I just had the loveliest morning finishing this book. I put it off partly because I was super busy this week (this was Week of Getting Yards Ready for Spring), but also because I remembered it being kind of dull. Not at all! So many fun little stories in there once the book really gets going.
This is the book Montgomery wrote years and years after the others, filling in a timeline gap between the engagement in Island and the marriage 3 years later in House of Dreams. But I think it also filled in a gap in Montgomery’s understanding of Anne. This is the book where her sense of humor and clear eyed view of people starts to develop, where she is out in the world on her own making her own way. I think Montgomery wanted to come back to Anne and show that she was more than just poetry and fantasy, she had some wit and wisdom too. She is just plain FUN in this book! Well, once it gets going. The first third is a bit of a slog, but then Montgomery sets aside any idea of a “plot” pulling it together and just digs in to a series of character studies. Anne is a high school principal, most of the town hates her, blah blah blah. But then the town is won over and it’s just Anne going to dinners and parties and watching people and writing to Gilbert what she thinks of them.
So, discussion questions! Which do you think Montgomery describes with more passion, the bitterness of an older unmarried woman (Gertrude, Nora), or the horribleness of old women who suck joy from others (Pauline’s mother who won’t let her live her life, Aunt Mauser who always predicts the worst, etc. etc.)?
I think it’s the unmarried women. I think by her 60s, as she was when she wrote this book, Montgomery had learned to laugh at the bitter old women of the world, not to sentimentalize or excuse them as she did in her earlier books (for instance, old Mrs. Barry who ends up leaving Anne some money), but not to fear them either. You just endure them, that’s the key. But that bitterness of the unsatisfied young woman, trapped in her life and angry at fate, that is just burning out of her pen. And it’s a theme she returned to again and again in the years between this book and the previous Anne books. She wouldn’t have called herself a feminist, but she understood the trap of talented women in a patriarchal society. Actually, these two things are related, aren’t they? The bitter young woman could easily grow into the horrible old woman who delights in torturing others.
Which moment is more satisfying, when Nora slaps the young man who teases her about her wedding, or when Esme stands up for her father at the terrible sulking dinner party?
The Nora slap for me. I forgot her story is in this book, I thought it was a standalone Montgomery short story because Nora is such a strong character, and the idea of the light signal is so good, that I forgot Anne was part of it at all. But yes, the sister who is bitter and angry at a wedding, and guilty for it, that sticks with you. And the mutually misunderstanding in the romance.
Did you feel the Anne-Gilbert love in this book?
I remember being very disappointed the first time a read it and feeling like she didn’t love him at all, but reading it now, I think it might be the most romance we ever get between them. The little hints of courting and kissing going on during their frequent in person reunions, Anne’s lively dreams of their life together, and her very fun and funny attitude towards love letters. Especially contrasted with the silly young romances she helps along, where the young people are full of passion and romance, Anne’s confidence in her future with Gilbert and their bond is a lovely contrast. I think Montgomery writes a better romance then she did as a younger writer, that little comment about a kiss at the nape of the neck brings in more of an earthy sense of things than all the “gazing at each other’s eyes” in Island.
What is up with all the Anne compliments?
I’ve decided all the “you light up a room when you walk in” sort of compliments were Montgomery’s nod to fanservice. They really don’t match with the Anne we see in the rest of the book. She is practical, she is smart, she laughs at the people around her, she sees the world clearly. She isn’t some magical fairy being. And the actual conversations with people, not their random compliments, reflect that. She isn’t prattling on about magical fairy lands and heaven at dinner parties, she is listening politely and patiently and occasionally saying something funny. When I read this, the Anne I picture is a moderately pretty woman with a sharp wit and an ability to chat away and charm people. Without even the youthful prettiness that was implied in Island, now she is a school principal and engaged, not running around wearing rosebud dresses and being romantic. The compliments are so noticeable and a bit odd because they don’t fit with the Anne I picture.
What do you want for Katherine Brook’s life?
She is such a great character! I was going to set her against Nora, and then I decided that wasn’t fair, because how could you possibly pick? Anyway, I am thrilled with her taking a secretarial course and getting a job with a traveling dignitary. And I think what I want for her is to enjoy that job and her life fully, to make lots of friends all over the world, and then to be left a solid inheritance by her boss which would allow her to live independently where ever she wanted and travel for pleasure in the remaining years of her life. Second choice would be for someone to propose a marriage of convenience (her boss, one of his friends) and then fall in love. I don’t think Katherine wants children or a traditional married life, but if she could be married and still travel and challenge herself, she would be very happy.
Could anyone figure out how this school worked?
There are only 3 teachers? But Anne is the “principal”? Of a school with only 3 teachers? Where everyone teaches everything? But it’s not Queen’s college, it’s a high school? Even though the students are late teens which is the age Anne was when she went to Queen’s?
Why is Little Elizabeth slightly less irritating than Paul?
It’s either that fairy tales and fantasies are a little more believable with a little girl than a boy in this very gendered society, or that there is a lot less of her than there is of Paul, or just that Montgomery got better at writing children.
Rank the romances short stories in terms of amusement: Hazel with her “drama” and Anne getting caught in the middle, the elopement of Sibyl secretly coordinated by her father, or Nora and her bloody nose in the middle of being proposed to?
I just love Nora. Especially her response to one of Anne’s comments, “you ought to be in museum!” Because yes, Anne really is insufferable sometimes, good for Nora calling her out!