Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Anne or Emily?

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.


Gata said...

The Anne or Emily question to me is like Beatles or Rolling Stones...but I love them both!

patricia said...

I just love that you have been posting about L.M. Montgomery and her works on your blog. Apart from her diaries, I believe that I have read every single book every written by Ms. Montgomery. I worshipped her as a kid. It was a real shock to my system when I found out what her real life was like.

So.... Anne or Emily? I must confess that as a kid I was definitely in the Anne camp. I loved her spunk and charm and chatter. I was bitterly shy as a kid, and so wanted to be like Anne. And I was a not-so-attractive kid, and hoped and prayed that I would blossom into a handsome lady like Anne did, in the later novels.

Emily... well... for some reason she got on my nerves at times. I found those 'flashes' to be a bit much after a while. And Emily really could be a bit drippy at times. But I stil loved that series, just like 'Pat of Silver Bush' as well, which though amusing, also paled in comarison to the Anne books, in my opinion.

I'd really have to reread all of the books now, as an adult to decide how I feel about these characters now. But would I really want to do that? My memories of that time, reading Montgomery's works, are precious, and I'd hate to have it sullied with the vantage point of a somewhat cynical adult.

Another character that deserves mention, I feel, is Valancy from The Blue Castle. Sometimes I wonder if that book is even better than the Anne series. I read it many, many times as a child.

Such great memories! Thanks for bringing them back!

Caroline said...

Emily, definitely! To tell the truth, I think the only reason I may like her better than Anne is that I read Emily first... Well, no, actually, Emily herself fascinates me more, but... it's weird, because I usually like Anne-girls better--as in, charming, talkative, sunshiny...

I could identify a lot more with Emily though... no, not with the "I'm a born writer" sense as many did (I don't particularly love writing), but with her reserve, her pride, her struggles... At least as a 11-year-old. Now I'm a completely different girl and cannot really relate to Emily, yet she continues to get hold of my interest despite our radical differences. I LOVE, LOVE her!

Oh, and another of the reasons I like Emily better is that.. well, Anne is so universally loved, and so many people prefer her over Emily.... sooo.. i tend to go for the unloved... ^_^

Patricia... you are so right about Valancy!!! She's one great heroine, maybe my favourite after Emily... The Blue Castle is such an adorable book!

Oh, and what does drippy mean?? I'm from latin america.. soo my english is not that good.. sorry

fun blog!

Cool blog!!