“We make our own lives wherever we are, after all… . They are broad or narrow according to what we put into them, not what we get out. Life is rich and full here… everywhere… if we can only learn how to open our whole hearts to its richness and fulness.” ~ Anne of Avonlea, Chapter 15
After rereading Anne of Green Gables, I was so excited to continue the series that I absolutely devoured this book in a day! Anne of Avonlea follows Anne from about 16-18 as she grows into her role in society as a school teacher. This was a perfect book to read as winter transforms into spring here in Canada, because there are many passages describing the beauty of changing seasons and the simple magic of springtime and flowers. I certainly enjoyed this book, but not quite as much a the first.
For me, this book is not as poignant as the first in the series. Perhaps this is because I didn’t read and reread Anne of Avonlea throughout my childhood so it doesn’t have as many nostalgic memories for me. I am also not a fan of the characters of Davy and Dora (who I was already prejudiced against because of their annoying portrayal on Road to Avonlea), so their constant presence at Green Gables was a source of irritation for me. Some of the other new characters seemed a little over the top (*ahem* Miss Lavender *ahem*) and less realistic than the characters I knew and loved from the first novel. Lastly I thought there were times when Anne of Avonlea came across as a little overly preachy about the dangers of miscommunication and the importance of forgiveness. While this is certainly an important moral lesson, it could have been portrayed a little more subtly, in my opinion.
Friendship runs deep in this novel, and in Chapter 15 Anne delcares that she is “so thankful for friendship. It beautifies life so much.” I enjoyed the way Anne and Diana’s friendship endures and adapts as they grow into adulthood and face changes such as Diana’s engagement. There is also a strong thread throughout the story about the value of intergenerational friendships and respect. As Anne reflects on the end of her days teaching at Avonlea School, she remarks about the many lessons and insights she has gained from her young pupils. The Avonlea Village Improvement Society’s small triumphs in spite of the initial scorn of older villagers is another sign not to discredit youth. At the same time, however, it is clear throughout the novel that Anne has grown through her friendships with the older women in her life including Mrs. Allan, Miss Lavender, and yes even Mrs. Lynde.
Of course I can’t talk about friendships in this book without discussing the development of Anne and Gil’s friendship (following her forgiveness of the Carrots incident in the last chapter of AoGG) and the swoon-worthiness of the few mentions of Gilbert in Anne of Avonlea (Chapter 19 and 30 stand out in this regard). Take for instance this quote from Chapter 19: “In Gilbert’s future there was always a girl with big, limpid gray eyes, and a face as fine and delicate as a flower. He had made up his mind, also, that his future must be worthy of its goddess. . . . He meant to keep himself worthy of Anne’s friendship and perhaps some distant day her love; and he watched over word and thought and deed as jealously as if her clear eyes were to pass in judgment on it. She held over him the unconscious influence that every girl, whose ideals are high and pure, wields over her friends; an influence which would endure as long as she was faithful to those ideals and which she would as certainly lose if she were ever false to them.” I mean honestly, do literary heros get better than this? It is so deliciously aggravating to watch Anne continue on oblivious to it all when she has such a charming/perfect admirer.
These may sound morbid, but another of my favourite things about Anne of Avonlea are the plentitude of graveyard scenes. Throughout this book Anne is seen visiting the grave of Matthew and paying respects with flowers. She also adopts the grave of Hester Gray, a local woman who had died young many years before. Anne says: “No matter how long I’d lived in heaven I’d like to look down and see somebody putting flowers on my grave.” (Chapter 25) I have so many fond memories of visiting the cemetery with my grandmother and, even now, find walking amongst tombstones to be very peaceful. Genealogy and family history is another of my main hobbies, so I appreciated how Anne’s graveyard visits highlighted the importance of remembering and paying tribute to those gone ahead. It is, I think, refreshing and unique to see a graveyard portrayed neither as spooky/supernatural nor just for tragic funeral scenes; rather, throughout Anne of Avonlea the cemetery is a place of calm restfulness where Anne can pay tribute to her loved ones.
Lastly, the main theme and lesson that I drew from Anne of Avonlea relates to perseverance. Although Anne’s original dreams of university are waylaid by Matthew’s death, she does not abandon this ambition; rather, she continues her studies while teaching and helping Marilla at Green Gables. During this two-year detour, Anne remains remarkably content about her current situation in life. It was an excellent reminder to practice gracious acceptance of one’s present lot in life and enjoy each stage even when it feels as though one is just biding time waiting for the next “important” milestone. I especially enjoyed Marilla’s wisdom about making “our own lives wherever we are” (Chapter 15, full quote at the top of the post) by finding fulfilment in every situation.
“I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.” ~ Anne of Avonlea, Chapter 19