"Looking For Anne"

Looking For Anne by Irene Gammel

Looking For Anne is the story of how the beloved childrens book Anne Of Green Gables was written. The author has searched through Montgomery's personal and family correspondence, court documents, journals and popular publications of the era to piece together Lucy Maud Montgomery's life experiences leading up to and during the writing of her most famous novel and presents it here as the solution to the "mystery" of Anne.

I didn't enjoy this book at all until I was at least three quarters of the way through it. I was very disappointed because I love the Anne books and I wanted so much to enjoy reading how it all came about. Unfortunately, instead of enjoyment I got the uncomfortable feeling Gammel was working very hard to make me dislike Anne.

The overall tone of Looking For Anne is negative and critical. And I found the author making some very big assumptions at times. Writing about Montgomery's mother, who died when Maud was a baby,  she says "...neither of the two photos available suggest that she would have possessed the wit or the intelligence that Maud valued in spiritual kin such as her great -aunt Mary, who was a brilliant conversationalist and literary mind." That seems a rather harsh judgment to make from just a couple of photographs. It doesn't come across as reasonable. Then there are scenes where she tells us what Maud was thinking at the time and again, that's not very realistic to me. I  was never sure what was fact and what was assumed from circumstantial evidence.

Gammel writes at length in this book about female friendships in Montgomery's era and about those in the book, and has a great deal to suggest about the sexual qualities of those relationships. "Through clever wit and irony, Maud had a gift of bringing her readers tantalizingly close to unspoken feelings of sensuality and sexuality, while ingeniously portraying these feelings as universal and innocent." She says a lot more about Maud's sexuality but I'm not going to go into it here, because it's not Maud's sexuality I have a problem with. I do have a problem when she begins to imply Maud wrote sexual feelings into the children's friendships in the Anne books. These are 11 year old girls. I've never, ever picked up even a hint of that when reading the Anne books and frankly I find it more than a little bit creepy. She suggests strongly that Montgomery was bisexual and perhaps she was, but I will never in a million years believe that we are meant to think the relationship between those little girls is in any way sexual.

Gammel clearly has a taste for the melodramatic. It shows up when she calls Anne of Green Gables "a much more secular and subversive novel" than other novels of the day. And again when she refers several times to Maud Montgomery being a "virtual prisoner" during the years she lived with her aging grandmother; she probably did feel trapped at times, but say it too many times and eyes will roll. Then, when Maud is returning home from a business trip to Boston (the one get-away approved by her grandmother), Gammel, to emphasize the empty life she is going back to after a happy, fun-filled time away, writes "When she arrived at the train station on Prince Edward Island, George Campbell picked her up on the cold and rattling buggy. Sleet blew into her face the whole way home."  Overkill?  For me, yes.  

Another thing that struck me the wrong way was Gammel repeatedly referring to Anne as a pagan. In fact she implies that all lovers of nature are pagan. I looked up the definition of pagan just to be sure I wasn't overreacting and it seems she does mean to say that Maud, Anne and anyone else who loves flowers, brooks and fields are unbelievers, and "unbeliever" is the dictionary's definition, not just mine. Now, I believe in God. But I'm also very fond of growing things, bodies of water and night skies. These things are really not mutually exclusive. I think Gammel is taking way too big a leap here, and when considered together with the leap taken from friendship to sexual feelings, and her tendency toward melodrama, this author loses pretty much all credibility with me.

As I said earlier I didn't like it at all till close to the end, and the reason for my interest at that point was that she might say other outrageous things I wouldn't want to miss. Or maybe she'd somehow make all the other stuff make sense. And, this was our book club selection for March and I didn't want to miss anything. So I read through to the end, and now, truthfully, I sort of wish I'd never read it at all.


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