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Anne of Ingleside, Power Mom

September 25, 2008

So I’ve been rereading a little L.M. Montgomery: Rainbow Valley and Anne of Ingleside.  It’s been years since I read those books–neither of them were my favorites during my early teen L.M. Montgomery phase, and I’m surprised by a couple of things.

1-The historical stuff.  I didn’t read them as artifacts back then, but they are in many ways.  I loved the description of the Ladies’ Aid quilting bee.  And the way kids roamed free.  And the nature writing–Montgomery is very aware of the natural world, all the flowers and seasons.  She gets a bit flowery, and loses me in places.  Part of that is the style, but part of it is also that I’m not as familiar with flowers as she is.  She can rattle off a series of flower names, and I can’t put an image to the name.  I suspect I’m not alone in this.

2-Anne is a power mom.  Six kids, who all worship her, and she delights in being a mom.  She’s given up her writing dreams and is writing living texts instead.  Yes, she has a maid, but it’s clear that Susan is more family than hired help, and there was a lot to do to keep the house running.  Towards the end, Anne has a rough day, and snaps at her kids a little, and she’s all eaten up with guilt by it.

So: I have been very snippish with my kids lately.  But when I read Anne, or my other old favorite, Laura Ingalls, I notice that the mothers in those books are Mothers. And they don’t snap. And if they ever do, it’s noted in the text, because it’s an event, a happening. Mother guilt ensues, and harmony only reappears when the mother acknowledges her verbal fault and restores the calm order of htings.

What I want to know is to what degree those books reflected reality?  Did they present an idealized version of motherhood, because that’s what was getting published: mothers who kept their tones calm, patient, and even?  Or did they reflect reality, because mothers back then had greater self-discipline and were able to bite back the frustration of CHILDREN WHO IGNORE YOUR REPEATED CALLS TO GET DRESSED AND KEEP PLAYING AND MAKE YOU LATE!!!

And didn’t they spank their kids back then? Maybe that’s how they managed: they were calm and patient in their voices, and then kids who didn’t obey got spanked, and then they were able to go back to being all calm again.

And one more thing about Montgomery: despite the distance in style, and the gossipy tangents that would/should be edited out if she were published today, the woman knows how to tell a story.  Ingleside is structurally messy, really a collection of stories about Anne’s family that Montgomery pulls together at the end.  You can tell she’s kind of tired of writing about Anne.  And yet it works anyway.  For me the strongest scene is that last one, when Montgomery allows her to snap at her kids and be jealous of her husband, and be a little real with us.  I think it was easier for Montgomery to allow the teenage Anne to have real heartaches and problems than it was to allow her grown up Anne the same thing.  That’s why she made Anne Power Mom.  But that last chapter lets some reality in, and some healing.

Okay, I should be analyzing something with more heft.  But Montgomery is my comfort food in book form.  And I’m trying to figure out why.

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