One of the things that I love about good books is how they can teach us about life and help to illumine the lessons that perhaps we have already learned.
I recently finished re-reading the novel Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Anne is easily one of the most delightful and beloved of fictional characters; if you aren’t familiar with this imaginative little girl, I highly recommend checking out the book or the 1985 mini-series starring Megan Follows and directed by Kevin Sullivan (I’ve not watched any of the more recent adaptations). In brief, Anne is an orphan who is, somewhat accidently, adopted by an old, unmarried brother and sister, and is then raised on their farm on Prince Edward Island in Canada. Anne is perhaps the definition of the Spunky Orphan, but is written with such genuine and heartfelt development that she defies being a mere stereotype. In fact, all of Montgomery’s characters are crafted with depth and nuance, and it’s hard not to love each and every one of them.
The last few chapters of this book still have the power to make me cry, and perhaps even more now than when I was younger, as time and maturity have taught me the truth of them. From the sentence, “It was the last night before sorrow touched her life; and no life is ever quite the same again when once that cold, sanctifying touch as been laid upon it” I’m pretty much bawling for the rest of the book.
But there is a catharsis and a trueness to the tragedy that befalls Anne, because in reality none of us avoid that “cold, sanctifying touch” for very long in our lives. That first sorrow is always unexpected, but familiarity with characters like Anne can help to prepare us to meet the challenges that life brings upon us. In a short span, all of Anne’s plans for the future are turned upside-down, but she does not respond with grudging resentment, self-pity, or melancholy, despite her usually “romantic” or melodramatic nature. Instead, “She had looked her duty courageously in the face and found it a friend– as duty ever is when we meet it frankly.”
When looking at even a brief sketch of L.M. Montgomery’s life, it’s clear that she wrote primarily from her own experiences. Raised most of her life by her elderly grandparents, Montgomery, like Anne, had to change the course she thought her future was taking when duty and love called her home again. In the character of Anne is all the positivity and optimism any of us could hope to have in such a situation. As Anne tells Marilla, “When I left Queen’s my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I am going to believe that the best does.” There are often more bends in the road of our life than we anticipate and those turns are often beyond our control when we come upon them. Anne gives us a model of how to respond to those bends.
Fiction has an amazing power to make us more empathetic, because it puts us in the minds and emotions of someone beyond ourselves. But fiction can also help us understand our own minds and emotions, as well. There are many things that I relate to in Anne’s story, and it has helped me to process some of the aspects of my own life and past. This is the gift of good literature; to me, it is the point of good literature.
Have there been any particular books that you’ve found especially poignant in your life? Are there characters that you relate to more than any other? I’d love to hear about them! Be sure to leave a comment below.