ANNE OF GREEN GABLES AND THE DEATH OF ‘GILBERT BLYTHE’

statements_524456 Social media reaction to the unexpected death this month of Canadian actor Jonathan Crombie, who so memorably played Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables, came almost entirely from the distaff side. Not too many guys were fans of the movie, I guess. Well, I’m a fan. A big one.

Like many of my gender, it seems, I was originally pretty dismissive of the whole Anne of Green Gables thing. Who cares about the adventures of some spunky 11-year old orphan girl in turn-of-the-20th century Prince Edward Island? She hates her red hair. Boo hoo. Bring on Anna Karenina.

But my mind was changed when I went to what I had hoped would be a party at a friend’s house, only to discover all the women heading into the TV room to watch Anne of Green Gables. Thinking they couldn’t possibly be serious, I tried cracking a few jokes. They told me to be quiet. So I reluctantly sat down to watch, too. Of course, much to my surprise, once I parked my prejudices by the door, I was charmed. No violence, except for Anne smashing her slate over poor Gilbert’s head, no sex, no deafening sound effects. Just a tender, perfectly made movie, with a superb cast.

Could anyone have been better than Megan Follows as Anne Shirley, Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla and Richard Farnsworth as dear Matthew, the loveliest man on the face of the earth? Then, there was Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe, the sweet-natured soul tortured by his love for the spirited but flinty Anne. Opinion was divided. He didn’t fit everyone’s idea of Gilbert from the book, and at times, he did appear a bit awkward on screen, a tad too old for the part (18 when the movie was filmed). Others found him perfect. Over time, however, since this is a movie that effortlessly absorbs repeated viewings, even those of us who were at first reluctant have grown to cherish him, too, along with everything else about this fine Canadian film. Anne-07 There’s much to be said for a movie that tells a good story, that’s well-acted and gently escapist enough to let you forget about that increasingly bad old world outside. It’s also unapologetically Canadian, in the good sense of that fine word. So, if you’re like I used to be and still dismissive of Anne of Green Gables, now’s the time to give it a whirl, surrender to its charm, and mourn Jonathan Crombie. He was 48, but forever young as Gilbert Blythe.

Here is a full length obituary of Crombie from Saturday’s Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/dreamy-gilbert-blythe-actor-jonathan-crombie-loved-the-stage/article24124077/

And this is an excellent piece from the Guardian that praises the character Gilbert Blythe as superior to many other rejected mail suitors in literature : http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/24/jonathan-crombie-dead-gilbert-blythe-novel-anne-of-green-gables

P.S. A sequel, Anne of Avonlea, was pretty fair, as sequels go, but the less said about Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story the better. Anne and Gilbert don’t belong on the battlefields of World War One.

A further personal postscript. My aunt loved Anne of Green Gables and Canada’s most famous author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, her entire life. She read all the Anne and Avonlea books. Having grown up on a farm in the Fraser Valley, the bucolic splendor of Montgomery’s PEI gave her nothing but pleasure. As noted above, I kind of sniffed at this “defect” in my beloved Auntie Gret with that knowing smugness of someone pleased with himself for being into “serious” literature. Don’t need no stinkin’ girlie stuff! But was won over by the movie.

UnknownMy mother, a high school English teacher, was slow to warm to Anne of Green Gables, too. But my aunt’s view had prevailed  by the time she compiled her pioneering textbook in 1973 with the pulsating title, Canadian Literature, Two Centuries in Prose. Believe it or not, this was the first book designed to introduce high school and college students to our own country’s literature in one distinct volume. And she did not hesitate to include an excerpt from Anne of Green Gables, defending it as far more than a “children’s classic”, with its universal Cinderella theme (Jane Eyre, Pygmalion) and particularly Canadian motif of nostalgia for a world of peace and protection.

Later, we all shared the joys of the long-running, spin-off CBC series, Road to Avonlea, that introduced us to the remarkable Sarah Polley. The series also featured fine Canadian actors R.H. Thompson, Cedric Smith, Lally Cadeau, and of course, the late Jackie Burroughs as the indomitable Aunt Hetty. Sure, it wasn’t The Sopranos or The X-Files, or anything like that, but it was well-made, entertainment that everyone in our diverse family could enjoy. We were in China, my brother’s family was in Thunder Bay, Auntie Gret was in Burnaby, and my mom and sister were in good old Newmarket. Watching it made us all feel together, despite our vast separations. There’s a lot to be said for that. (My brother’s step-daughter loved Sarah Polley in the series. When she heard that young Sarah lived with her father in Aurora, just south of Newmarket, she and my sister ferretted out her address to say ‘hi’, but no one was home.)

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Yet the author who created all this enchantment, Lucy Maud Montgomery, had such a sad personal life, herself. She made an unfortunate, late marriage to a minister who suffered from deteriorating mental health. Despite the world-wide fame of Anne of Green Gables, such were the times that Montgomery loyally followed her husband to his modest church posting in Uxbridge, not that far from Newmarket. Their two children disappointed her. Acutely lonely and battling her own depression, she tried to escape by churning out more and more Anne-style books set in Prince Edward Island. They sold well, but there was only one Anne of Green Gables.

Years after she died in 1942, her personal journals were published. They sold well, attracting many new readers with her Unknownfrank, adult descriptions of her struggles with life and the hardships of being a woman, long before feminism. My mother and my aunt read every word. When Auntie Gret came east for a visit, she and her sister went prowling around the wilds of Kettleby and mighty Zephyr, looking for the manse where Lucy Maud lived with her difficult husband. Sort of like us younger folk searching out Dylan landmarks in Hibbing.

When my aunt was forced to move into an assisted-care facility, she took only one book with her. It was, of course, her life-long companion, Anne of Green Gables.

TOP TEN LIST OF GOVERNMENT CLANGERS, CONT.

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Herewith, the next two items on my year-end, Top Ten List of ‘baddies’ by the B.C. government. First instalment here. If it’s all just too gloomy, you can still access my list of good deeds by that same gang we voted in.

3. Democracy in this strange century is fragile at the best of times, but B.C. Liberals seem to have taken us into a new realm of non-accountability. What else to say about a government that has presented itself in the legislature for a grand total of 36 days over the past year 20 months.

While Premier Clark’s vow that B.C. would lead the country in job creation floundered long ago, it turns out we are still leading Canada in at least one category. Yep, when it comes to number of days failing to put bums in legislative comfy chairs, we’re number one! Cue the Seahawks’ seismic roar.

Despite the many issues and controversies that have cried out for accountability in recent months, B.C was the only province in all the land not to have a fall sitting of its legislature. Not surprisingly, Canada’s third most populous province ranked dead last in days when their elected assembly was in session, trailing even Mike Duffy’s brief nesting spot, mighty Prince Edward Island, with its 140,000-strong population. B.C. was also at the bottom of the provincial table in 2012 with but 47 session days. Cross-Canada totals here. 

So, Premier, what happened? You used to love the legislature, so.  (For the quotes that follow, I am indebted to the incomparable Vaughn Palmer, whose political recall easily outshines “the Google”.)

In 2005, during her “farewell to politics” speech, Clark waxed eloquent on “this chamber that I’ve loved so much”.  Added she: “I have a profound respect for the work that this legislature does….The work that we do here is so important….I love question period. I love debate….I’ve loved every minute of it. I hope the MLAs who occupy this seat after me love this place even half as much as I have.”

Six years later, in 2011. after her “return to politics”, Clark’s passion for the legislature seemed undiminished. As newly-minted Liberal leader and Premier, she said could hardly wait to get back to where she once belonged. “As you know, I love question period and I hate to miss it,” she told nodding reporters. “Premiers in the past aren’t always tied to Victoria, but I want to be [there]. This is where decisions are made…”  After winning a by-election to re-gain official admission to the exalted chamber, she proclaimed how “excited” she was to return. “[It’s] familiar territory for me.”

Alas, Clark’s long ardour began to fade with the reality of married life. Within a year, the relationship was off the rails, and the once-gushing bride was professing a loathing for the “sick culture” of Victoria and all that that entailed, her change of heart set off, no doubt, by one too many “positive” questions from Adrian Dix or perhaps the mere sight of Harry Lali.

So the fickle leader waved goodbye to the precincts she once adored and set sail for B.C.’s wide-open spaces, where seldom in heard a discouraging word and folks appreciate a beaming Premier in a hard hat. According to Ms. Clark, she is serving the province better by “meeting with the people” than spending time in Victoria doing the people’s business before those actually elected to represent them. But it’s a shabby, self-serving version of democracy that recalls the bad old days of W.A.C. Bennett, who  disdained the legislature and those pesky opposition MLAs.

Meanwhile, a majority of MLAs continue to receive their $1,000 monthly stipends to defray accommodation expenses in Victoria, despite the paltry 36 days the house was in session. And backbenchers and opposition members struggle to find things to do to justify their $100,000 annual salaries. I hear some are finally reading War and Peace. Nice work, if you can get it. At the same time, veteran scribes report that cabinet ministers these recent months have rarely bothered to show up at all in their cobwebbed Victoria offices. Government by cell phone and email is so much easier. The ghost wandering the parliament buildings in Victoria is no longer Francis Rattenbury. It’s speaker Linda Reid, and she has a lot of spooky company.

Photos from Vale Farms on a Monday evening after a day of rain.

4. The Agricultural Land Reserve, policed by an independent land commission, is one of this province’s great treasures. Not only has it saved the Lower Mainland from the appalling urban sprawl that has gobbled up good farmland and ruined the landscape outside so many North American cities, it has helped preserve vital agricultural acres across the province.

Before the election, the B.C. Liberals appeared to recognize that. Backroom strategists produced a pre-election document for caucus members that included the winning message: “Unlike the NDP, we have never politically interfered with the independence of the Agricultural Land Commission.”

Once the election was safely past, however, the tune changed. Bill Bennett, the rambunctious Energy and Mines Minister from East Kootenay, mused openly about all the land “covered by rocks and trees” that “flummoxed” land-owners can’t get out of the ALR. It got scarier. Given the task of directing the government’s core review of public services, Bennett quickly served notice that the sacrosanct ALR and the ALC were in his sightline.

Then we learned cabinet documents had been prepared proposing to erode the independence of the ALC and include government “economic priorities” as a valid reason to remove land from the ALR. All very, very worrisome.

Oh, by the way, in case  you wanted to check out those positive words about the ALR that Liberal caucus members were told to hammer home during the election campaign, you’re out of luck. The B.C. Government Caucus Information Resource, dated March 7, 2013, has disappeared from the web.

To be continued….