Anne of Green Gables, Anne of the Island, books, Halifax, Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery, literature, marriage proposals, Point Pleasant Park
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:
Point Pleasant Park as a Cure for Homesickness
Anne of Green Gables in Kingsport/Halifax
Anne of Green Gables and the Old Burying Ground, Halifax
Anne of Green Gables Loves Point Pleasant Park
Oh this takes me back! Lovely post…so many interesting threads that connect the various scenes that are beloved in my minds eye…thank you for putting it together.
Sarah Emsley said:
You’re welcome. I hadn’t read Anne of the Island for many years and it was a real pleasure to revisit the book and trace the connections with places in Halifax.
This was a very interesting post about the links between Jane Austen and the ‘Anne’ books! I read the Miriam Rheingold Fuller essay that you mentioned, and it definitely seems plausible that Montgomery drew on Austen characters/plotlines in her own work, whether consciously or unconsciously. (I’m never quite sure how one goes about telling how conscious or otherwise such references are…)
How much did you personally agree with Miriam’s interpretations of the use of Pride and Prejudice within the Anne books? There were aspects of the analysis that matched my responses to the text completely, such as the continuities between Darcy’s altruistic act and Gilbert’s, and the valuable and empowering lessons that hero and heroine learn from each other in both stories.
And I suspect Miriam is right in arguing that both stories employ a plot in which it is the heroine’s disapproval that causes a man to change for the better; though I must say that I have never been convinced by this as a plotline… I could never quite buy the idea of a person whose behaviour is so identifiably insensitive, selfish or arrogant being changed radically for the better by one other person’s disapproval. I tend to think that if he/she thinks that such behaviour and attitudes are fine and acceptable, one person’s disapproval is unlikely to persuade him/her that they categorically are not!
Miriam’s interpretation of the double proposal was definitely a bit different to mine, though. That the first refusal was because Gilbert did not sufficiently respect Anne, and would not win her until he had learnt to respect her, was not how I read that plotline. Miriam’s interpretation was more critical of Gilbert than mine had been, and less critical of Anne!
In particular, I interpreted his words during Proposal No. 1 quite differently. Given how much of an open secret his love for her was by this point – Philippa saying that Anne was the reason that she could not get Gilbert to look at her, Mrs. Lynde and Marilla hoping that Anne and Gilbert would end up together, Mrs. Bell and Mrs. Harmon Andrews talking about his “infatuation” with her, Avonlea juvenile society regarding him and Charlie Sloane as rivals for Anne’s affections etc – I thought that when he said to her that things couldn’t “go on like this any longer”, he was saying that it was crazy that the only two people who didn’t talk about the romantic elephant in the room were the two people most concerned by it.
I thought he was also protesting at her refusal to acknowledge his feelings, implying that to offer friendship while insisting on total silence about his other feelings, treating his romantic hopes with contempt by “mercilessly and frostily nip[ping them] in the bud”, “laugh[ing] at him” or “punish[ing] him”, was unkind. Certainly he was tired of concealment; but I thought that he was insisting only that, as a pair, they had to acknowledge his feelings: whether she returned them or not, they couldn’t continue to pretend these feelings didn’t exist.
Wanting someone who calls herself your friend to acknowledge that you have other, rather strong, feelings about her, and that you would rather not have your romantic aspirations treated like they are ridiculous, doesn’t seem an unreasonable expectation to me… so I presumed that his motive in speaking so was to insist that they acknowledge his sentiments and talk openly about the consequences that this might have for their friendship.
Admittedly, he then went on to propose to her, which seems to undermine my theory a bit! However, I’d read that proposal itself more as an act of desperate and impulsive wishful thinking, and even that he’d taken Victorian-era etiquette, that one mustn’t leave a girl in any doubt about one’s intentions, rather literally, and felt that he was obliged to declare himself so specifically. Where Miriam homed in on the possessive wording of “my wife”, I homed in on the words “some day”, and read tentativeness, as if he were saying, “Will you give me a chance? Would you think about it?” As Austen phrased it about Knightley in ‘Emma’, he “only aspired to be told that she did not forbid his attempt to attach her… he had been asking to be allowed to create [affection] if he could.” Knightley asked Emma, “[H]ave I no chance of ever succeeding?”; I felt Gilbert was doing likewise here, particularly when he asked, “But can’t you give me some hope that you will—yet?”
His actions were certainly hasty and ill-judged; but given that he thought he had detected signs of affection from Anne – and he may well have been right, given that LMM would later tell us that Anne had in fact always loved him! – his desperate punt at a romantic bond with her didn’t seem so laden with signs of selfishness or disrespect to me. Funny how different two people’s readings of the same text can be!
What did you think?
Sarah Emsley said:
Glad to hear you enjoyed this post, Anna. It’s been a while since I last read Miriam’s essay, so I’d have to revisit both that and the novels in order to respond in detail (and I don’t have time to do that just now). Thanks for reading and commenting!