I am SO EXCITED to talk about this one. I remembered it has Ruby Gillis, but I forgot it also has the John Douglas-Janet Sweet romance. Either of these sections on their own would make it one of the most thought provoking Anne books, but the two together, plus Anne’s own maturing idea of romance, plus Phillipa Gordon’s romance and character, make it just a feast for discussion.
Anne goes to college in Nova Scotia and makes friends with Phillipa Gordon, a rich pretty girl who everyone underestimates. She is aware that Gilbert is in love with her but avoids facing up to that reality. Gilbert finally proposes and she turns him away, although losing his friendship breaks her heart. Shortly after she meets Roy Gardner, rich and handsome and romantic, and starts seriously seeing him. Meanwhile back home Diana gets married and has a baby, Ruby Gillis dies, and Jane Andrews ends up marrying a millionaire. At school, Phillipa falls in love with a minister student, poor and ugly, and shocks everyone when she agrees to marry him. Roy proposes to Anne and she shocks everyone including herself when she turns him down. Finally, Anne returns home after graduation to learn that Gilbert has caught typhoid and is dying. She realizes in a flash that Gilbert is the love of her life. Once he recovers and proposes again, she accepts him.
There are so many interesting things to discuss in this book! First, Ruby Gillis. Shallow, pretty, lighthearted, manmade, and then dying. What is most tragic to you in how her story is presented? That she so desperately wants to live and do so much more with her short life? Or that she is so afraid of death almost right to the end? Or something else?
I feel like this version of death is, yet again, part of Montgomery removing the curtain from the every day life of women. Women are the nurses, the confidents, the ones who are there for the whole messy end of things. Anne’s journey from girl to woman includes this first brush with the intimate part of death. The perfect conclusion to the story is not Ruby’s mother giving Anne her unfinished work, but Mrs. Lynde saying “there’s always a big of work unfinished”. Mrs. Lynde knows life and knows death, we saw that again and again through out the series, that’s part of her wisdom as an older woman and now she is welcoming Anne into that same world.
The John Douglas/Janet Sweet romance, and Mrs. Douglas’s uniquely horrible and ugly soul. What is your explanation for her behavior? That she was scared? That she enjoyed torturing others? That she was simply very very selfish? Or narcissistic?
In case you don’t remember this short story dropped into the middle of things, Anne spends a summer boarding with a lovely middle-aged woman Janet Sweet. After prayer meetings, she is always walked home by John Douglas. They are invited to tea at his house and Anne meets John’s small soft invalid mother who teases John about when he will propose to Janet Sweet. Anne encourages Janet to turn John down for a walk in order to push him along, she does, but John’s look of misery is so horrible Anne regrets what she did. Finally John’s mother dies and John comes the day of the funeral to propose. And reveals that for 20 years his mother had held him to a promise not to marry until she died, rejecting all his misery and begging to release him, and at the same time letting the world think she was for the romance.
It’s just such a horrible HORRIBLE story. Montgomery describes Janet’s sobbing misery over why she has not yet received a proposal, John Douglas’s quiet face that is twisted into pain when no one is looking, and the odd air feeling of poison in the room while Mrs. Douglas fusses and teases at the tea table seemingly not saying anything wrong. I don’t know what to do with this story, but it sticks with me. The quiet unhappiness of two quiet people, and the gleeful joy in their misery from this evil evil old woman. Did it stick with you? What did you think of it?
Phillipa Gordon as a character, and her romantic life. Did you like Phillipa or find her wearing? Do you believe her sudden switch from shallow to deep? And do you believe she could be both dress/dance obsessed and a successful student?
Telling you now, I really really like Phillipa! I like that she is so shallow and unapologetic about it. And I really like that she wins the mathematics prize. The “feminine” virtues of charm and appearances are so often considered a sign of un-intelligence. But, why? Why can’t the same skill that helps Phillipa with her fine sewing also help her succeed at college. And I also really really like her emotional intelligence. She is the first person to tell Anne that she and Gilbert are destined for each other, she calls Anne out for “leading on” Roy Gardner (which she absolutely did), and she realizes she is in love with Jonah within days of meeting him and promptly adjusts her life plan to accommodate this new reality.
The Anne-Roy-Gilbert love triangle, does it work for you? Is Roy Gardner too perfect a character? Is there too much treading water before Anne makes up her own dang mind?
Again, gonna say right out that I LOVE how this is handled. I remembered the overall broad strokes, but I really appreciated the small touches on this read. The Gilbert-Anne romance doesn’t come out of nowhere. For the first third of the book, Anne has this push-pull within her where she doesn’t want Gilbert to be too romantic to her, but at the same time feels her heart flutter and her cheeks blush when he does. After Gilbert proposes, Anne sobs and suffers as her heart truly breaks over not seeing him any more. When Roy appears, there are hints through out that Anne is falling in love with a fantasy, is sort of ordering herself to fall in love. He writes a poem which one part of her brain knows is dull bad poetry, but another part of her brain orders her to find romantic. With Gilbert, it was uncontrollable feelings. With Roy, she is making herself feel these things. And in the end, we learn that Roy may have been making himself feel these things too. His sister explains that Anne is the third woman he has declared himself to be in love with, which retroactively explains how he could be so “perfect” in his courtship, so smooth and assured and quick to do just the right thing just as Anne imagined it.
Maybe it all gets back to control? Anne as a lonely orphan, and an independent woman living in an extremely patriarchal society, wants to feel in control of her destiny. We have that little reminder in this book when she visits her birthplace and gets a copy of her parents’ love letters, two young people who were swept up in their love and ended up dead, leaving Anne behind. Love, romantic love like that, means death and sadness and tragedy and a baby left alone. With Gilbert, she is never in control. Right from their first meeting he had the ability to make her lose control, to give in to her emotions. She didn’t want that kind of love, she didn’t want Gilbert to make her heart flutter when he touched her hand, she wanted Roy where it was all very simple and clear. Until all of a sudden Roy proposed and she realized she would rather stay single than live this dead perfect life. And then Gilbert’s brush with death shows her that she isn’t in control of her feelings at all, it’s already too late to try not to give her heart away.
Okay, quick fun questions:
Do you think Anne’s white silk with tiny rosebuds embroidered on it, or Anne’s green tulle with lace cap sleeves, would have been prettier dresses?
I can’t resist the green and red hair, I think the green dress
Which is your favorite cat, Dignified Sarah-Cat, Joseph sleepy lazy of many colors, or fighter Rusty?
Joseph!!!! Cuddly and sleepy, I like it.
When you first read the book, did it fulfill your romantic needs for Anne-Gilbert?
Nope! It did NOT! But on rereading, I understood that it’s not a romance novel, it’s a coming of age novel. Anne is always going to marry Gilbert, that’s inevitable, but it’s the journey that is interesting.