Scholar, Catherine Clark, joins the Anne of Green Gables Read-a-long this week with her impressions on, "Chapter XXVI: The Story Club is Formed."
Chapter XXVI: The Story Club Is Formed
by Catherine Clark
After the drama of the previous chapters — Anne’s inauspicious first meeting with Mrs. Lynde, the broken slate over Gilbert’s head, Diana’s unfortunate intoxication, and Mrs. Allan’s heroic consumption of the liniment cake — Chapter XXVI feels a bit tame. Following the triumphant holiday concert, Anne herself confesses that “things seemed fearfully flat, stale, and unprofitable.” However, this moment in the book is a lovely ramble through Montgomery’s own delight in storytelling. It also moves Anne, now accepted by the likes of Mrs. Lynde and the Barrys, from the new orphan in Avonlea to a genuine member of the community.
The first pages of the chapter are dedicated to Anne and Diana’s casual gossip. There are the “trifling frictions” among their schoolmates after the holiday concert, and solemn considerations of the proper age to start wearing one’s hair up and accepting beaus. Anne’s delight over turning thirteen years old is grounded in her ability to “use big words … without being laughed at” and knowing “so much more than you did when you were only twelve.” Anne’s humorous understanding of her birthday, apart from big words and new fashions, does mark a transitional moment from childhood to young woman. The focus of the chapter never wavers from Anne’s propensity for imaginative musings and dramatic narrative. However, as the structure of the chapter reflects, these are the first moments of formalizing this gift, moving from distracted musings and gossip to formal storytelling (which will lead to Anne’s publication of her own work in Anne of the Island).
The idea for the Story Club begins with a school assignment: an original story. Diana laments the difficulty of creating a story “out of our heads!” while Anne professes that her story is already finished. As she retells her tale, “The Jealous Rival: or, in Death Not Divided,” it becomes narratively layered with the story of Ruby’s sister’s proposal. Anne decides that the real life proposal is decidedly unromantic so she has to “imagine it out” as best she can. Anne’s creative modification of her classmate’s story is a new development: rather than using her overactive imagination as a tool of survival (as she did in the years before coming to Green Gables), her storytelling develops out of personal connections and a sense of home.
The second half of the chapter focuses on the development of the Story Club itself. Grown to four members, Anne serves as the guide for the others, telling Marilla with seriousness that Ruby is “rather sentimental” with too much “love-making” and Jane’s “extremely sensible.” Diana “doesn’t know what to do with the people so she kills them off to get rid of them.” The girls triumphantly share some of their stories. Marilla is assured that they’re “so careful to put a moral into them all” which must “have a wholesome effect.” In true form, Aunt Josephine appreciates Anne’s gift, though not in the way Anne expects, writing “that she had never read anything so amusing in her life. That kind of puzzled us because the stories were all very pathetic and almost everybody died.”
It’s difficult not to see Montgomery’s own journey from story girl herself as a child to accomplished author in adulthood in this chapter. As Mary Rubio describes in the biography, Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings, Montgomery herself adopted the role of storyteller among her childhood friends and cousins; her remarkable memory and knack for oration made her narratives popular even at a young age. Later in life she kept a strict writing schedule, both for the sake of productivity but also to escape the often oppressive duties required of a minister’s wife. In 1912 she wrote that her writing routine allowed her to “shut the door of my soul on the curiosity and ignorance by so many and retreat into a citadel of dear thoughts and beautiful imaginings.” Certainly Anne shared this sentiment at times. In addition, the diverse styles of the girls in Anne’s Story Club read like various drafts of a novel — this one too practical, that too sentimental, with the occasional instinct to just kill off a character rather than figure out what comes next. Montgomery dryly pokes fun at the genre of saccharine romantic novels while tenderly describing the very real benefits of fiction.
Indeed, Montgomery may have expressed her own perspectives on fiction in these two contrasting reviews of Anne’s story: “I read it to Marilla and she said it was stuff and nonsense. Then I read it to Matthew and he said it was fine. That is the kind of critic I like.”
Catherine Clark is an Assistant Professor of French and English at Averett University. An avid reader of the Anne series as a child, she is rediscovering Montgomery’s work as a scholar through the L.M. Montgomery Institute Conferences on beautiful Prince Edward Island. Her work explores transnational texts and gender during Modernism.