The LMMI's Anne of Green Gables Readalong returns this week with a post by Rebecca Kate Miller, a librarian from Penn State Universities Libraries. This week Rebecca will be discussing, "Chapter XIX: A Concert, a Catastrophe, and a Confession."
Chapter XIX: A Concert, a Catastrophe, and a Confession
By Rebecca Kate Miller
This chapter really has it all: a challenge for Anne’s imagination, a reluctant Marilla, a heartwarmingly persistent Matthew, a “prim and proper” great aunt, a glimpse into Gilbert’s heart (swoon!), drama in the Avonlea schoolhouse, and, of course, the spare-room bed. There are so many things to love in this chapter, but after my most recent re-read of it, one thing in particular stands out: the importance of empathy and meaningful discourse as a way to overcome differences and enrich life. This message strikes me as a significant one right now, given the turmoil and debate going on in the world around us. In this chapter, Montgomery reminds us how quickly we can resolve differences and enhance our lives through just a smidge of empathy and imagination.
Anne’s imagination allows her to put herself in someone else’s shoes, which is the very definition of empathy. She can imagine what it is like to be someone else and essentially share their feelings. This orientation is so natural to her that she often uses it to as a strategy for persuading or convincing other people. When Mrs. Lynde scolds Anne about her impulsiveness, Anne responds with a bid for empathy from Mrs. Lynde. “Oh, but that’s just the best of it…something just flashes into your mind, so exciting, and you must out with it. If you stop to think it over you spoil it all. Haven’t you ever felt that yourself, Mrs. Lynde?” Mrs. Lynde rejects Anne’s bid for empathy, shaking her head “sagely” that she had not ever felt that way and refusing even to imagine that it’s possible to feel that way. The exchange ends with Mrs. Lynde making a joke about the situation that only makes Anne feel worse.
In the very next scene after Anne’s chat with Mrs. Lynde, we see Anne approaching Miss Josephine Barry, intent on confessing that the spare-room incident had been her idea, and even modeling an empathetic approach, telling Miss Barry that, while she had never experienced it, she could imagine how it felt to be awakened after a long journey by being bounced on. Just as she did with Mrs. Lynde, Anne makes a bid for empathy from Miss Barry. Anne asks Miss Barry to “imagine what you would feel like if you were a little orphan girl who had never had such an honor [of sleeping in a spare-room bed],” when Miss Barry reprimands Anne for disturbing her sleep. Unlike in the exchange with Mrs. Lynde, though, Miss Barry accepts Anne’s bid for empathy, responding, “I dare say your claim to sympathy is just as strong as mine. It all depends on the way we look at it.” Miss Barry then further opens the situation up to understanding and dialogue, inviting Anne to “sit down here and tell me about yourself.”
Miss Josephine Barry and Anne Shirley come from different generations, backgrounds, and experiences, and yet, they became “firm friends.” They both use empathy and imagination to overcome their differences and, ultimately, enrich their lives. In this chapter, we see Anne keeping Miss Barry in good humor, and we know that later on, Miss Barry becomes Anne’s benefactor. Here, Montgomery shows that imagination can be one of the most powerful tools when we use it for empathy and communication. Even though Miss Barry’s imagination is “a little rusty,” she’s able to use it and begin a relationship with Anne that is mutually beneficial.
For me, the themes of empathy and imagination in this chapter connect to a larger idea about empathy and imagination, one that has to do with the act of reading. Many research studies have shown that reading fiction can increase human empathy, because fiction readers are asked to imagine and understand characters’ feelings, experiences, and motivations as part of the reading practice. This practice of reading, of imagining, and of empathizing helps readers develop the desire and the strategies, like the ones Anne and Miss Barry demonstrate in this chapter, for communicating and connecting with others. Because of this, Lucy Maud Montgomery and other writers that capture the imagination and heart of so many readers, worldwide, are continuing to equip us with the skills we need to bring disparate individuals and viewpoints into meaningful conversation and new directions.
At the end of the chapter, Anne declares that, “kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of the in the world.” Are there really more kindred spirits, or is Anne’s definition of kindred spirit expanding as she comes into contact with and stays open to new people, places, and ideas? Either way, I agree with Anne—it is splendid to live life this way and find out just how many kindred spirits there are in the world.
After first meeting Anne in the fourth grade, Rebecca Kate Miller developed a love for all-things Lucy Maud Montgomery—but Anne holds a special place in her heart. She’s often surprised by how many times a week and in how many different situations she asks herself, “what would Anne do?” This philosophy hasn’t steered her wrong yet! Rebecca is a librarian and the Head of Library Learning Services at Penn State University Libraries in State College, PA.