- Haunted Heroines:The Gothic Imagination and the Female Bildungsromane of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and L. M. Montgomery
Using its popular competition "The Great Wednesday Compare," John Mutford's literary online discussion forum "The Book Mine Set" posted a challenge in 2007, asking readers to vote on whether Jane Austen or L. M. Montgomery, best known for her canonical children's classic Anne of Green Gables (AGG), was their favorite author.1 One blogger responded, "Wow, I'm really surprised at the number of people picking Montgomery over Austen! Although L. M. Montgomery has a huge place in my heart, I'm going to have to vote for Jane again. . . . It makes me sad not to be able to vote for Montgomery, which I would have done if she'd been up against almost anyone else." Many bloggers offered similar sentiments; the "Sophie's choice" of selecting between Montgomery and Austen proved, for many, almost too much to bear.2 By examining message boards and blog posts, we can see that, especially for female readers, these two authors share a hallowed place in the collective memory, due to girls' culture and youthful reading. Both authors have created texts that female readers read and re-read, generation after generation; and their works have earned not only devotion, but international popularity and successful film and merchandising industries. Yet, despite a host of similarities linking them, there have been few critical discussions that consider Austen and Montgomery together.
According to Miriam Rheingold Fuller, whose "Jane of Green Gables: L.M. Montgomery's Reworking of Austen's Legacy" (2009) is the first critical study to undertake an extended comparison of Austen and Montgomery, "Many 'Janeites' are 'Anneites' too, and for very similar reasons: Austen and Montgomery both write domestic romances in rural settings; both critique society's mistreatment of women; and, most significantly, both create compelling, memorable heroines." She continues, [End Page 125]
The connections between Anne Shirley, Austen's heroines, and Montgomery herself are extremely complex. . . . I believe Montgomery enjoyed Austen's novels because she strongly identified—or in some cases wished to identify—with her heroines, and that she incorporates many elements of Austen's plots and heroines in the first three Anne books3 to help rewrite her own life through writing Anne's.4
Fuller claims that Anne's experience rewrites the romantic scenarios of Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, and Anne Elliot in order to "alter them to reshape her fictional self and to comment on Austen's treatment of her heroines".
Although Fuller does cite examples connecting Montgomery's Anne to other heroines in Austen's fiction, Fuller is most concerned with Montgomery's repetition and manipulation of Austen's courtship narratives, in both her fiction and her journals. In her essay's opening, though, Fuller also asserts that Anne is like an Austen heroine other than Elizabeth, Emma, or Anne, because she "frightens herself with Gothic fancies." Here Fuller makes a direct allusion to the heroine of Austen's Northanger Abbey (1818), Catherine Morland, and indirectly references one of the most memorable scenes in Anne of Green Gables (AGG, 1908), the incident of the Haunted Wood. Although Austen's Northanger Abbey offers an extended satire of the Gothic genre, Montgomery uses the brief, but unforgettable, Gothic intrusion of the Haunted Wood for parodic and didactic purposes similar to Austen's. In both Northanger Abbey and AGG, Gothic intrusions into these realistic female bildungsromane serve as a means of social instruction for the heroines and discipline for their Gothic imaginations. Moreover, these texts suggest that correct reading practices can lead to right uses of reason in the social sphere and that novels can further the goal of female education—both for their heroines and for their readers. Furthermore, Austen and Montgomery posit that once the false teachings of Gothic romances—their improper reading and imaginative practices—are swept away, then the heroines will be prepared for their own real-life romantic courtship narratives. Ultimately, though each writer cautions against letting the female imagination run wild, neither writer denies the power of the imagination nor suggests that a woman's life can be negotiated through reason...