Sunday, 26 September 2010

Revisiting Anne-with-an-e

Isaac Asimov once wrote something along the lines of a book being better when you read it the second time because, having got over the suspense, you can really appreciate the writing. I confess that I enjoy the thrill of suspense a little too much to agree as easily as he seems to make the proposition, but he certainly has a point. I have the capacity to appreciate much more on my second (or third or fourth or umpteenth) time through a piece of writing. I pick up different highlights each time.

I think it's also fascinating to see how books change as we grow older (you might say that we are doing the changing, but that assumes an inertial reference frame). I'd guess I was somewhere between eight and twelve when I first read Anne of Green Gables. I thought Marilla Cuthburt was old. When I reread the book for the first time in years, I realised that a few grey streaks were not quite as aging as I'd imagined. What's more, when Marilla is described as 'without curves, but with angles', I understand that it's not entirely her personality that's being described. (Although I still think that's a nice way of reading it, which is why reading difficult books is a good thing, even if you have to come back to them later. Especially if you have to come back to them.)

I still don't know nearly as much poetry as Anne-with-an-e, but I can recognise a little of it. This is the first time I've appreciated the silliness (yet lifelikeness) of her heroine with 'velvety purple eyes'—and how practical Diana is in remarking that she's never know anyone with purple eyes. I'm rather glad that nobody told her in disgust that she was writing a 'Mary Sue' story, though. Matthew's uncritical praise and Miss Muriel Stacy's gentle admonition to only write about things that might happen in the village of Avonlea seem at least as effective and much—well 'nice' seems to weak a word to use—but it is much nicer. Kinder, perhaps. It doesn't seem to have hurt Anne's crowd to admire one another's overly romantic stories for a year or two. Then again, they were often, if kindly, informed that their stories were more amusing than pathetic, much to their consternation. I'm not entirely sure what I think about the difference between then and now, but it's food for thought.

All in all, I enjoyed reading Anne from a different perspective. Some things were the same—I still cringed at the jumping-into-an-unexpectedly-Miss-Josephine-Barry-filled-bed scene, and couldn't quite bring myself to read the whole liniment cake scene quite properly. I still think the end is terribly sad, though far from hopeless, but I understand Anne's bend in the road much better than I used to. I've always loved the line
And then–thwack! Anne had brought her slate down on Gilbert's head and cracked it–slate not head–clear across.
Now I began to see that Montgomery has something of a habit of twisting mildly ambiguous statements into slightly silly irony. It's a habit I enjoy.

My only complaint is that it's left me with a dilemma: should I reread all my old favourites or find time to read beautiful new-to-me books which will also allow me to appreciate the references the old favourites make better? Although, with school starting up again tomorrow, I may not be forced to make the decision any time soon.

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