Recently, I’ve been rereading Anne’s House of Dreams, the novel in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Green Gables series when Anne finally marries Gilbert Blythe. I remembered it from my childhood and early twenties as a novel of unbridled joy, in which Anne’s perfect life continues (perfect at least after her adoption by the wonderful Cuthbert siblings). It’s not. I, of course, remembered that Anne is a savior for her community–always resolving other people’s heartbreak and loneliness, bringing laughter and love to everyone she meets, and generally being an ideal woman even if people were consistently pointing out that she’s not traditionally beautiful. I remembered that she always approaches life with joy, brilliance, and the perfect response to every situation even if other people (Mrs. Rachel Lynde….) criticized her.
So I was surprised to read this line in the opening pages of the novel, a description of beautiful Diana, “cuddling Small Cordelia with the inimitable gesture of motherhood which always sent through Anne’s heart, filled with sweet unuttered dreams and hopes, a thrill that was half pure pleasure and half a strange, ethereal pain.”
That: “a strange, ethereal pain.” I forgot, or couldn’t understand when I just a child myself, that the Anne novels are such a beautiful story of discontent, striving, disappointment, and acceptance.
“Strange, ethereal pain.” I breezed over those words as a little girl. They’ve stuck with me now. I remember the first time I felt it. Josh and I decided in the summer of 2005 that we would try to have a baby after he got back from his dissertation research in Kyiv and Moscow that fall and winter. It was like someone threw a switch inside me. Throughout that summer, fall, and winter, every time I saw a pregnant woman or a new baby, it hurt a little. Not nearly as much as it would later, but just a bit — an odd little pang, a pinch in my chest, a catch in my throat.
I think L.M. Montgomery must have felt it herself. She got married at thirty-two years old (after a romance with an “unsuitable” man and a broken engagement with her cousin) to a minister who was a “suitable” match, but for whom she did not feel any passion, at least according to her biography Caroline Parry. As a nineteenth-century woman, she must have wondered after she turned thirty if she would ever get married and have children. And she put that pain into Anne. I never noticed it before.