of the cherry orchard, was fitter for dreams than dead languages." (1)
Certainly, Montgomery could be criticized for being too wordy or overly descriptive, but I believe it fits with her story so well.  For some other author, it would seem over the top.  Yet, it becomes much easier for the reader to connect with and understand the imaginative Anne Shirley when the writer has set the scene as such.  It is so easy to imagine Montgomery sitting at a writing desk overlooking the beautiful countryside and writing these words.  For me, passages like this one make the book a release from reality.  Montgomery's world overflows with both serenity and an enthusiasm for life itself which are contagious.  There can be no doubt why the stories of Anne Shirley are so beloved.

What books do you find are the best escape from a busy life?  Do you find Montgomery's prose to be too flowery or is it fitting to her story?  

Pages: 276
Date Completed: October 17, 2012

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