The LMMI's Anne of Green Gables Read-a-long this week continues with Sarah Wilson Thornham's thoughtful reflection on "Chapter XXXI: Where the Brook and River Meet."
Chapter XXXI: Where the Brook and River Meet
By Sarah Wilson Thornham
This chapter of Anne makes me think of a movie montage where changing seasons, charming adventures and hard work culminate in triumph and renewal for our main character. It takes us from the beginning of Summer to Spring of the next year. First, Anne and Diana enjoy a wonderful summer full of outdoor delights. Anne spends the winter working hard, thoughtfully engaged with learning and preparing for the Entrance exam, with the rest of her classmates. It is an idyllic and satisfying imagining of wholesome past times.
As is often the case with a change of seasons, physical transformation mirrors emotional growth. Anne is measured at Ruby’s party and found to have grown two inches over the summer! By the end of the Winter, she has grown taller than Marilla. At this realization, “Marilla felt a queer regret over Anne’s inches. The child she had learned to love had vanished somehow and here was this tall, serious-eyed girl of fifteen… Marilla loved the girl as much as she had loved the child, but she was conscious of a queer, sorrowful sense of loss.”
The Annotated Anne of Green Gables tells readers that this chapter’s title comes from Longfellow’s ‘Maindenhood’ (1842): “Where the brook and the river meet/Womanhood and childhood fleet!” Reading this chapter as the mother of a just-turned 16-year-old girl, the bittersweetness of motherhood into which Marilla is initiated feels so meaningful to me. Earlier chapters introduce this transformation of Marilla’s: she easily admits how lonely she was with Anne gone to Charlottetown for a week and is quite overcome with love and tenderness for Anne as she considers her being gone away to school soon. By the time we reach "Chapter XXXI," many gradual, but meaningful changes have occurred at Green Gables, and specifically in Marilla and Anne’s relationship.
Marilla observes many changes in Anne, not only her tall figure and lovely style, but also in her more subdued, less impulsive manners. Anne is no longer a child and the connection between Marilla and Anne has changed and deepened as well. The two really relate to each other as peers in many ways now. For one example, they collaborate on her wardrobe. We are told that Marilla makes all of Anne’s clothes “fashionably”, presumably as she doesn’t want a repeat of Matthew’s interference in wardrobe matters! They are also on the same, good humored, page in regards to Mrs. Lynde. Marilla confides, “I sometimes think she’d have more of an influence for good, as you say yourself, if she didn’t keep nagging people to do right.”
This chapter is also heavily shadowed by the entrance exam; Anne feels haunted by thoughts of not succeeding and what her future will look like. Knowing Anne’s abilities as we do, I’d say that we don’t fear for her results in the entrance exam, but of course we know that soon Anne will be faced with all-too-real loss, change and grown-up decision making.
In this short chapter, it is indeed the deepening of Marilla and Anne’s connection that speaks to me as a mother. There is so much grace in relating to my own daughter differently now, seeing her grow and achieve and take on truly difficult challenges. But there is a heartache in the times that she needs me less and in the things she loves that don’t include me. This is an ache I could barely relate to when I first read Anne in second grade, and is a perfect example of what a re-reading at a different age and stage of life has to offer and illuminate.
Sarah Wilson Thornham has loved Anne of Green Gables, and many of L.M. Montgomery’s works, since she was a young girl. She studied English at Acadia University. She is the mother of two children and is an adult education instructor in Truro, Nova Scotia.