Happy New Year, everyone!
Welcome back to the Anne of Green Gables Read-a-long! Today, I'm going to chat about one of my favourite chapters in the whole series, "Chapter XV: A Tempest in the School Teapot."
Chapter XV: A Tempest in the School Teapot
By Melanie J. Fishbane
As I just said, this is one of my favourite chapters in Anne of Green Gables because of one of the most pivotal events in the novel and L.M. Montgomery introduces everyone’s favourite book boyfriend, Gilbert Blythe (see image from my copy of the Ryerson edition, illustrations by Hilton Hassell).
While I could talk about Gilbert Blythe all day—and for those who have seen my Perfect Man Archetype talk know this to be true—upon this rereading, I was reminded of other interesting details, such as how Anne’s romanticism doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s ready for romance—at least not with a boy—and how the gender politics in the Avonlea school reflects the realities of the world outside of it as well.
When the chapter opens, Anne is thrilled to be walking to school with Diana. Marilla is worried that being so odd, she will have problems in school. But that is not what she should have been concerned about.
Anne tells Marilla all about the girls at school, and how much she “adores” Diana. She is concerned with how far behind she is in spelling and arithmetic, describing an episode in which the master shows her slate to the rest of the classroom. Anne is mortified and tells Marilla how unimpressed she is by the curly moustached Mr. Phillips, who “dead gone” on 16-year-old Prissy Andrews. Marilla admonishes Anne for criticizing her teacher.
It is difficult not to read this chapter without thinking about Montgomery’s experience with Mr. Mustard when she was sixteen, and the powerlessness many young women have felt in similar situations. Perhaps Marilla’s response is also similar to what Montgomery was told when she tried to broach the subject of Mustard’s behaviour, and his lack of control over a rowdy classroom?
Anne also tells Marilla how accepting the girls are, receiving a card from Sophia Sloane and an apple from Ruby Gillis. Anne also hears via Jane Andrews, that Prissy told Sara Gillis that Anne has a pretty nose. Her first compliment! And, from the girl that has the school teacher’s attention. Anne is popular.
So is Gilbert Blythe.
While most of the boys are not worth noticing, there is one boy all of the girls want to see their name beside on the “take notice” board. And, as much as he might be, in Diana’s words, “awfuly handsome,” Gilbert isn’t very nice. In what would be seen as typical boy fashion, he teases girls by calling them names and, at one point, pins Ruby Gillis’ braid to the desk. When she shrieks, everyone turns and Mr. Phillips stares at her “so sternly” that she cries. Having removed the pin so quickly, the teacher never notices. Gilbert even has the nerve to wink at Anne.
No one has ever called him on his behaviour, but all of that is about to change.
When Gilbert calls Anne, “Carrots! Carrots!” he thinks he’ll be rewarded with a giggle or a smile—that’s what the other girls have learned to do after all. But not Anne. Anne was in her dream world, away from the chaos, and this boy pulls on her braid—he touches her—and then insults her. Not happening.
This is why Montgomery’s use of the word “vengeance” is perfect. Anne’s thwack on Gilbert’s head is an act of defiance, an act of saying, “No!”
Gilbert isn’t punished for his behaviour, instead Anne is for reacting in a way unbecoming to her gender. Mr. Phillips places his hand heavily on Anne’s shoulder (the third time in this chapter where a boy/man touches a girl without her consent) and sends her to the front of the room. Adding insult to injury, spells her name wrong!
But, Gilbert has a moment of conscience. Anne has essentially thwacked the gender equality into him. He tries to apologize and stand up for Anne, but it is too late. Anne vows to never speak to him again. For now, the pink candied heart he gives Anne isn’t going to make up for it—indeed she crushes it with the boot of her heel, you go girl! This young man will prove himself worthy … But, it going to take a few years.
In the meantime, Anne is made the scapegoat when a bunch of the boys are late coming back from picking gum and Mr. Phillips makes her sit with them—beside Gilbert Blythe! This is symbolic of what is about to occur between Anne and Diana in the next chapter, and also what upsets Anne at the end of the chapter.
In her second another act of defiance, Anne refuses to return to school.
Concerned, Marilla goes to Rachel Lynde for guidance, who counsels her not to worry, Anne will return when she’s ready. Mrs. Lynde also criticizes Mr. Phillips, saying how everyone knows he’s in the wrong and the only reason he is still teaching is because his uncle is a school trustee.
At the end of the chapter, Anne is heartbroken, not about what happened with Gilbert, but about the realization that one day she would lose Diana to her future husband.
MELANIE J. FISHBANE holds an M.F.A. from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an M.A. from Concordia University and teaches English at Humber College. Her essay, “My Pen Shall Heal, Not Hurt": Writing as Therapy in L.M. Montgomery's Rilla of Ingleside and The Blythes Are Quoted," is included in L.M. Montgomery's Rainbow Valleys: The Ontario Years 1911-1942. Her YA novel, Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery was published in 2017. You can follow Melanie on Twitter @MelanieFishbane and like her on Facebook.