Disgruntled With An E

As you may have noticed, I spell my name with the ‘e,’ because how could a woman who grew up with Anne of Green Gables not?

So I watched Anne With An E with trepidation. The actor playing Anne is wonderfully cast. She captures Anne’s brashness without being sentimentalized, although her material doesn’t allow her to flesh out the whimsy that is so integral to the character. Imagine Anne without the scene in which she manages to capsize her boat while imagining herself the Lady of Shalott? Only to be mortified when Gilbert comes to the rescue?

The first carriage ride to Green Gables reveals what could have been in Anne With An E. Anne’s allowed to be whimsical as she renames the avenue and properly charms the middle-aged, taciturn bachelor. I didn’t mind the flashbacks in the first episodes. Montgomery doesn’t hide the fact that Anne’s life experience prior to Green Gables was harsh. She was a child of eleven who had already been raising other women’s children and keeping house and dodging men who drank too much. I appreciated the choice to reveal her background, although at times it may have dwelt a little too melodramatically upon what was a horrifying experience, but more horrifying in its mundane slights and tasks than in its great terrors, like being whipped by a man who then keels over dead.

However, overall, the series simply isn’t successful. Joanna Robinson has a great account of what went wrong in Vanity Fair. She refers here to the minister’s advice that Anne stay at home and learn the skills necessary for being a good wife:

This cruel, pervasive attitude ignores the fact that, historically, Anne has been surrounded by other educated women—like her beloved teacher, Miss Stacy, or the girls who go with her to college. Anne Shirley is not the first girl on the planet to crack a book. These misogynist sentiments not only do the good men of Avonlea a disservice (Anne considers the kindly Reverend Allan in the book a “kindred spirit”) but construct an unnecessary obstacle to Anne’s success. Anne with an E seems to think Anne’s triumphs are only noteworthy if she’s continually told she can’t succeed, when in fact her unfettered brilliance needs no such clumsy opposition. It also seems to think that Anne needs a radical feminist makeover when, in fact, the story of her success was feminist in its own right.

This is core to my discontent with the series. I loved Miss Stacy when I was a child, happily reading the books. I was the brightest in my own class at school and my chief intellectual nemesis happened to also be a boy. My own Miss Stacy was actually a male teacher, but I absolutely appreciated how much of a relief it was to Anne to find a teacher who would encourage her love of writing and literature. To not feature Miss Stacy in any version of Anne of Green Gables? Particularly when the novel is chocked-full of great female role models for Anne?

Her name is Miss Muriel Stacy. Isn’t that a romantic name? Mrs. Lynde says they’ve never had a female teacher in Avonlea before and she thinks it is a dangerous innovation. But I think it will be splendid to have a lady teacher, and I really don’t see how I’m going to live through the two weeks before school begins. I’m so impatient to see her […]

She dresses beautifully and her sleeve puffs are bigger than anyone else’s in Avonlea. – Anne of Green Gables

There are two things to note. Miss Stacy is an intellectual mentor. She encourages Anne to go to college and to take her education seriously. Indeed, Marilla rescues Anne in no small way because she sees a bright girl and knows she should be in school. The novels are a celebration of women’s education. Which is why I was so disappointed that in rearranging events, the series has Anne helping to save Green Gables by becoming a cleaner. There’s only glancing reference to her intelligence and her experience in the class room, both of which are so integral to the novels. We all know that Anne goes to college and that she helps support Green Gables by moving home and teaching, continuing to study in her spare time. She goes on to earn her B.A.. Even Gilbert is deprived of his intellectual ambition in this adaptation, setting off to the docks where in the novels he works himself almost to death to become a doctor.

Miss Stacy is also a fashion mentor. The puffed sleeves do appear in the latest adaptation, but no sooner do they appear than they are forgotten, cast aside for a strange subplot about Matthew’s childhood sweetheart, as though a middle-aged man would still be pining for a girl he barely spoke to when he was a child. Anne’s love of fashion is not inconsequential. She learns to dress for the person she wishes to be – she understands that puffed sleeves have power and can lend her consequence. The novels never trivialize femininity or the interests of women. Anne can be an intellectual giant and still obsess over puffed sleeves.

However, speaking of Gilbert earlier… the series turns him into a saint! The power of the slate cracking on his skull is completely sapped, Anne’s righteous fury and indignation rendered bizarre.

The 1985 adaptation, Anne’s cheeks puffed with outrage, captured the real spirit and satisfaction of the slate incident.

I may never forgive the series for what they did to Gilbert.

Indeed, I’m trying to forget the final episode altogether…

 

The Fairy Tale Hero’s New Clothes

The other day, I was enraptured by this tweet:

Yes, I do get a little excited at seeing exquisite historical embroidery. 😊 Also, doesn’t it remind you just a little of a recent Disney Prince? The waistcoat panel was embroidered a couple of decades after Villeneuve published her tale, but there is a nice correlation. Indeed, there is a court suit at LACMA that also dates from around the period of the panel and another waistcoat from around 1740, closer to Villeneuve’s publication date, and again these examples confirm that the Prince’s wardrobe has tangible roots in historical reality. The softer blue, the rich silver embroidery, are even, dare I say it, almost Cinderella-esque?

I did repine on Twitter that it is a shame fairy tales are not as expansive on the topic of masculine fashions. There are plenty of details about feminine fashions, but aside from a few peacock feathers, there is little effusion on what princes and kings and other men wear.

In ‘Belle-Belle ou Le Chevalier Fortuné,‘ d’Aulnoy does spend some time on the masculine wardrobe gifted to her heroine in support of her cross-dressing endeavours:

[The fairy] struck the ground with her crook, and out came a big trunk covered with Levant morocco, and studded with diamonds: Belle-Belle’s initials were on the lid. The fairy sought in the grass for a gold key made in England, and opened the box with it. It was lined with embroidered Spanish leather. Inside were twelve coats, twelve cravats, twelve swords, twelve ostrich plumes; everything by the dozen. The coats were so heavy with embroidery and diamonds that Belle-Belle could scarcely lift them. (see SurLaLune)

The descriptions are largely perfunctory, although the weight of embroidery and diamonds does recall the finest gowns of heroines like Finette Cendron. Detail is spent, rather, on the trunk. Keeping in mind that Louis XIV was himself a fine peacock of a man and masculine fashion in the French court was a colourful, rich cacophony of expensive fabrics and wondrous tailoring, it seems odd that this didn’t translate to the tales themselves.

A popular theory is that while men could dress beautifully, the expression of an interest in fashion was seen as feminine. In effect, men could wear fashion if they simply didn’t discuss it. However, this doesn’t account for why female authors like d’Aulnoy likewise skimp on the prose around masculine fashion.

Where masculine fashion does become of plot interest, it is often as a means of ridiculing the male fashionista. Hans Christian Andersen presented the world with ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ Once again, though, while fine fashions are eluded to, they aren’t detailed. Indeed, the tale itself has become best known for its use in political satire, as evident in this linked cartoon.

Which gives me another excuse to link to this clip of Adam Ant’s ‘Prince Charming,’ in which the unlikely Prince steals Cinderella’s fashion status for himself.