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The Lion and the Unicorn 25.1 (2001) 47-69
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"Where Is the Boy?":
The Pleasures of Postponement in the Anne of Green Gables Series
In her ominously entitled article, "The Decline of Anne: Matron vs. Child," Gillian Thomas argues that the sequels to L. M. Montgomery's popular Anne of Green Gables (1908) prove "progressively unsatisfactory" due to Anne's gradual transformation from an unconventional, spirited child to a cautious, conservative matron (23). Objecting in particular to the adult Anne's habit of playing matchmaker, Thomas claims that "[t]he idea that some marriages can be unfulfilling or destructive is scarcely allowed to intrude into Anne's world" (28). Similarly, T. D. MacLulich notes that even as Montgomery's characters protest against the narrow view that "unmarried [women] are simply those who have failed to get a man," Montgomery as author "can imagine in her fiction only one resolution of this situation: the unhappy woman must finally acquire a man of her own" (90). Initially compelling, these readings ultimately fail to do justice to the extraordinary extent to which the Anne series dramatizes the effort its female characters must make to conform their unruly desires to the dictates of heterosexual romance, to close the gap between what they want and what they are supposed to want. Through her portrayal of numerous "dilatory courtship[s]"--including the romance that finally flowers between Anne and Gilbert--and her ingenious manipulation of the series format, Montgomery demonstrates the enormous expenditure of time and effort necessary to bring about "The End" embodied by heterosexual union (Chronicles of Avonlea 2). At the same time, she indicates that these lengthy delays make room for passionate relationships between women that prove far more romantic than traditional marriages.
Anne would have no call to engage in such frantic matchmaking were [End Page 47] it not for the fact that so many of the characters surrounding her perform acts of spectacular hesitation, postponing their marriages for up to thirty years after their introduction--or even engagement--to a potential partner. The paradigmatic case occurs in Chronicles of Avonlea when Anne "hurr[ies] up" the courtship of Theodora Dix and the ironically named Ludovic Speed, which has been stalled at the flirting phase for fifteen years due to Ludovic's indecisiveness and Theodora's shyness. 1 Nearly every sequel to Anne of Green Gables includes one such "dilatory courtship"; for example, Anne of Avonlea (1909), the second book in the series, features the reconciliation of no less than three couples who have been separated for years as a result of various kinds of quarrels and problems--Sarah Copp and Luther Wallace, Mr. James A. Harrison and his wife Emily, and Lavendar Lewis and her old beau Stephen Irving. Like the long delay that holds up the marriage of Janet Sweet and John Douglas in Anne of the Island (1915), the Copp/Wallace match is hindered by a family member's stern decree and a lack of resolve on the part of the lovers themselves. More often, however, Montgomery focuses on how pride overrules love; the two other temporally-challenged couples in Anne of Avonlea part ways after bitter quarrels after which no one wants to be the first to make up.
Yet these disagreements are invariably depicted as essentially petty; twenty-five years after the fact, Lavendar Lewis cannot even remember the cause of the argument that broke up her engagement to Stephen Irving. Nor does Montgomery mention the grounds of the quarrel that divides Ellen West from Norman Douglas for twenty years before they reconcile themselves to marriage in the seventh book of the series, Rainbow Valley (1919). As for Emily Harrison, she leaves her husband because he has untidy habits, an embarrassingly profane parrot, and poor grammar skills; while Nancy Rogerson in Chronicles of Avonlea (1912) follows suit by splitting with Peter Wright over his bad syntax. The marriage of Cornelia Bryant and Marshall Elliott, announced at the end of Anne's House of Dreams (1917), is...