I’m back home from the L.M. Montgomery conference but I’ve got plenty left to say about it. So expect a few more posts on the subject over the next couple of days, beginning with this one.
The second keynote speech of the conference, “Anne, Emily and the Finnish Women,” was delivered by Suvi Ahola and Satu Koskimies. They spoke about an anthology of Finnish reading experiences of Montgomery’s Anne and Emily books that they had co-edited titled The Girls of New Moon and Green Gables. Montgomery’s books have been widely read in Finnish translation since the 1920s and the call for contributions to the anthology elicited a vast array of responses. All but one of the contributors are female, but in other respects they are a diverse lot. They range in age from eleven to eighty; some are academics but most are general readers; the majority are employed as teachers or writers but many other occupations are represented as well.
The anthology sounds fascinating and I wish that it was available in English. Even apart from the Montgomery connection, I love the idea of such a book devoted to exploring reading experiences. I was very interested in the discussion of the translation of Montgomery’s books into Finnish and also of their translation into Finnish culture. But I was struck when the contents of the anthology were described by the extent to which I, and others in attendance at the conference, could relate to the responses of this group of Finnish women to Mongomery’s books.
Many of those who answered the call for contributions, and readers of the anthology once it was published, responded with gratitude to the legitimation that the project offered. Some had been a bit ashamed of their deep connection to, and particularly their continued adult reading of, these books classified as being for children. It was reassuring to them be “given permission” to continue to enjoy the books, to have them validated as “good literature” and even “world literature.”
Linked to the foregoing is the conflicted relationship many readers had to the books, trying to reconcile their wholesale love for the books as children with their adult responses to many aspects of them that they could no longer accept. Did their continued fondness for the books signal a reactionary nostalgia? How could this be reconciled with their identities as 21st century Finnish feminists? Ultimately, for many, the point at which their lives as 21st century Finnish women intersected with those of Montgomery's turn-of-the-last-century Canadian characters was in the continued need to make difficult choices in relation to love, marriage, children, and career ambitions.
One pervasive feature of the anthology which elicited chuckles of recognition from the audience when described to us was the passionate identification of contributors with either Anne or Emily, but almost never both. If you were a Montgomery fan as a child, which was it for you? Anne or Emily? I was an Emily girl myself. I strongly identified with her literary ambitions, but also with her pride, her independence, and her reserve. It was Emily’s early efforts to get her poems and stories published that first emboldened me to send mine away to magazines. Oddly, though, I have not revisited the Emily books as an adult. Getting back to the point about the conflicted relationships we may have as adults with books we loved as children, I’m not sure whether I fear that the books will have lost their power for me or that they will have retained it. I think perhaps now I’m prepared to venture back into them and find out.