Written in response to the article “Anne of Green Gables: from bildungsroman to romantic comedy”
I love the word “bildungsroman”.
Not only does it role trippingly off the tongue, but it refers to a “coming of age” in a work of art. It just so happens that coming of age novels are my favorite, and just as the word brings me enjoyment, so too does the novel critiqued by LaurenBeth Signore, the always entertaining, Anne of Green Gables.
As a Nova Scotian, Anne’s story resonates with me. When I think of her, it is as a tough-as-nails, resourceful, artistic and adventurous spirit. She represents the ideals of many young maritime girls and their own coming of age. But is this really the Anne I am most familiar with? I read Montgomery’s Anne series once, spanning the years from child to adulthood. But I have seen Kevin Sullivan’s films Anne of Green Gables, and Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel, many, many more times (particularly the latter) and regardless of age, my enjoyment of the films never falters. I will admit, however, honestly and without shame, I especially love the second film because I love Anne and Gilbert’s love story. (Even now when I watch it, I wait in nail biting anticipation as Anne debates a future with the fan favorite Gilbert Blythe or the stoic Morgan Harris.) Therefore, imagine my surprise when I concede that Sullivan has, in fact, swapped strong feminine ideals of maturity by diminishing the power of the bildungsroman in favor of establishing an enviable romantic courtship!
Signore points out the paradigm shift created by Sullivan’s thematic inclusion of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, “The Lady of Shallot,” and the love affair between Lancelot and Elaine (referenced only briefly by Montgomery in her novel), which, Signore suggests, foreshadows a tale of unrequited love between Anne and Gilbert. Sullivan’s combination of three books into the sequel film, as well as his primary focus on the love triangle between Anne, Gilbert and Morgan, support her theory. Anne is a romantic through and through, no longer simply romanticizing Green Gables (arguably her true love interest in the novel), but as a woman romanticizing love itself.
The Anne from the novel is not a damsel in distress. True, Anne creates chaos and distress, but she does not need saving. She thrives on the drama that brings her around to moments of clarity and maturation. In the films, Anne’s maturation is often in response to an event related to, or onset by, Gilbert in some way. Such is the case when Anne dyes her hair green to be more beautiful. In the novel, she is completely ashamed of what she has done, but only because she quickly realizes that she was marked with beauty after all, even though her beauty is not considered conventional by the standards of the time. As Signore reminds me, Anne in the film is consumed by the fear of what Gilbert will think about her hair and about her. This is quite a drastic difference in conclusion: swapping clarity and acceptance of the self for fear of rejection by a love interest.
The recollection of my reading experience with Anne’s novel was never centered on her relationship with Gilbert. In fact, I was always rooting for her to outsmart and best him. I was proud of her for dismissing his advances (both casually and furiously), and cheered for her as she earned respect academically. One of the most poignant moments in the novel is when she learns that Gilbert resigned from the position of teacher so that Anne could have it, though he keeps this from her. He does want to be her friend, but I think he also saw her need was greater than his (due to Matthew’s recent death). In the film, Signore is right to point out that Gilbert admits his choice of resignation to Anne, acting as a knight in shinning armor, much like Lancelot himself. I am alarmed that, before now, I had not keenly observed the shift in my experience with Anne and Gilbert; in the novel I root against him, but in the film I root for him.
This transition from strong willed, determined woman to an almost submissive woman is jarring, and one that did not occur to me until reading Signore’s article. In an attempt to understand Kevin Sullivan’s choices I have come up with only one conclusion: perhaps it is easier for a man to conceive of the trials and tribulations of a girl’s heart than it is for him to conceive of the growth of both her mind and spirit.
By Leigha Chiasson