South Park Self

kindred spirits

Students are suspiciously quiet this semester, what the hell. We had a downright placid change of curriculum period, and for the last few weeks the trickle of students panicking in my office has been more of an intermittent dribble. While I am subliminally waiting for the other shoe to drop and, I dunno, a full-on Deep One cult to surface in the Chinese fountain on the plaza or something, it does at least mean that over the last week I was twiddling my thumbs enough that I managed to read the first five novels in the Anne of Green Gables series off Gutenberg in my office browser. Which, I have to add for posterity, is a literary diet far less likely to traumatise any students who accidentally catch sight of it than either of my more usual work-avoidant browser habits, viz. fanfic and Tumblr, both of which are prone to erupt without warning into explicit gay porn.

I haven't read Anne properly for years, I motored through the first one six or seven years ago in order to supervise a more than usually fumbling Honours thesis. I had forgotten a lot about it, and the reminder has given rise to two sharply opposed responses.

On the one hand - lord, it's sentimental. Very much an artefact of its time; I looked for it because I keep seeing references to the new Anne with an E tv series, but I think one of the reasons I kept reading is because the world it depicts is so idyllic, ordered and sane, in sharp contradistinction to ours, which really isn't any of the above, right now. Anne's sentimentality leads it to idealised ideas of relationships and, particularly, women's roles in them (also, children, to occasionally nauseating extremes), but there's something very comforting in the simple nature of its conflicts and in the series' sustained belief in the essential benevolence of people. I found myself glossing over the saccharine bits and the horribly outdated gender politics because the characters are so interesting and real and likeable despite them.

On the other hand - sentimental, saccharine, idealised though it is, something in Anne herself was, I think, formative, and I still read her with enormous pleasure and recognition. I never had her unfettered spontaneity, but like her I was a child whose vivid emotional life was internal and imaginative and romanticised - still is, really - and whose best school subject was English. Anne's status as a word-witch among her peers is something I, as an awkward introvert, passionately desired, because unlike other aspirations it wasn't entirely impossible - it was a superpower I intellectually possessed and could conceivably unlock if I only had the confidence or unselfconsciousness or social skills. I never did, of course, but it was comforting, I think, to contemplate an idealised identity which was created by becoming more powerfully myself rather than less.

Dated sentimentality aside, Anne is a vivid creation and I was happy to re-discover her. I should look out for the new series, it seems to be worthwhile.

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