Third in a series of three posts on “Anne of Green Gables in Point Pleasant Park.” Here’s Part One, “Anne of Green Gables Loves Point Pleasant Park,” and here’s Part Two, “Gilbert Would Never Compose a Sonnet to My Eyes.”
In Anne of the Island, Roy Gardner writes sonnets about Anne Shirley, but Gilbert Blythe laughs when she tells him something funny and Roy doesn’t. Anne wonders “uneasily if life with a man who had no sense of humor might not be somewhat uninteresting in the long run.” I like how the syntax of that line reflects her convoluted thinking. Life with a man who can’t laugh might be dull. The phrasing “might not be somewhat uninteresting in the long run” is lovely in its awkwardness. She’s still trying to persuade herself that Roy is the right man: “who could expect a melancholy, inscrutable hero to see the humorous side of things? It would be flatly unreasonable.”
She’s still trying when Roy proposes. Where does he propose? In the park, of course: “Roy asked Anne to marry him in the little pavilion on the harbor shore where they had talked on the rainy day of their first meeting. Anne thought it very romantic that he should have chosen that spot.”
Readers who know what Montgomery thought of Halifax (“the grimiest city in Canada”) know better than to think any proposal in any setting in this town could be acceptable to her Island heroine (even if Anne was born in Nova Scotia and is technically a “Come-from-Away” on the Island). Montgomery doesn’t tell us exactly what Roy says, but “it was as beautifully worded as if he had copied it, as one of Ruby Gillis’ lovers had done, out of a Deportment of Courtship and Marriage.” Anne recognizes that her response is not what it should be: she “felt that she ought to be thrilling from head to foot. But she wasn’t; she was horribly cool.”
She prepares to say “her fateful yes,” but she can’t do it. A “blinding flash of illumination” shows her that she can’t (readers of Jane Austen’s Emma might say “it darted through her, with the speed of an arrow”). And Montgomery does give us her words: “Oh, I can’t marry you – I can’t – I can’t” (readers of Austen’s Mansfield Park might think of Fanny Price – or of King Lear – “no, no, no”; “never, never, never”).
When Roy leaves, having told her she has ruined his life, Anne sits “for a long time in the pavilion, watching a white mist creeping subtly and remorselessly landward up the harbor. It was her hour of humiliation and self-contempt and shame. Their waves went over her. And yet, underneath it all, was a queer sense of recovered freedom.” There’s no mention of those beloved pines in this passage; presumably Anne doesn’t need comfort from the trees, because despite her feeling of shame, and disappointment in herself, she isn’t sorrowful. Maybe that white mist represents the fog that has concealed her true feelings about Roy.
At the very end of the novel, Gilbert proposes a second time (rather like Mr. Darcy proposing to Elizabeth Bennet for the second time at the end of Pride and Prejudice – and yes, I do link almost everything I read back to Jane Austen in some way, but I’m not imagining the connection between Anne and Gilbert and Elizabeth and Darcy. See Miriam Rheingold Fuller’s essay “Jane of Green Gables: L.M. Montgomery’s Reworking of Austen’s Legacy”). Significantly, he and Anne aren’t in Kingsport/Halifax anymore, but back at home in Avonlea. There’s no romantic rain, no pretty pavilion, no white mist. They walk through the woods together to visit a garden (Hester Gray’s garden, a hidden, neglected place that Anne and Diana Barry and their friends discovered long ago, in Anne of Avonlea, the garden of a young woman from Boston who died only a few years after she married).
In this proposal, we do get to hear Gilbert’s words. He asks if Anne has “any unfulfilled dreams,” and, after listening to her reply about unfulfilled dreams in general – “It wouldn’t do for us to have all our dreams fulfilled” – he tells her of his very specific dream: “I persist in dreaming it, although it has often seemed to me that it could never come true. I dream of a home with a hearth-fire in it, a cat and a dog, the footsteps of friends – and you!”
This time, it isn’t humiliation, self-contempt, or shame, but “happiness” that “was breaking over [Anne] like a wave. It almost frightened her.” Gilbert continues, “I asked you a question over two years ago, Anne. If I ask it again will you give me a different answer?” What does she say? Nothing – she answers him by looking at him with love, and then they talk over the misunderstandings of the past, and begin to make plans for their future together.
And what is immediately ahead of them? He tells Anne he has to ask her to wait a long time while he completes his medical training, and she says the waiting doesn’t matter. “We’ll just be happy, waiting and working for each other – and dreaming.”
Gilbert is headed back to Kingsport/Halifax and the medical school there – a.k.a. Dalhousie Medical School….
Previous posts on L.M. Montgomery and Halifax: