Empowered by Nature? The child-heroines in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novels "Emily of New Moon" and "Anne of Green Gables" and 'The Green-World Archetype'
Term Paper 2010 20 Pages
Table of Contents
2. Female Child-Heroines and the Green-World-Archetype
3. L. M. Montgomery’s Fiction and the Green-World-Archetype
4. The “queer” Orphan Girls - Empowerment in Dire Need?
4.1. “The Poetess” Emily Byrd Starr
4.2. “The Redhead” Anne Shirley
5. Emily of New Moon and Anne of Green Gables - Empowered by Nature?
5.1. Emily the Elfkin – Nature as Emily’s True Home
5.2. Elves, Sprites and the Wind Woman – Friends and Companions
5.3. The Flash – Drawing Inspiration from Nature
5.4. Reality versus Imagination - Nature as the Last Resort
In her book The Second Sex (Beauvoir 1953: 362) the world-famous French philosopher and feminist Simone de Beauvoir writes that
“[t]he adolescent girl will devote a special love to Nature: still more than the adolescent boy, she worships it. Unconquered, inhuman Nature subsumes most clearly the totality of what exists. The adolescent girl has not yet acquired for her use any portion of the universal: hence it is her kingdom as a whole; when she takes possession of it, she also proudly takes possession of herself.”
The idea of nature as a safe haven and retreat where a young girl refuges to and repeatedly finds solace and empowerment also penetrates children’s literature. What Annis Pratt calls The Green-World Archetype (Pratt 1981: 16-24), “an adolescent girl who lives close to nature, is one of the most common female protagonists in children’s fiction”. (Nikolajewa 2002: 332)
Nature features prominently in the novels of the 20th century Canadian Lucy Maud Montgomery best known for her classic girl’s book Anne of Green Gables. In all of her books Montgomery’s protagonists are female heroes. The heroines of her novels and short stories vary from each other in age. Out of her twenty-one books eleven focus on female protagonists in late childhood or early adolescence of about nine to approximately eleven years of age. (Epperly 1992: 7)
A prominent theme that runs through all of those novels is the development of self-confidence of the, at the outset of the story, powerless young heroine. Throughout the storylines each one of the young girls “learns to value herself in relation to the surrounding community and culture” (Epperly 1992: 7) - and nature, more precisely the fictionally adapted landscape of L.M. Montgomery’s beloved Prince Edward Island, seems to play a vital part in that process.
In her monograph The Fragrance of Sweetgrass Epperly states that in the first book of the Anne of Green Gables series “three quarters of the novel’s nature descriptions are offered as though through Anne’s eyes”. (Epperly 1992: 18) What is true for Anne of Green Gables can also be observed in Montgomery’s other ’s fictions. Throughout her books the Canadian authoress enables the reader to perceive nature through the eyes of her adolescent or child heroines; thus enabling us to detect what kind of effects the natural surroundings might have on the female protagonist’s psyche and psychological development while she is growing up.
In the term paper at hand I am going to analyze what functions the so called Green-World Archetype, that is a “special world of nature” (Epperly 1992: 9), might serve in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s children’s literature. I am going to find out whether the natural environment serves as a tool of empowerment for the young female main characters of her books. Is it indeed as Epperly argues in The Fragrance of Sweetgrass “a continuing source of joy, beauty, and power for the female hero”? (Epperly 1992: 9)
As an example I will look at two different child-heroines Lucy Maud Montgomery created throughout her writing career: the world-famous redhead Anne Shirley of Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series and the rather unknown aspiring young poetess Emily Byrd Starr of her Emily of New Moon trilogy, often labelled as Montgomery’s own “literary autobiography” (Epperly 1992: 145) which she wrote in order “to escape from Anne and come up with a new heroine”. (Epperly 1992: 146)
I am going to pose and answer the following questions to the material: how, when and where does nature help and support the heroines? Does the natural beauty of Prince Edward Island serve as a temporary retreat in which the heroines are able to recharge and emerge out of it invigorated and starched? Does nature empower the young girls so that they might be enabled to positively deal with difficult or even traumatizing events in life?
Do they even find inspiration in nature? Is it instrumental in triggering creativity or artistic talents? Or do the heroines, on the contrary, rather take flight to the natural environment in order to escape an almost unbearable reality? To sum up: do Anne and Emily take possession of themselves by taking possession of nature as Simone de Beauvoir proposes in her quotation cited above?
To resolve all those questions outlined above I am first going to give a short introduction about what the Green-World-Archetype is and how it is applied in children’s literature featuring female heroines. Next I will briefly outline Lucy Maud Montgomery’s original approach of incorporating the green world into her novels. Then I will discuss why the two heroines Emily and Anne might be in need of empowerment at all. After that I will turn to the question of whether the natural environment serves as a tool of empowerment for the young female heroes of her books by analyzing select aspects of nature of L. M. Montgomery’s fictional landscapes. I will end my paper with a short summary of my findings.
2. Female Heroines and the Green-World Archetype
In her monograph Archetypal Patterns in Women’s Fiction Annis Pratt defines the Green-World Archetype as a refuge, a place of freedom and liberation for the adolescent girl who is “[a]bout to be conquered by human society” (Pratt 1981: 17). Susan E. Carvalho argues that the Green-World Archetype “is often used in literature as a women’s refuge from male hegemony” (Carvalho 2007: 199). In order not to be conquered and “dwarfed” (Pratt 1981: 17) the young heroine “turns to something inhuman” (Pratt 1981: 17), namely the green world for help and assistance.
The natural green environment is “uniquely the girl’s world” (Pratt 1981: 17). Here the self-determination and independence of the young female hero remain untouched. The green world provides the battleground from which she is able to fight against her impending “submission within a male culture”. (Pratt 1981:17 and see also Greene 2004: 306)
A good example for the Green-World Archetype is the 19thcentury short A White Heron, written by Sarah Orne Jewitt. The nine-year-old female protagonist Sylvia flees the big industrialized city and the stalking of “a great red- faced boy who used to chase and frighten her” (Pratt 1981: 19). She moves to her Grandmother’s farm located somewhere in the woods of Maine, New England. According to Pratt Sylvia is the “prototypical example of the young female hero as free spirit at one with the green world”. (Pratt 1981: 19)
As her highly suggestive name indicates she “not only appreciates and likes nature but, through a process of metamorphosis, becomes an element in it”. (Pratt 1981: 19) Throughout the story Sylvia falls in love with a hunter who is chasing a rare bird for his collection and wants the heroine to assist him in his quest. Realizing that her natural environment is threatened by the male she eventually rejects human love for her love of nature. But in the figurative sense only the bird has escaped its death but Sylvia herself “has also escaped becoming a tamed or even preserved angel in some young hunter's household. Instead, she will be an angel of the woods, presiding ‘like a pale star’ over her kingdom of birds and beasts”. (Sherman 1989: 333)
The theme outlined above is discernable not only in novels that feature child/adolescent heroines but it can also be found in books that focus on adult female protagonists. Here the mature female characters are portrayed as “delightfully happy solitaries at home with their gardens and their forests”. (Pratt 1981: 19) Just like the young girls of children’s fiction those mature women heroes do not marry. Instead they resist integration into patriarchal society through the, at that time, only socially accepted vehicle, namely matrimony.
In this way they preserve their freedom and self-determination. The green world facilitates and enables their emancipation. Furthermore their “allegiance [with nature] provides them with lifelong psychological sustenance”. (Pratt 1981:
19) One example of this category might be Dorinda Oakley, the protagonist of Ellen Glasgow’s novel Barren Ground, who eventually “use[s] her power over nature to punish an unsuitable mate”. (Pratt 1981: 19)
3. L. M. Montgomery’s Fiction and the Green-World Archetype
Lucy Maud Montgomery’s approach of incorporating the green world into her novels was inspired by the green world that surrounded her. She drew her inspiration from the natural beauty of her birth home, the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the east of the country. Because of its lush green vegetation and a pastoral countryside this island today bears the nickname of “Garden of the Gulf”.
The writer who influenced Montgomery’s way of seeing nature and recreating it in her novels the most was “the romantically inspired American transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson”. (Epperly 2007: 17) In particular his first essay entitled Nature, written and published in 1836 and today regarded as “the key text of the transcendental movement” (Scheese 1996: 22) had a profound effect on Montgomery’s psyche and her style of incorporating nature descriptions into her fictions. (Epperly 2007: 18)
Epperly argues that for Emerson and Montgomery nature is not “a passive mirror for the feelings; instead the observer will encounter a spirit that conspires with Nature itself to ‘emancipate us’ “. (Epperly 2007: 18) Furthermore “Nature exists to inspire and liberate, to bring rest and to urge mortals beyond their mortality. Nature refreshes and it also reminds the attentive viewer that while seasons and times change, while the world to be seen is a world of ‘spectacle, something in himself is stable’ ”. (Epperly 2007: 18)
4. The “queer” Orphan Girls - Empowerment in Dire Need?
In the next section I am going to answer the question why the two heroines Emily and Anne might be in need of empowerment at all.
4.1 “The Poetess” Emily Byrd Starr
“The fact is, Emily Starr, you’re queer, and folks don’t care for queer children. […] You talk queer- and you act queer- and at times you look queer. And you’re too old for your age.” (Montgomery 1993: 21) Thus addresses the housemaid Ellen Greene the nine-year-old Emily Byrd Starr on the day of her father’s funeral. An orphan now, all her relatives have arrived and gathered at her father’s house in order to discuss the issue of who of them should take further care of Emily and give her a home.
With her little speech Ellen Greene makes it quite clear that Emily is not wanted and not going to be liked by her relatives who are as the housemaid bluntly points out very different from her- suggesting by this that difference is not welcomed and valued at all. That her aunts cannot fathom Emily’s personality is obvious from their comments. To their minds Emily is “such a difficult child-so odd. I can’t understand her at all” and another one derogatively ads “that she has what one might call an artistic temperament”. (Montgomery 1993: 21)
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- ISBN (Book)
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- Institution / College
- Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg – Institut für Anglistik
- Lucy Maud Montgomery Emily of New Moon Anne of Green Gables Children's Literature Green-World Archetype