The wisdom of Anne & Co.

I was looking for something – two somethings, in fact, quotes I jotted down in my work notebooks. I found one – that’s a whole ‘nother post – and the other is still MIA, but in the search – as always – I’ve found other things. As I said recently, I read through all (almost) of the Anne books (L.M. Montgomery, of course) last year, and I made notes as I went. There’s real wisdom in here, which belies the reputation the books seem to have of fluffy saccharine books for children. They are none of the above: they are thoughtful, sweet – genuinely, not artificially – books for anyone with a functioning heart. Which, of course, is not all that many people these days.

“Marilla, isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” … “Oh, don’t you see, Marilla? There must be a limit to the mistakes one person can make, and when I get to the end of them, then I’ll be through with them. That’s a very comforting thought.”

I use this one often, and think of it more often. I’ve felt the same way, especially during some periods at work when it seems like I can’t do anything right. It’s surprising how much the thought helps – a) I’m not the only one to ever ball things up on a regular basis; 2) tomorrow is another day; III) someday, maybe, I’ll reach quota and all will go smoothly. Sadly, adulthood brings with it the knowledge that there’s no upper limit – there are always new mistakes to be made, or old ones to revisit. But there’s still a mistake-free tomorrow, even if that other red-headed orphan did go and tart it up with a song.

“If you went to your own room at midnight, locked the door, pulled down the blind, and sneezed, Mrs. Lynde would ask you the next day how your cold was!”

Oh, lord. That is so completely Mrs. P that I laugh whenever I read it. A woman who notices when my brother-in-law’s car doesn’t leave the driveway a couple of days in a row, and remarks on it to my mother… A woman who compares the relative lawn heights in every yard she passes… A woman who mentions that our town paper (a freebie of little use to us) is still sitting at the end of the driveway. A woman who has absolutely no business passing our house at all in the normal course of things – it isn’t en route anywhere for her – but who, as Bobbie across the street puts it, comes putt-putting along down our street quite often. Not that she’s spying. No. Of course not.

Eliza was sewing patchwork, not because it was needed but simply as a protest against the frivolous lace Catherine was crocheting.

I love that. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the two ladies, their characters, and their relationship to one another. If I can write a sentence like that someday I will feel I have accomplished something.

“I was just trying to write out some of my thoughts, as Professor Hamilton advised me, but I couldn’t get them to please me. They seem so stiff and foolish directly they’re written down on white paper with black ink. Fancies are like shadows… you can’t cage them, they’re such wayward, dancing things…”

And then, as I recall, Anne lapsed into a reverie, caught by her own words, about fancies like dancing shadows. I think this is lovely – again, it catches perfectly that feeling of the thought being completely unwilling to be translated to words. It was bright and clear and perfect – you thought you knew exactly how to write it – and then … either the words that come don’t match the thought, or the words simply won’t come and you sit there chewing your pen trying to find them.

This is marvelous:

“… You must excuse me, Anne. I’ve got a habit of being outspoken and folks mustn’t mind it.”
“But they can’t help minding it. And I don’t think it’s any help that it’s your habit. What would you think of a person who went about sticking pins and needles into people and saying ‘Excuse me, you mustn’t mind it … it’s just a habit I’ve got.’ You’d think he was crazy, wouldn’t you?”

Yes, you would. It’s something that’s always driven me a little wild: these people who say or do the most horrendous things, and who are excused by others: “It’s just her way.” That is insufficient. I was taught as a child that one does not say things to offend others, that in fact one tries very hard to avoid hurting others. For someone to go about excusing the pain they cause by saying “it’s just my way” – or “it’s my habit, don’t mind me” – is … inexcusable. I’ve seen it too often – including in the aforementioned Mrs. P; it’s a little like being a wife beater. You can’t make up for the stupid behavior with a greeting card claiming all kinds of affection, or by being extra nice after.

“True friendship is a very helpful thing indeed,” said Mrs. Allan, “and we should have a very high ideal of it, and never sully it by any failure in truth and sincerity. I fear the name of friendship is often degraded to a kind of intimacy that has nothing of real friendship in it.”

Amen. Recent(ish) experiences have taught me this very well indeed. The internet has led to a whole new phenomenon of illusive friendship. A couple of years ago I was buying into it wholeheartedly, and scoffing at those who looked askance. I learned better. I have gained true friends through the internet – real, honest-to-Montgomery friends… but not nearly as many as I would have said two years ago. There is a long and pitiful post that could come out of this … could, but won’t.

This is one of the quotes that deepen the books for me, raise it beyond the level of saccharine:

“…How sympathetic you look, Anne… as sympathetic as only seventeen can look. But don’t overdo it. I’m really a very happy, contented little person in spite of my broken heart. My heart did break, if ever a heart did, when I realized Stephen Irving was not coming back. But, Anne, a broken heart in real life isn’t half as dreadful as it is in books. It’s a good deal like a bad tooth … though you won’t think that a very romantic simile. It takes spells of aching and gives you a sleepless night now and then, but between times it lets you enjoy life and dreams and echoes and peanut-candy as if there were nothing the matter with it. And now you’re looking disappointed. You don’t think I’m half as interesting a person as you did five minutes ago when you believed I was always the prey of a tragic memory bravely hidden beneath external smiles. 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…
– Miss Lavendar

Anne, the ultimate romantic, a starry-eyed seventeen-year-old, was indeed disappointed – and the speaker, through a lady Anne greatly admires, gently makes fun of her discomfiture. And her youth. Early on, the breaking of a heart is the end of the world. (*cough*Romeo&Juliet*cough*) The most telling line here is “even when you’re determined to be unhappy and romantic” … Even when you’re trying to be true to the belief that this disappointment has shattered your life, left you nothing to live for, and while it may not kill you you will never smile again, never move on … It’s not possible. Not for anyone with a healthy sense of humor, anyway, or – dare I say it – an imagination. The people who do wind up blighted by huge disappointments – the Miss Havishams of the universe – must be lacking in those departments; it’s the only logical explanation. There is a certain forgetfulness that brings up a smile at a puppy, or laugh at a brother’s idiocies, or a sigh in appreciation of a crescent moon; these things will bring joy, whether you want them to or not. Bad tooth, indeed.

This book also left me confused for a long time in my youth about how “lavender” was supposed to be properly spelled; apparently from what I’ve seen it isn’t spelt with an “a” in the British any more than it is in the American. But I do love it with the “a”.

(The “l” word back there (logical, not lavendar) just reminded me that I still haven’t written about having seen Star Trek. I will have to do that before long… I wish I could see it again first.)

For the next fortnight Anne writhed or reveled, according to mood, at her literary pursuits. Now she would be jubilant over a brilliant idea, now despairing because some contrary character would not behave properly. Diana could not understand this.
Make them do as you want them to,” she said.
“I can’t,” mourned Anne. “Averil is such an unmanageable heroine. She will do and say things I never meant her to. Then that spoils everything that went before and I have to write it all over again.”

(Thence came my early love of italics, I think…) That, apparently, is one of the marks of a true writer. It’s happened to me, I am humbled to say – here, now, you – you weren’t supposed to do that! But the character did, and there’s nothing that can be done but write around it. Trying to write it any other way leaves the words flat and cold on the page; this may be harder, but it’s necessary. One of the characters in my primary work-in-progress was never supposed to have the past he does, much less the future – but he insisted on being more prominent than intended, and on having his story told. Another character … well, I never intended that he die. Apparently some characters know when their ends will make sense for the story, which makes him rather self-sacrificing and heroic. Makes me unhappy, because I didn’t want to write that death scene – or the mourning after, and I didn’t want to do that to the other characters right then. But once he was dead, he was dead – and, again, nothing to be done.

There’s a YouTube video of Megan Follows’s audition for Anne – which is kind of fascinating (yes, I do need to write that Star Trek post). She’s nervous (says so), and doesn’t seem at all ready, flipping the pages of the script, clearing her throat – and then her facial expression changes, and then Anne’s sitting in the chair. She’s sixteen years old. Remarkable.

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One Response to The wisdom of Anne & Co.

  1. accountantgrrl says:

    Well said!

    I thought you’re paragraph about heartbreak was dead on. I had to explain this to an Asian friend of mine. Bascially that it is OK to go on with our lives and experience happiness in our own lives even though one of our mutual friends is going through an extremely difficult time right now.

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