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  • “Bloom in the Moonshine”:Imagination as Liberation in Anne of Green Gables
  • Paige Gray (bio)

Sitting alone in her “ugly” dress outside the Bright River train station on rural Prince Edward Island, Anne Shirley, red-haired heroine of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (1908), waits hopefully for Mr. Matthew Cuthbert of Green Gables (11). Given her experience as an orphan and her familiarity with disappointment, she anticipates his delay, but Anne is determined to transform the situation into an ideal and lovely experience, rather than one of despair. When Matthew does arrive, she tells him:

I’d made up my mind that if you didn’t come for me tonight I’d go down the track to that big wild cherry tree at the bend, and climb up into it to stay all night. I wouldn’t be a bit afraid, and it would be lovely to sleep in a wild cherry tree all white with bloom in the moonshine, don’t you think? You could imagine you were dwelling in marble halls, couldn’t you? (12; emphasis added)

You could imagine. Imagination in Anne of Green Gables serves not only as a source of pleasure for Anne, but also as a source of survival, motivation, and power. As a poor, clever girl with no family and few options in early twentieth-century Canada, Anne’s fantasies prior to her adoption by Marilla and Matthew serve as a means to mentally create safe havens and luminous spaces.

This singular, independent girl situated in a moment of societal transition relies on imagination to transform the reality of her surroundings. Anne’s imaginative ability and its function correspond with Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s “mythic woman artist,” who “through all these stages in her history . . . dreamed, like her sibylline ancestress, of a visionary future, a utopian land in which she could be whole and energetic” (102). In this essay, I argue that the evocation of imaginative tropes—romantic tropes in particular—works toward the visionary purpose expressed by Gilbert and Gubar in both the fictional case of Anne and the historical case of certain discursive strands of suffrage across Canada, Britain, and the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With closer examination, we find Anne of Green Gables and the rhetoric and imagery of suffrage campaigns bound [End Page 169] together in a relationship of reciprocity; they mutually influenced one another as they existed during a period when women advantageously drew upon configurations of the chivalric and the pastoral imagination in order to put themselves in idealized positions of power. The imaginative threads seen in Anne and in portions of the suffrage movement weave together romanticized notions of woman from ancient and medieval history and literature, yet subvert their associated pomp and tradition to effectively move her to the cultural forefront. Her position becomes one of agency rather than ornamentation. Considering the use of imagination in one provides a better understanding of the other. Both enterprises employ a specific use of imagination and its figurative language so that their heroines may become “whole and energetic,” as envisioned by Gilbert and Gubar. Anne’s creative capacity makes her seek out the fantastical in the real world in a manner that parallels the approach different branches of suffragists took in their public discourse; in each lies a re-visioning of societal roles wherein imagination acts as an agent of change.

I use the term “imagination” to refer to a language of transformation that incorporates elements of the fantastic, the beautiful, or the ideal. In Anne, imagination serves as a means to achieve liberation, which I see as a process of breaking from conventional gender expectations, in thought and action—a realization of the imagined. The term “liberation” itself partially defined second-wave feminism of the 1960s and ‘70s, an effort that engaged “women who were discovering and exploring new territories” and effected “changes in the ways people live, dress, and dream of their future” by understanding the personal as political (Baxandall and Gordon 1, 16).1 By embracing the imagination—through “discovering,” “exploring,” and “dream[ing]”—Anne not only demonstrates liberation from the mundane present...