The Anne of Green Gables Read-a-long continues today with Yoshiko Akamatsu's response to "Chapter XX: A Good Imagination Gone Wrong."
Chapter XX: A Good Imagination Gone Wrong
—Anne’s Fraught Experience on her First Anniversary—
By Yoshiko Akamatsu
Chapter XX is mainly set on the first anniversary of Anne’s coming to Green Gables. Though Marilla doesn’t remember the exact date, to Anne it marks the beginning of her happiness.
There are three points of note in this chapter. First of all, it is the end of Anne’s creative naming of memorial places around Green Gables. Anne
names an island which she and Diana have discovered up the brook “Victoria Island,” having found it on Queen Victoria’s birthday, which is May 24th. This choice, as she declares, shows Anne’s loyalty to the queen, and also places the novel in the Victorian Age (1834-1901). (We can guess the time is sometime between 1878 and 1891, when Prime Minister John A. Macdonald visited Prince Edward Island in Chapter XVIII.) The most memorable naming, however, is that of “the Haunted Wood” for the spruce wood over the brook. Anne and Diana imagined the wood was haunted for their amusement, but Anne soon comes to regret her over-active imagination in this chapter.
The other two points are connected with the two sides of Anne’s imagination. Anne experiences the spring in Avonlea for the first time and is enchanted with nature’s change. Especially she is taken with the Mayflowers, saying, "I'm so sorry for people who live in lands where there are no Mayflowers," and imagines they are “the souls of the flowers that died last summer and this is their heaven.” For readers who are not familiar with the Mayflowers of North America (especially for Japanese readers), Anne’s description brings them to life in our minds. Though a variety of Mayflowers, trailing arbutus, grows in some highland areas in Japan, most Japanese people have never seen them. Japanese readers can, however, understand Anne’s passion for her spring flowers, as we deeply love our cherry blossoms in spring.
Montgomery’s love of Mayflowers is shown in her poem ‘The Mayflower’s Message’ (1901). Written in the voice of the Mayflowers, the flowers proclaim, “all our blossoms letter a message from the spring.” In Montgomery’s journal dated May 13, 1890, she also writes of her own good time of Mayflower-picking in her school days and transfers this experience to Anne. At a school event, Anne enjoyed a Mayflower picnic and was offered some Mayflowers by a person whose name she refuses to say, although readers assume it is Gilbert who presented them and was rejected. Mayflowers are repeatedly referred to as Anne’s favorite flowers throughout the Anne books, and, mentioned here for the first time, Anne’s poetic imagination makes them so special to readers.
On the other hand, Anne’s vivid imagination leads her down a darker path. In the evening, Marilla asks Anne to go to the Barrys’ house to borrow an apron pattern. Anne refuses to go through the woods at night, since she and Diana started calling it “the Haunted Wood,” and then populated it with terrifying creatures of their imagination. Angry with Anne’s refusal and reason, Marilla forces Anne to go through it in an attempt to cure her of her over-active imagination, and Anne reluctantly obeys. Along the way, she experiences the terror of all her imagined spirits. On the way back, she is too scared to open her eyes, tumbling and running into trees, the trauma of which stays with her for years. When Anne finally gets back to Green Gables, Marilla says ironically, "Well, so nothing caught you?" Anne responds, with teeth chattering, "I'll b-b-be cont-t-tented with c-c-commonplace places after this!”
This episode emphasizes Anne’s imaginative personality and frank repentance, which gain the readers’ sympathy for her.
The chapter ends with readers feeling that Marilla’s tactic worked to quell Anne’s excessive imagination, but from our 21st century point of view, the ending is problematic. In Anne’s memory, the fearful outing remains a trauma. Though Marilla’s use of “shock therapy” succeeds in a way, it is too much for twelve-year-old Anne. Marilla should have imagined how a young child might suffer from such a fright.
Readers note that the author does not deny the value of a good imagination but warns of over-doing it, as can be seen in the title of this chapter: “A Good Imagination Goes Wrong.” Interestingly enough, modern readers who visit the surroundings of Green Gables farmhouse in Cavendish, can seek out the Haunted Wood and enjoy the eerie atmosphere of the spruce wood. Anne gives the readers some unexpected pleasure after all!
Anne says, “There's such a lot of different Annes in me. [. . .] If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn't be half so interesting" and readers couldn’t agree more.
Yoshiko Akamatsu is a professor of literature at Notre Dame Seishn University in Okayama, Japan. She has loved Anne since she encountered the book in junior high school as Hanako Muraoka's Japanese translation, Red-haired Anne. She translated Montgomery's pothumous collection of short stories Akin to Anne in 1988-89. With one exception, Yoshiko has attended every L.M. Montomgery International Conference and has presented at each conference since 2008.