The LMMI's Anne of Green Gables Read-a-long continues with a take on "Chapter XVIII: Anne ot the Rescue" by Visiting Scholar, Emily Woster.
Chapter XVIII Anne to the Rescue
By, Emily Woster
The narrator’s opening note, “All things great are wound up with all things little,” sets the tone for a chapter full of reminders about the different ways our adult and child characters define the “great” and the “little,” and how they see the world, understand its dramas, and respond to its joys.
With Marilla, Mrs. Lynde, and the elder Barrys away to “see a real live Premier,” Anne and Matthew pass a quiet evening at Green Gables with geometry studies and the Farmer’s Advocate, respectively. Anne’s fingers itch to reach for a novel “warranted to produce any number of thrills,” but she keeps to her geometry, for Gilbert Blythe surely would not be wasting time on a novel at a time like this. Anne and Matthew discuss many little things, from the hyperbolic “cloud” geometry has cast over Anne’s “whole life” to her proud declaration that she, too, is a Conservative like Matthew. When the conversation shifts to the moves and philosophies of courting, Anne’s opinions are largely formed by the bits of adult comment she’s overheard or misread. “Mrs. Lynde says the Gillis girls have gone off like hot cakes,” though Anne isn’t entirely sure what that might mean, and she decides it all “must be rather interesting,” while Matthew “had certainly never thought of such a thing [as courting] in his whole existence.” There is lots of humour in this exchange, and bits of foreshadowing too, but it highlights the way currents of Avonlea’s adult society lap and intrude at the edges of the adolescent one in which Anne resides. She dips her toes in when she hears something tantalizing, but isn’t yet invited to dive in.
But then, Diana’s breathless arrival marks the real intrusion of the “things great” in this chapter: for Minnie May is ill with the croup and there is no one home to fetch the doctor or able care for her. In the paragraphs following, Anne demonstrates both the calm of an adult who is practiced at responding to emergencies and the dreaminess of a romantic-leaning child, who, if one didn’t know any better, would seem blissfully ignorant of the situation’s stakes.
Diana is beside herself:
“I don’t believe he’ll find the doctor at Carmody,” sobbed Diana. “I know that Dr. Blair went to town and I guess Dr. Spencer would go too. Young Mary Joe never saw anybody with croup and Mrs. Lynde is away. Oh, Anne!”
“Don’t cry, Di,” said Anne cheerily. “I know exactly what to do for croup. You forget that Mrs. Hammond had twins three times. When you look after three pairs of twins you naturally get a lot of experience. They all had croup regularly. Just wait till I get the ipecac bottle—you mayn’t have any at your house. Come on now.”
Anne matter-of factly, if “cheerily,” reminds Diana of the past that shaped her and her skill at taking charge. Readers recall not only Anne’s hard-won competence, but her previous experience with adults. But then, as Anne and Di hurry back through the “clear and frosty” night, “all ebony of shadow and silver of snowy slope,” to the Barry’s, “Anne thought it was truly delightful to go skimming through all this mystery and loveliness with your bosom friend who had been so long estranged.” For “Anne, although sincerely sorry for Minnie May, was far from being insensible to the romance of the situation and to the sweetness of once more sharing that romance with a kindred spirit.” Anne is both a product of her imagination and a product of the neglectful Hammonds, and she is well-versed in things little and things great.
Anne’s command of the situation, and her judicious application of ipecac, save Minnie May. Anne shows resolve and leadership, and she is even able to channel Mary Jo’s nerves into the tending of the fire and the heating of “more water than would have been needed for a hospital of croupy babies.” After the worst has past and the doctor arrives, Anne reminds the adults around her that, in times like these, “You know there are some things that cannot be expressed in words,” even by Anne. The doctor notes that Anne “seems to have a skill and presence of mind perfectly wonderful in a child of her age. I never saw anything like the eyes of her when she was explaining the case to me.”
The same childhood experiences and wildness that led Anne to thoughtlessness and ignorance of the difference between raspberry cordial and currant wine in a previous chapter, are the same experiences that gave Anne the courage and wherewithal of an adult in this one. Mrs. Barry owes Anne an apology and her thanks for using those experiences wisely.
The entire episode with Minnie May is short, but it reveals that while the current of Anne’s story is marked by her adolescence and its humorous incidents, the dramatic, life-changing, and dark dramas of life lurk just at the edges. Mrs. Barry’s forgiveness, truly one of the “pivotal moments” Caroline Jones outlined in Chapter 5, reunites Anne and Diana, “the intense, deeply committed, and natural friendship” that defines the novel according to Laura Robinson in Chapter 12. But this chapter also makes a change in the currents of Anne’s story, and in Avonlea’s adult society, for Anne is now considered “real company” by Mrs. Barry.
“It must be lovely to be grown up, Marilla, when just being treated as if you were is so nice,” says Anne. Marilla’s reply, “I don’t know about that,” tells readers plenty about how adults view their fate, but Marilla’s “brief sigh,” is, for many readers, loaded with meaning about the “great things” that are wound throughout grown up life. And, if nothing else, this chapter was perhaps the first time most of us learned that, in crisis, adults “First...must have lots of hot water.”
Emily Woster is the current Visiting Scholar for the L.M. Montgomery Institute and an assistant professor in the department of English, Linguistics, and Writing Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth. She earned her Ph.D. in English Studies at Illinois State University. Emily’s work has focused primarily on the reading lives and textual worlds of L.M. Montgomery, including a chapter in L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys: The Ontario Years, 1911-1942. Her broader research interests straddle the worlds between women’s life writing, children’s literature, and English Studies. Emily is Managing Editor of Auto/Biography Studies.