Lessons on forgiveness from Anne of Green Gables

file0001124212796Growing up, Anne of Green Gables was one of my favorite books. One of my favorite parts of the book is the chapter titled “An Unfortunate Lily Maid.”

Anne and her friends have studied Tennyson’s poem Idylls of the King (not named in the novel, but the reference is obvious). Now they want to act out the famous incident of Lancelot and Elaine, particularly the part where Elaine’s body is put on a barge and sent down the river to Camelot.  Her friends insist that Anne, despite her red hair, play fair-haired Elaine. Reluctantly, she agrees. None of the other girls can handle the boat by herself.

(Lesson learned: artistic sensibilities are wonderful, but sometimes, we must be practical instead.)

So they place a flat on the large pond, intending to push it off, allow it to catch the current leading down to the bridge, and let it drift down to another landing spot where the other three girls will be waiting.

That never happens. The dramatization of Tennyson’s poem soon takes a turn that the poet himself never imagined.

(Lesson learned: Expect the unexpected, especially in live theater and fiction writing.)

I’d never read this particular poem of his. Curious, I read a summary and skimmed the poem.

It’s a tale about Elaine, the king of Astalot’s daughter, who dies from her unrequited love for Sir Lancelot. Her body is placed in a barge and sent down the river to Camelot, where a letter explaining the matter is read. Guinevere has unjustly believed that Lancelot has been unfaithful to her with Elaine; she has rejected his gift of nine diamonds, gained by winning nine tournaments. Now she begs her lover’s forgiveness. It was the “jealousy of love,” she claims.

The diamonds come from armor found on the skeletons of two warring brothers. Obviously unforgiveness and violence taint the diamonds, though that doesn’t seem to deter many knights from wanting them.

Lancelot reluctantly forgives the queen. Privately, he muses that Elaine loved him better than Guinevere.

Queen, if I grant the jealousy as of love,
May not your crescent fear for name and fame
Speak, as it waxes, of a love that wanes?

Now the poor knight is miserable, consumed by doubts of his queen’s love; his shameful, adulterous love for her; and his remorse for being disloyal to his noble king. He refuses to forgive himself. Does he even forgive the queen? I rather doubt it.

(Lesson learned: Jealousy, doubt, and shame poison love; unselfishness, purity, and sacrifice are signs of true love.)  

This is the poem that Anne & Co. are acting out. I can see why these young teens enjoy this poem. Unrequited love, jousting tournaments, noble knights, fair maidens, dramatic situation after dramatic situation, all expressed in flowery language: this poem has everything the romantically-inclined girls swoon over. That is true love, they imagine, not realizing that love involves far fewer suits of shining armor and far more normally-clothed humans.

(Lesson learned: beware what you read. It affects your mind!)

Anne, playing lily maid Elaine, floats along the creek, thrilled by the romance of the situation. Then a decidedly unromantic thing happens; the flat leaks. Anne is forced to cling to a bridge pile.

Who should come along but Gilbert Blythe, her sworn enemy. Desperate times call for desperate actions, even if that does mean climbing in a boat with a boy like the horrible Gilbert Blythe! He rescues her.

Then he begs her forgiveness for his tactless teasing remark two years earlier; he’d called her “carrots” and Anne has never forgiven him for the teasing over her red hair. (Anne is a little . . . sensitive, shall we say, over her hair color.)

Anne refuses.

Yet Gilbert is the one person in the village who is her equal in academics, who could challenge her and help her in her intellectual ambitions; he might, if she allowed him, become a good friend. (And more!) She eventually does forgive him, but there are five lost years of friendship.

When we refuse to forgive, we’re hurting ourselves.  

Not every person is like Gilbert. Not every offense is as trivial as his teasing remark. Not every apology and forgiveness granted leads to a deep friendship and mutual love as it does for Anne and Gilbert.

Forgiveness is hard. The offender doesn’t deserve it; the offense isn’t forgettable; the relationship (if there ever was one) won’t be the same. Reconciliation isn’t always possible or necessary or advisable.

But, speaking as someone who has lived with unforgiveness, bitterness is much harder. Even when it wounded the offender, it still hurt me far more. Forgiving those people was worth the difficulty because it released me from the chains of bitterness.

Something to think about.

Photo credit: Marcel32, morguefile.com
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12 thoughts on “Lessons on forgiveness from Anne of Green Gables

  1. I’ve been revisiting Avonlea in literature and on screen lately. I bought the book Anne of Green Gables for my 9-year-old for Christmas. She loved it, and I was given the DVD collection.
    I can testify that forgiveness is worthwhile for the ‘forgiver’. I believe that forgiveness is an element of God’s abundant love. What I mean is, I don’t think I could forgive those who hurt me, not on my own, but with grace, I can. It sometimes has to occur repeatedly, but God’s grace never holds back.

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    1. Your comment touches my heart! I know you’ve been through so much, and to know that you’ve chosen to forgive those people who hurt you is beautiful and, yes, possible only through God’s grace. As you’ve noted, sometimes the forgiveness has to happen repeatedly; thankfully, God’s grace never fails and is always there when we need to re-forgive someone. Beautiful.

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  2. I love the “Anne” books so much that (as you know) I named my two girls due to Aunt Marilla and the fictional town of Avonlea: I have my own Marilla & Avonlea! As for the Sullivan production of the television series “Anne of Green Gables” you simply couldn’t cast find a better person than Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla Cuthbert & Richard Farnsworth as Matthew Cuthbert. Megan Follows as Anne was spot-on too.

    L.M. Montgomery has a fascinating life and I’ve read several of her giant journals. There are many scholars taking her work quite seriously now (mainly based in Canada) but elsewhere as well. I take a special interest in Montgomery as she had depression and took her own life (according to her granddaughter – her death has been controversial amongst the public since this information came to light) and Montgomery’s husband, a minister, had manic depression.

    I know this blatantly digresses from your forgiveness theme & I’m going all over the place, but I can’t help it! I am a Montgomeryophile! And her “Emily of New Moon” books – if you’re a writer, you must read them!

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    1. Don’t worry about typos! They pop up all the time for me. I constantly have the little squiggly line under a word (or two) and have to correct them. 🙂

      I had no idea that Montgomery might have taken her own life. How tragic! It does seem like certain of her later books are darker. “Mistress Pat” struck me as particularly sad at parts, though that was published 7 years before she died, I believe. I’ll have to research her life a little more. Any idea if anyone has written a fictional account of her life?

      I loved the television series! We had just been given our first color television set before it was released, and I was so excited to see the famous roads of PEI. 🙂

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      1. Check out this (1pg) newspaper article that quotes her granddaughter Kate Butler Macdonald, which I found quite moving.I read a more comprehensive article a few years ago that I can’t find for some reason, but this one I link below is definitely worth a look too & I know you’ll appreciate its message….as far as the fictional account of her life goes, she wrote her autobiography (“The Alpine Path”) and her published edited journals, which contain very disturbing accounts she wrote of her depression & her husband’s insanity, and there are quite a few biographies about her, but a fictional account? I’m not sure! Excellent question – let me know if you come across anything!

        http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/sep/23/booksforchildrenandteenagers

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  3. Love this interaction with Anne! We can learn much from fiction. Thanks for reminding me of that.

    I’m a big Anne fan – but didn’t become one until my young adulthood. Have you read the whole series? Or any of the other “tales” about PEI that Montgomery wrote? I’ve read the whole series, plus some of the other tales. Plus I love the original 2 movies. They really ruined it with the 3rd movie by altering the story so much from the books, and by waiting too long to film it. The actors and actresses had aged too much.

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    1. I’ve read a lot of Montgomery’s work, though I think there are a few I missed. It was one of the few authors my parents felt okay with me reading in 4-6 grade; Montgomery was “safe” and “clean” and I couldn’t find much at my reading level that was. (I don’t think they realized how much serious material she addressed in these “light” novels!)

      I never saw the third movie, but the first was definitely a favorite of mine. Great casting, and the PEI scenery is gorgeous!

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