The funny thing about Anne With An ‘E’ – and there are a lot of funny, heartwarming and wonderful things about Anne With An ‘E’ – is that, it doesn’t really stick that close to the books, and yet, it doesn’t really deviate either. It lives in a world of following the plot that we already know, and yet, in a way that you’ll either find amazing or irritating, giving depth to the characters and to the situations these characters are faced with.
I happen to find it amazing.
Because I still want to be Anne, I still close my eyes and see Megan Follows when I think of her – and yet, I also find myself enjoying this Anne, falling for this Gilbert, wanting to reach into my TV screen and hug this Matthew close, revealing at this Marilla.
And I still find myself amazed at how incredibly current L.M. Montgomery’s writing can still be, so many years later – except to that I now have to add the joy that this version is allowing Anne to be as feminist, as different and as wonderful as she was always meant to be.
When I first read this book Anne was already a feminist icon. She taught me that you could be smarter than all the boys, that words were beautiful and that you could use them to propel you forward. She also taught me that the only limit to what you can accomplish is your imagination.
I hope and think this new version of Anne can teach a new generation the same.
So, let’s go over “Tightly Knotted to a Similar String,” its parallels and its reveals.
“I’m not ready to be a woman!” Anne cries out early in this episode, as she gets her first period and discovers all the issues that entails – especially back in the day, and yet, all I feel like doing is replying: No one does, Anne. No one does.
And yet, we get through it. Somehow. Probably because we don’t have any other choice.
But let’s talk about what growing up means in the context of getting your first period, or, at least, let’s talk about what it means that the show is willing to talk about a girl getting her period for the first time and how scary and frankly confusing it is.
It means – well, everything. Like I said before, Anne of Green Gables has always had not entirely subtle feminist undertones, but this show has somehow managed to turn undertones into overtones and yet still be …well, Anne.
Yes, this is a story about family and maybe, one day, about love, and about being smart and fighting for your dreams and also about going out into the world and figuring out what those dreams are, but at its core, this is a story about a girl. A story about growing up.
And not all of that is fun, or comfortable, but that doesn’t mean it should be brushed aside. Girls get periods. It’s a fact of life. We might as well talk about it on TV.
Because girls grow up, and parents have to deal. Marilla is a bit better prepared for it than Matthew is, but even Matthew, dear heart, understands what a monumental thing it is for Anne to feel like a grown up. That’s why he goes to get her the dress – not just because he loves her, which he does, but because he’s proud of the woman she’s becoming, and he wants to celebrate that.
Marilla, in the most practical of Marilla ways, has something else to offer Anne – a tea afternoon with Diana, which, predictably, because this is Anne, goes so wrong that I often skip these pages in the book to avoid the embarrassment. And yet, like everything, his is also a lesson – not just for Diana and her horrible mother, but for Matthew and Marilla, especially.
Anne is no longer an orphan child they brought over to help with chores, she’s theirs and as such, they will defend her. That’s why Marilla takes the blame, is all empathy with Anne and, at the same time, very firm in her defense of her.
Our redheaded heroine is growing up, yes, but she doesn’t have to do that alone. Not anymore. And as much as growing up is a trial by fire – her words, not mine, it’s infinitely easier when you have people who love you by your side. And Anne does now. She really, truly does.
The lack of subtlety the show takes in paralleling Anne’s reluctance to grow up with Gilbert’s life as basically a grown up might have been jarring with less competent writing, but in this case, it works perfectly. Anne is a child now – finally – and we can’t and shouldn’t begrudge her wanting to stay in the life that she’s got now, one where she’s protected, cared for and safe.
Gilbert, on the other hand, is what Anne was forced to be at an earlier point in her life – a child faced with the burdens of a grown-up. He’s supposed to go to school, do well, take care of his father and somehow not crumble under all the pressures placed on him. That he even has it in him to be, frankly, nicer than Anne deserves at times, says a lot about his character.
Sometimes – most times, really, we live our lives with a comfortable little box that allows us to see only our problems, only our sorrows. Anne is many things – a brilliant, caring, interesting child, but she is not without fault. Her treatment of Gilbert Blythe, at many points during this book (show, whatever), is one of those faults.
This is not to say that Gilbert is perfect, but in Anne’s world, empathy for fictional beings conjured up by her imagination is much more prevalent than empathy for the real people around her. Sometimes, there’s no one as blind as a person who doesn’t want to see, and Anne exemplifies this to a ‘T.’
In the end, the lessons Anne learns this episode are important, and though I, for one, am not naïve enough to think the path forward for her and Gilbert is anything by rocky, it’s good that she’s “come to realize there are far bigger worries in the world” than growing up.
Like having to behave like an adult before you are one.
Other things to note:
- Gilbert is a man – boy – after my own heart. Or Anne’s, in this case.
- I don’t find this orchestrating a spelling bee to spill a secret to a student at all romantic. Should I?
- “Congratulations, Anne. I should have added the E”
- Marilla always looks at Anne with an exasperated kind of fondness. I love it.
- Oh, Anne, I get you. It’s totally horrible to get a period every month.
- “I’d rather be pregnant than menstruating.” “That explains all the children.”
- “We can make a whole person – where’s the shame in that?” PREACH, ANNE.
- I always get second-hand embarrassment at the Anne/Diana/raspberry cordial thing.
- “She’s got a longing for a certain kind of sleeves, with air on the sides.” Never change, Matthew. Also, never leave. EVER.
- Don’t look at me like that, I read the book too.
- Matthew’s childhood love, I’M FINE. I’M FINE.
- “We were all so sorry when your brother passed away.” Matthew’s FACE. I’m crying.
- PROTECT THIS MAN.
- Let’s be honest, Anne and Diana had a blast.
- “I must preserve my Diana from the contamination of further intimacy with such a child.”
- I hate Mrs. Barry.
- Somehow, someway, I have to use the phrase “the pathos of this moment.” I just need to.
- Do you ever just cry at Matthew Cuthbert? Because I do.
- Matthew getting her the dress is probably my most favorite thing about this book, so I’m glad they did it justice.
- Though, let me be honest – the dress is HIDEOUS. HIDEOUS.
- Title? Yes, Jane Eyre again. I think you’re getting the drift now.
Anne With An ‘E’ is available to stream on Netflix right now.