READING ANNE OF GREEN GABLES

26 August, 2014

by Esmé Hogeveen

This week I spoke to Montreal-based performance artist, scholar, and ardent Anne of Green Gables fan Adriana Disman about those iconic Canadian “kindred spirits”—Anne Shirley and Diana Barry.

L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and the subsequent novels in the Anne series have given rise to enduring, international acclaim. Renewed interest in the early twentieth century story was inspired by the celebrated film adaptation, starring Megan Follows.

In the story, Anne and her “bosom friend” Diana share a rapport which is simultaneously intense (a bond of sisterhood and shared imaginary landscapes) and utterly simple in its uncalculating generosity and reciprocal concern. Anne and Diana are different, yet they choose, or perhaps even feel compelled beyond choice, to pursue an enthralling friendship.

In my conversation with Adriana, we reflect on how contemporary audiences have interpreted the limits and possibilities of Anne and Diana’s love through a range of conceptual lenses. Drawing on her immense knowledge of Anne, Adriana considers the way in which the passionate female relationships which shaped Montgomery’s own life may (or may not) be profitably factored into a reading of Anne of Green Gables.

This interview marks a departure from Reading Alone Together’s focus on short stories, but given Anne’s popularity, we’re hopeful that the following ideas may spark an interest in reading or rereading a classic.

ABOUT ADRIANA DISMAN:

OCCUPATION: Performance art maker, thinker, and curator. My work is archived at www.adrianadisman.com if you’re curious.

FAVOURITE CHILDHOOD BOOK: Anything I could lay my hands on! I was that kid who would constantly walk into poles because I had my nose stuck in a novel.

FAVOURITE PLACE TO READ: In a hammock, under the stars, with a candle, while the crickets sing.

AUTHOR YOU WISH MORE PEOPLE KNEW ABOUT: Kiah Quirion, an amazing anti-racist feminist poet whose new monograph Preparing My Daughter for Rain is coming out at the end of the month. Some of her writing is published at www.keywrites.com. It’s really beautiful, nuanced, and profound work. I highly recommend checking her out!

 —

Esmé : When did you first read or watch Anne of Green Gables, and what initially struck you about Anne and Diana’s friendship?

Adriana: My grandmother convinced me to watch the movie. As a skeptical six year-old, I took one look at the cover and was like, “No way I’m getting roped into this. I’ve seen that Road to Avonlea shit, no way I’m committing to two VHS tapes worth of that snore-fest.”

But god bless my grandmother—she kept trying, each weekend. She was convinced I would love it. I finally relented, with the caveat that I could turn it off whenever I wanted to. But from the moment the camera panned across the forest, with Anne’s voice reading Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott, overlaid with the image of her reading while walking (JUST LIKE ME OMG WHO IS THIS GIRL?!), I was smitten.

What struck me initially about Anne and Diana’s friendship was Anne’s pursuit of Diana. She courts her with absolute determination. It was a way of relating that I had only seen modeled in sexual relationships. The fact that Anne did it so shamelessly really struck me.

E: What do you make of the idea of friend-love at first sight or, as Anne puts it, “kindred spirits”?

A: I believe in it absolutely. But only because Anne and Diana showed me the light.

E: How does Gilbert factor into Anne and Diana’s friendship? (I.e., Is he a complimentary third point of the triangle or a figure of distinct otherness, who threatens the girls’ intimacy?)

A: Ah, Gilbert. I would say neither to the above suggestions. Gilbert is:

a) A requirement for Anne to pass. Gilbert is Anne’s beard.

b) Simply another type of romantic friendship, shaped by gender. What’s fascinating with the Gilbert relationship is that it is profoundly less passionate than Anne and Diana’s. I always had the feeling that Anne was never totally comfortable with it. It was as if she wished to have with Gilbert the kind of romantic friendship she had with Diana, but that this wasn’t possible. I always imagined that Anne would’ve been much happier with Gilbert had she had the freedom to be his “bosom friend.” But, alas, Gilbert’s lack of bosom precludes him from a type of romantic friendship that’s safe insofar as it’s desexualized.

E: Do you think Anne and Diana’s eventual marriages and domestic lives (there are several books in the Anne series which follow her life into adulthood) implies a diminution of their friendship? Or, do you think their kindred spirit-hood can survive into adulthood?

A: Sadly, I think there is a kind of dissolution over time. Sure, they’re still best pals, but there’s something special about the intensity of childhood, kindred-spirit relationships. The absolute dedication of yourself to the other—a thing that tends to disappear once all those heteronormative signs of adulthood bleed into the picture: husband, house, work, babies, blah blah blah. In a word: they get less queer. Kindred spirit-hood flourishes under queer circumstances.

E: Can you describe the Anne Made Me Gay project?

A: Yes! Well, as I understand it, in 2008 there were tons of celebrations for the 100th year Anne-versary. Rosemary Rowe, an ardent Anne-lover (like, lover lover), recognized a lack of queer Anne-versary events so she enlisted Moynan King’s help, and together they made the Anne Made Me Gay cabaretat Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, in Toronto.

There’s a great article on it in Canadian Theatre Review 149 where Rowe describes the performances, among which include a  gingham-lined photo booth, black current wine, and lots of sexy gay Annes.

E: L.M. Montgomery’s diaries describe the intense relationship she had with Isabel Anderson, who has been interpreted variously as Montgomery’s literary admirer, friend, and lesbian stalker. Do you think it is worthwhile reflecting on the bonds Montgomery shared with other women when considering the fictional relationship between Anne and Diana?

A: It’s an interesting question. For me, the answer depends on the point of the interpretation. Personally, I get a great pleasure from culling a queer history led by feeling over logic. Certainly, it’s not a methodologically sound argument to investigate Montgomery’s later interactions with “lesbianism” to interpret Anne. But … who fucking cares? It’s fascinating, hilarious, and gives me the kind of intense pleasure that only fictional gossiping can.

In that article I mentioned before, Rowe (discussing scholarly investigations regarding the potential lesbianism of both Anne and Montgomery) writes, “In these cases, it seems prudent to privilege Anne’s influence over her sexual identification because, finally, debating the sexual proclivity of a fictional character is a theoretical haystack” (7). I completely agree with Rowe on this point. I’m utterly disinterested in any definitive claims about Anne’s sexuality. In general, I follow a strict rule of letting folks identify themselves to me. Often naming people, especially in terms of identity, enacts a certain kind of violence. The gift, however, of the fictional character is that there is not necessarily the same kind of threat of violence in the act of naming … like, is Anne going to feel violated if I mobilize her to serve my own queer historiography? (First, I don’t think she would at all and second, she’s not real.)

E: Like Anne, Montgomery’s parents died when she was young and she spent much of her childhood alone, finding solace in her rich imagination and intelligence. Do you think Anne of Green Gables would feel less special, less Romantic with a capital R, if told through Diana’s viewpoint rather than Anne’s?

A: Yes! The thing about Diana is that she’s pretty boring compared to Anne. If Anne is the poetic dreamer, Diana is the counterpoint good-girl who follows the rules. Anne’s a creator and Diana is a follower. Diana is the straight girl who becomes impassioned by Anne’s glow but ultimately is going to end up with the guy and the life that was laid out for her. Case in point: her marriage to Fred Wright, the dopey and simple but loving husband that Diana says yes to because it makes sense. She ends up, of course, with Mr. Wright. Passion is not the point.

E: What is your favourite detail or moment of Anne and Diana’s friendship?

A: In the movie, it’s when Anne asks for a lock of Diana’s hair and there’s one moment where Diana looks completely confused. Anne’s passion has momentarily surpassed and overwhelmed her friendship-logic (even if she is in tears over their impending separation). But, with a gulp, Diana agrees and gets back on board.

The gifting of a lock of hair is profoundly romantic and so unlike what we understand of conventional friendship. It is such a passionate and desperately beautiful gesture.

Anne … you had me at, “You can be my bosom friend.” You can have my bosom any day, Anne.

Adriana and Esmé wish to acknowledge Georgia Wall’s video piece, “ode to sharon and agnes via bill” as the initial inspiration for their chats about friendship, which eventually became conversations about Anne and Diana. Thanks Georgia!

 

If you are having difficulty accessing the Canadian Theatre Review article on Anne Made Me Gay cabaret, please contact esmehogeveen@gmail.com for assistance.

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