In this week's reading of Anne of Green Gables, the LMMI's Visiting Scholar and Co-Chair of the L.M. Montgomery and Reading Conference, Laura Robinson, gives her reflection on "Chapter XII: A Solemn Vow and Promise." Welcome, Laura!
Chapter XII: A Solemn Vow and Promise
By Laura Robinson
“You’re a queer girl, Anne,” Diana concludes in this chapter. Why, yes, yes she is, and this just might be the chapter that solidifies it. Montgomery is up to so much in these few short pages. The chapter opens with Anne in trouble for wearing real roses and buttercups on her hat to church the Sunday before. Anne believes the problem is that yellow and pink are not her colours, but Marilla’s issue is the realness of the flowers. It is perfectly fine, in Avonlea culture, to bedeck oneself in artificial flowers but it is considered “ridiculous” to accessorize with something natural. Anne receives a message here that the natural should be avoided. Marilla laments, “All I want is that you should behave like other little girls.”
This tension between the real and the artificial sets the stage for Anne’s introduction to her bosom friend, Diana Barry, as Marilla concludes her reprimand with the statement that Anne will meet Diana that day. Given the earlier tension between natural and artificial flowers, the lush descriptions of nature and especially flowers that dominate the meeting of the two girls is striking. Diana’s mother suggests that she show Anne her flower garden, and the two girls “gaz[e] bashfully at one another over a clump of gorgeous tiger lilies.” What follows is an unrepentantly sensual description of every tree and plant in the Barry garden. Montgomery engages all the senses with the beautiful colours, fragrances, and feel of the flowers (“thorny, sweet Scotch roses”), the sound of bees and wind, and even the taste of honey is evoked by the presence of the bees. This meeting of the girls heightens the senses. And the language Montgomery uses--“scarlet lightning that shot its fiery lances over prim white musk-flowers”—certainly conveys a sexualized sensuality. Over this scene of wild sensuality, Anne “almost” whispers, “do you think—oh, do you think you can like me a little—enough to be my bosom friend?” Of course, Diana can, and they proceed to swear fealty to one another, joining hands. This shared oath is the symbolic marriage of the two girls, and the beginning of a friendship that is almost epic in its impact on popular culture. “Did you find Diana a kindred spirit,” Marilla snips as she and the redhead walk through the Green Gables garden. Anne does not notice the sarcasm, as she is so overwhelmed with joy at her new friendship. Regardless of Marilla’s and Avonlea’s teachings, Anne cannot stifle her love of nature and her natural spirit. With the phrases “bosom friends” and “kindred spirits” Montgomery grounds the girls’ friendship in the physical and biological. While “bosom” has a symbolic meaning it is also very literally a woman’s chest, and “kindred” are those related by blood. Anne’s immediate and sensualized love of Diana remains unmatched in all the Anne books, and Montgomery depicts it as completely natural and thus potentially problematic. After all, one should be aiming for the artificial rather than the natural as Anne learned at the beginning of the chapter.
Arguably, through this friendship and in other ways (such as making Matthew and Marilla siblings rather than a married couple), Montgomery challenges the primacy of heteronormativity and patriarchal rule. Does it mean that Anne is queer in the sense the contemporary reader would understand it? I would argue that it doesn’t necessarily matter, even while some readers have found solace in the representation of Anne’s love for her friend. Anne is delightfully disruptive and is therefore always queer. Most importantly, in Montgomery’s fictional world, we are able, unabashedly, to celebrate and make paramount an intense, deeply committed, and natural friendship between girls. A friendship like that might just change the world.
An irrepressibly cheerful redhead herself, Laura Robinson is the Dean of the School of Arts and Social Science, Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland and specializes in Canadian women’s writing, children’s literature, and feminist theory. Her work on Montgomery focuses on female friendship and sexuality. She curated a travelling and virtual exhibit entitled, “The Canadian Home Front: L.M. Montgomery’s Reflections on the First World War:” www.lmmontgomeryandwar.com.