October 7, 2015

Return to Green Gables: "I just want YOU."


As Anne Shirley has said, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." While every October holds its own special charm, this one is all the more precious because it holds something I've been looking forward to for ages: Return to Green GablesAlexa from Alexa Loves BooksRachel  from Hello, Chelly and I wanted to celebrate this kindred spirit, so we've got some fun things in store for you! Be sure to visit all of our blogs during the next week as we pay tribute to the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery.
Many of my expectations and ideas about romance were formed while reading the Anne of Green Gables series, even though that was never the focus of Anne's life. I didn't fully realize it at the time, but I can see it so clearly now that I look back. From the first moment I fell into Anne's story, I adored Gilbert Blythe. He was my first literary love, the ideal hero, the character that raised the bar and set the standard. No one else would do. It wasn't until I re-read the books that I realized my love goes deeper -- that it extends to every fact of his relationship with Anne. And that's what I'm going to talk about today.

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Anne's best friend, Diana Barry, is the first person in the series to mention Gilbert. She tells Anne that he's returning to school after visiting his cousins all summer and slyly mentions that he's "aw'fly handsome" and "teases the girls something terrible." Anne concedes that he's handsome, but she's not too impressed with his manners after he winks at her! He appears to be a bit of flirt -- leaving every girl swooning -- except Anne. 
Gilbert Blythe was trying to make Anne Shirley look at him and failing utterly, because Anne was at that moment totally oblivious not only to the very existence of Gilbert Blythe, but of every other scholar in Avonlea school itself... Gilbert Blythe wasn't used to putting himself out to make a girl look at him and meeting with failure. She SHOULD look at him, that red-haired Shirley girl with the little pointed chin and the big eyes that weren't like the eyes of any other girl in Avonlea school.
Gilbert isn't used to being ignored, so he turns to teasing to get her attention. But tugging on her braid and whispering "Carrots! Carrots!" doesn't result in the reaction he expects. Anne reacts with a vengeance by smashing her slate over his head, a scene that's always been one of my favorites. And it sparked the beginning of a grudge that sometimes seemed as though it would never end. Gilbert tries to apologize, but Anne won't even acknowledge his existence. This continues for ages! Thus, I learned my first lesson about relationships:

Love stories don't always get off to the right start.

Is it any wonder that I became a fan of hate-to-love romances? That I became obsessed with books like Pride and Prejudice? It's one of my favorite romantic tropes, and I know where that love originated. But it's something that spilled over into life, too. It taught me that first impressions aren't always right, that your feelings for people can change and that holding a grudge can prevent you from recognizing good things right in front of you. 

Two years later, Anne is forced to speak and interact with Gilbert when he rescues her after she's stranded in the pond because her boat has sunk. Once more, he apologizes for his past mistake. And though Anne hesitates, she is firm in her resolve to hate him forever. She has let bitterness and resentment take root, and she's unable to see Gilbert for who he is now. As a reader, you're desperate for Anne to reconcile with Gilbert at this point. The rift has gone on long enough -- and you know that Anne is missing out by rejecting him. And that was my second lesson about romance:

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You can't see someone clearly when your vision is clouded by bitterness. 

Anne taught me that the holding on to a negative feeling about someone will never bring peace. Bitterness creates a wall between people -- it divides and conquers, if you will. If you allow it into your heart and nurture its presence, you are only hurting yourself. It's something I've seen over and over again in friendships, in family relationships, and in my marriage. If I hold on to bitterness, I will look at people differently. Anne has the satisfaction of feeling powerful in her ability to snub Gilbert, but there's a hollowness to it. Restoration is never the result of being right. And little does she know, she's shunned someone who has so much to offer.

You see, Gilbert is smart and ambitious. He works hard and does well in school, and his success pushes Anne to be better, too. He challenges her, even when he doesn't realize he's doing it. They begin to compete with one another in school -- neither of them holding anything back.
There was open rivalry between Gilbert and Anne now. Previously the rivalry had been rather onesided, but there was no longer any doubt that Gilbert was as determined to be first in class as Anne was. He was a foeman worthy of her steel. The other members of the class tacitly acknowledged their superiority, and never dreamed of trying to compete with them.
And that's when I understood my third thing about romance:

A person worthy of your affection will treat you as an equal.

One of the things that I always loved about Gilbert was that he competed with Anne academically. Anne originally wanted to be first in everything so that Gilbert would feel the sting of defeat, but there was never any malice in his desire to win. Eventually, Anne recognizes what Gilbert has always known -- that there's joy in "a well-won victory over a worth foeman." And half the pleasure is in the effort it takes to get there.

The world often communicates to girls that their value lies in being pretty. Why attract people with your brain when you could use your body? But that's the opposite of what happens in this love story. When Anne regrets her refusal to forgive Gilbert, she's often thinking about the fact that he's someone she could truly talk to:
She could not help thinking, too, that it would be very pleasant to have such a friend as Gilbert to jest and chatter with and exchange ideas about books and studies and ambitions... But she thought that if Gilbert had ever walked home with her from the train, over the crisp fields and along the ferny byways, they might have had many and merry and interesting conversations about the new world that was opening around them and their hopes and ambitions therein.
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He's her intellectual equal, and she recognizes it. And the best part is that Gilbert knows it, too. He could sit back and let her win in the hopes that it will earn her favor, but he doesn't. He views her as an equal and admires her intelligence, and he knows that she deserves his best. Their rivalry continues even when they're at Queen's earning a teaching license, and both are rewarded for their efforts.

After Queen's, Anne has the opportunity to go to Redmond college. She's excited to attend -- though she's dismayed when she learns that Gilbert won't be going, too. He is going to begin teaching in Avonlea to earn money because his father can't afford to send him to college. Then, something happens that causes Anne to make the difficult decision to postpone Redmond. She must teach now, too, but where? And that's when something amazing happens:
"I guess you're going to teach right here in Avonlea. The trustees have decided to give you the school." 
"Mrs. Lynde!" cried Anne, springing to her feet in her surprise. "Why, I thought they had promised it to Gilbert Blythe!" 
"So they did. But as soon as Gilbert heard that you had applied for it he went to them—they had a business meeting at the school last night, you know—and told them that he withdrew his application, and suggested that they accept yours. He said he was going to teach at White Sands."
ARE YOU BEGINNING TO UNDERSTAND MY LOVE FOR GILBERT BLYTHE? Of course, this brings me to the fourth thing I internalized about love:

Love grows out of grace and forgiveness.

I almost used the word sacrifice in the sentence above, and it would have been an accurate statement if I did. Gilbert makes a huge sacrifice for Anne. He'll have to pay to board at White Sands, which means he won't be able to save as much for college. The new school is farther away and unfamiliar -- it's certainly not a better opportunity for him. But the word sacrifice didn't seem to communicate the real beauty of Gilbert's gesture.

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Anne and Gilbert still aren't friends at this point in their lives. She's refused to forgive him time and time again, and there's no really reason he should be thinking of her. I've always heard grace defined as giving someone something that they don't deserve, and that's what I see in Gilbert's actions. Anne has rejected him, so I'd argue she hasn't really earned kindness from him. And yet he extends it anyway.

The next time Anne sees him, she immediately thanks him for his generosity. He tells her that he was pleased to have been able to help her and asks if they can be friends and if she's forgiven him. Of course, she offer her forgiveness -- and an apology of her own. And I've always been amazed by his response:
"We are going to be the best of friends," said Gilbert, jubilantly. "We were born to be good friends, Anne. You've thwarted destiny enough. I know we can help each other in many ways."
I get a little thrill down my spine every time I read this part of the book! Gilbert extends grace and forgiveness. He doesn't hold her years of resentment against her. He doesn't remind of the times she's rejected him. He asks her for her friendship and forgiveness when all she's said is thank you! He would have every right to snub her or make her feel guilty for the way she's acted. But he doesn't. Because he knows that keeping score kills any hope of love. If you want a relationship to flourish, you put someone before yourself and are quick to forgive when you've been wronged (or to apologize when you're the one who's wrong).

Anne and Gilbert begin to develop an amazing friendship. Gilbert was right all along when he told Anne that they born to good friends! And that brings me to the fifth lesson I learned about love:

Friendship is the foundation of love.

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I loved watching Anne and Gilbert's friendship blossom! They form the Avonlea Village Improvement Society together. They study together so they can stay on track to attend Redmond after they finish teaching. They talk about their dreams and ambitions with one another... even if Gilbert isn't totally forthcoming about all of his hopes for the future. They share so much with one another that it's all the sweeter when Anne begins to realize it might be something more.
Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one's life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one's side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music, perhaps . . . perhaps . . . love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.
Attraction and romance are important, but love stories rooted in friendship will always be my favorite. It's another romantic trope that I love finding in books. And can you blame me? When there's history and intimacy, it feels like there's so much depth to the relationship! Of course, Anne is adamant that it's only friendship she shares with Gilbert. After all, he does not look at all like her ideal man:
He must be very tall and distinguished looking, with melancholy, inscrutable eyes, and a melting, sympathetic voice. There was nothing either melancholy or inscrutable in Gilbert's physiognomy, but of course that didn't matter in friendship!
Even as a kid, I wanted to shake Anne whenever I read this passage! And so, she taught me the final thing I needed to know about romantic relationships:

Love doesn't always look the way you imagined.

I read a dating book once that talked about writing a list of everything you wanted in a future spouse. The purpose was to think about the kind of person you wanted to marry and to use that to help guide you through dating relationships. The person you're interested in only has five out of the eight qualities you desire? PASS.

While the intention was good, I think the exercise was a little misguided. It's important to think about the things that are most important to you, and they're are certainly qualities that will be non-negotiable. But sometimes what you think you want isn't always what you need. Plus, it's easy to get caught up in thinking about someone's physical appearance rather than focusing on their character. Anne illustrates this point!

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She doesn't believe Gilbert is her ideal man because he doesn't look like what she's imagined. But does someone's height or voice really matter? Anne thinks that it does, but she fails to see all the ways in which Gilbert far exceeds her romantic ideal. She's admitted that Gilbert is handsome -- he's just not what she imagined.

I think Anne was preparing for my own love story. When I met my now-husband, I immediately thought he was adorable but too short for me! At almost six feet tall, I'd always sworn I'd never date anyone shorter than me. It was one of the few rules I was not going to break, no matter how cute the guy. Of course, like Anne, I soon realized the error of my ways.
"I suppose you've gone and refused Gilbert Blythe. You are an idiot, Anne Shirley!" 
"Do you call it idiotic to refuse to marry a man I don't love?" said Anne coldly, goaded to reply. 
"You don't know love when you see it. You've tricked something out with your imagination that you think love, and you expect the real thing to look like that."
Anne taught me that you can miss out on something real by being too hung up on your imagination. I love books and movies, but I don't want to confuse them with life. Reality can be better than anything you'd have written for yourself! When you surrender the ideal, you open yourself up to things you may never have thought possible. But since this is Anne, it takes her quite a while to get there. I'll leave the rest of their story for you to discover -- and trust me, there's plenty more! Gilbert is steadfast in his love for Anne, just one more reason he's my favorite book boy, but I left all the truly romantic scenes out of my post so you can read them for yourself!

Here's a little teaser before you go,
"I don't want marble halls and sunbursts. I just want you."
I highlighted six things this series taught me about romance, but there's so many more I could have included. I'm being completely honest when I tell you that these books had a profound impact on me, even in ways I didn't always recognize. And isn't that the best kind of book? For me, the Anne of Green Gables series goes beyond simply being a good story. They changed my life -- and my ideas about love! 
While you're in the Anne mood, make sure you read
And check back tomorrow for three fun lists!

6 comments:

  1. I am loving this series and now I am dying to re-read the books!! This is such a wonderful post about one of my favourite literary couples :)

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  2. This is the most amazing, lovely post. I still haven't read Anne of Green Gables, much to my chagrin, and despite spoiling myself for some of the fun I imagine, your post makes me want to run home and start it immediately. I think I really missed out on Gilbert Blythe as a kid because their romance sounds magical in the deepest, realest way.

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  3. I'm tearing up thinking about the ways Anne has influenced my own love life. Like you, hate-to-love is a huge trope. I also think I'm similar to you and Anne in that it took a lot for me to see that your "ideal" is not always what's needed or what's best for you. I also agree with you on the intellectual equal part - Gil and Anne were, and always are equals, even after their marriage.

    Thank you for this beautiful post - it's so lovely to see how Anne has affected your life and probably the lives of many people around us. =)

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  4. I. LOVE. THIS. POST. I honestly think you tackled it in the best way possible! You've pointed out all the reasons that Gilbert + Anne work as a couple AND the things we readers can learn about romance. YAY FOR ANNE AND GILBERT <3

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  5. I need to reread these so bad. I LOVE ANNE + GILBERT but I'm still so upset that they don't end up together. Ooh well. Really beautiful life lessons that you picked out. :)

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  6. I never read this post and am kicking myself for it! Seriously-- you killed it! I grew up reading and watching Anne, and like you, it deeply impacted the way I viewed love and friendship. There is so much wisdom in these books. I love the way you laid this out, especially with all the quotes mixed in. <333

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