When I was ten or eleven or maybe a bit older, I discovered Anne of Green Gables. I promptly discovered the rest of the series and drove my local bookshop crazy ordering them all. Many years later, my grandparents had a Golden Wedding anniversary and all the cousins came over from Canada. My grandmother had dementia by then but she and her girl cousins sang “We’ll Meet Again” as if they were teenagers. And one of the cousins brought me two books. I don’t know why – did Granny know I liked Anne of Green Gables? Probably not, and almost certainly not in the state of mind she was in. I don’t remember the cousin bringing my sister any books. She brought me Rilla of Ingleside – which I already owned – and Emily Climbs, which I didn’t. That’s the middle of the three Emily books and it was only a few short years ago that I finally read books one and three.
I was sort of vaguely aware of The Blue Castle, although I’ve never read it but until I spied it in a bookshop, I had no idea that Jane of Lantern Hill existed, and likewise with several others that I now have on my Kindle. So these are new LM Montgomery books to me as an adult and I Have Thoughts.
The first one I read was Jane of Lantern Hill and I’m really trying to absorb it without my 2017 filter on. Jane lives in Totonto with her mother, her grandmother and an assortment of relatives. Her mother loves her in a quiet way, never allowed to be demonstrative because her grandmother hates her very existence. Jane lives a life of luxury – there is a car, she goes to private school, she’s not allowed to help out with cooking or chores, and the one thing Jane wants more than anything else is to be useful, to do things for the house and the household. Chaos ensues when she discovers her father is in fact alive, separated from her mother and living – where else? – on Prince Edward Island, and when he then summons her to stay for the summer. Jane and her father get on like a house on fire. He buys a house and they spend the summer fitting it out, cooking for themselves and generally owning their own lives.
The 2017 part of me can’t stand that Jane’s ultimate ambition is to do the cooking and cleaning but I can understand that to her, that’s part of belonging to a house and home rather than being grudgingly tolerated in it. But her father – oh, he’s renting a room over a shop when Jane arrives and his landlord’s wife cooks and cleans for him. And then as soon as Jane comes along, he decides it’s time to get his own house because Jane can “manage” for him. Here is a female person who can do the work for me. No matter that she’s eleven years old, she can be my housekeeper. But Jane loves it – and, improbably, Jane becomes the absolute master of everything she tries. Jane’s cakes are better than anyone’s on the island, Jane’s thing-she’s-never-heard-of-before is better than anyone else’s on the island.
Then we have Pat of Silver Bush. Pat starts off as a barely-tolerable six-year-old. Pat loves her home. Loves it, is obsessed by it, is consumed by it. Any change – a new baby, cutting down a dead tree, her father shaving his moustache, new wallpaper, moving chairs – is greeted with absolute hysterics. The book has no particular plot, it’s just the story of a rural family on Prince Edward Island with an obsessive daughter but I suppose you might say it’s a series of lessons to Pat on “see, change isn’t so bad is it?” and individually, Pat learns to cope with each disaster. She stays at her best friend’s house across the road overnight but has to get up and gaze at her own house to make sure it doesn’t vanish in the night because she’s not there. She discovers that the new baby is cute. She gets used to Dad’s lack of moustache. She starts to feel like her brother, who ran off to sea, is an outsider when he comes for a visit. But nowhere, at no point, does it feel like it’s really sinking in with Pat. No matter how many times she learns that small changes won’t shatter her world, she acts like every potential change is going to shatter it. You can see why people find her hard work.
And what’s frustrating is that I can see myself in Pat. I really don’t like that the hedge out the front of the house, despite being over twenty years old, dead and mouldy at the bottom, has had to be removed. I still hate the new front door (although to be fair, that’s because it wafts and won’t shut if you just try to slam it behind you like the old one). I still have the original carpet in my bedroom – the last scrap of original carpet in the whole house. But I don’t want to read about me and my resistance to so-called home improvements.
Pat has none of Anne or Emily’s character. Even Jane’s. Jane wants to belong, Jane wants something that is hers, Jane wants love. Pat’s one and only defining trait is that she loves Silver Bush – and that she’ll hit people who say bad things about it.
I’m going to read Mistress Pat, the sequel, and see if keeping autism at the back of my mind helps to put her in context. I know that in real life, LM Montgomery was out in Montreal, or somewhere far away, desperately missing PEI and all her love and yearning was poured into Pat but you can feel the yearning and it doesn’t work in Pat because she’s there, she’s not missing it. And I know we don’t diagnose fictional characters, particularly ones that date back to before anyone really knew anything about whatever we’re attempting to diagnose but I’m interested to see how it fits on Pat.
Conclusion: I still love Anne the most.