- Embodied Landscape Aesthetics in Anne of Green Gables
Anne said no more until they turned into their own lane. A little gypsy wind came down it to meet them, laden with the spicy perfume of young dew-wet ferns. Far up in the shadows a cheerful light gleamed out through the trees from the kitchen at Green Gables. Anne suddenly came close to Marilla and slipped her hand into the older woman's hard palm. . . .
"Saying one's prayers isn't exactly the same as praying," said Anne meditatively. "But I'm going to imagine that I'm the wind that is blowing up there in those tree tops. When I get tired of the trees I'll imagine I'm gently waving down here in the ferns—and then I'll fly over to Mrs. Lynde's garden and set the flowers dancing—and then I'll go with one great swoop over the clover field—and then I'll blow over the Lake of Shining Waters and ripple it all up into little sparkling waves. Oh, there's so much scope for imagination in a wind! . . ."—Anne of Green Gables (chapter 10, 76-77)
Returning to Green Gables after apologizing to Mrs. Rachel Lynde, Anne Shirley in the epigraph immerses herself in nature, using the landscape as raw material for aesthetic transformation, as she imagines being the wind, gyrating through trees and ferns and clover and flowers, while also creating a narrative about the landscape and forming a sensuous relational interplay between the human and vegetation worlds. The epigraph presents one of the many nature scenes in Anne of Green Gables that document Montgomery's embodied landscape aesthetic in which experiencing nature is not about simply looking at nature with distanced aesthetic appreciation; rather, it is an invitation to let go and become involved in an ecological relationship that is aesthetic, dynamic, and multi-sensuous. For it is not just the eye that is being stimulated when Anne imagines herself swooping over the clover field and waving through the ferns: "the spicy perfume of young dew-wet ferns" [End Page 228] rises up to the nose, and "the gypsy wind" ripples over the skin. Throughout the novel, Anne's exuberance gestures toward a sensorial and kinesthetic engagement with the organic and inorganic world, her ecstasy expressing a level of arousal that is transgressive in disrupting more formal and distanced methods of artistic landscape appreciation.1 By involving her senses and body in her exploration of nature's beauty, Anne blurs the boundaries between inside and outside, life and art, human and nature, physical and metaphysical, while also clashing with her adoptive parent Marilla Cuthbert, whose pragmatism as a farm woman renders her incapable of appreciating nature beyond its strictly practical value.
With her focus on lavish nature descriptions, Montgomery is an artistic descendant of the British and Scottish Romantics (and Victorians), including Walter Scott, Wordsworth, and Tennyson; Americans Walt Whitman, Emerson, Thoreau, and Holmes, and Canadian Bliss Carman, among others.2 Thus we recognize traces of Whitman's and Carman's sensuality in Montgomery's nature poetics; we also know that Montgomery was familiar with Emerson's notion of looking with both reason and understanding, thereby overcoming the division between the body and the soul. We shall see, however, that she turned Emerson's philosophy from the head to the heart and from the intellect to the body. "Montgomery's nature descriptions are full of poetry," Elizabeth Epperly writes: "She uses the conventions of poetry—appeal to senses, personification, simile, metaphor" to create a kind of "prose-poetry" that allows Anne a "communion with beauty" (Fragrance 28, 29). In fact, Epperly has to be credited with a scholarly line of argument that highlights Montgomery's nature appreciation in terms of a specifically visual experience, illuminating how Montgomery "saw" landscape in pictures. In Through Lover's Lane: L.M. Montgomery's Photography and Visual Imagination (2007), for example, Epperly takes as her starting point Montgomery's amateur photography to examine the visual rhetoric in her writing, suggesting that the same painterly and symbolic compositional principles that shaped Montgomery's nature cyanotypes and photographs are applied in...