Shortly after the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the five Dallas police officers in July, I wrote:
It’s times like these when I retreat into books, into the comforting fiction that helps me hide from our hate-filled world.
This is when I read old favorites like L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Jane Austen’s Persuasion, books that don’t directly address the racism of their eras and were written when assault rifles didn’t exist.
However, this time, I can’t read fiction, at least not today. I have to face reality, and I encourage others to do so too.
I have since returned to the comfort of fiction, specifically to L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, as I continue to work on my Anne-based writing project with my children.* While re-reading these classic stories, I’ve realized how much I’ve needed Anne’s relentless optimism lately. I was becoming too much of an “Eliza” — and not the “Anne” or “Catherine” I prefer to be — as the news displayed story after story about societal racism, sexism, and violence.
In case you don’t know your “Elizas” from your “Annes” and “Catherines,” I’m referencing Anne of Avonlea, when Anne and Diana go door-to-door to raise money to paint the town hall. They start with the “Andrews girls,” a pair of sisters who “had been ‘girls’ for fifty odd years and seemed likely to remain girls to the end of their earthly pilgrimage”:
Eliza was sewing patchwork, not because it was needed but simply as a protest against the frivolous lace Catherine was crocheting. Eliza listened with a frown and Catherine with a smile, as the girls explained their errand. […]
‘If I had money to waste,’ said Eliza grimly, ‘I’d burn it up and have the fun of seeing a blaze maybe; but I wouldn’t give it to that hall, not a cent. […] I don’t see the necessity. We didn’t gad about to halls and places when we were young… This world is getting worse every day.’
‘I think it’s getting better,’ said Catherine firmly.
‘YOU think!’ Miss Eliza’s voice expressed the utmost contempt. ‘It doesn’t signify what you THINK, Catherine Andrews. Facts is facts.’
‘Well, I always like to look on the bright side, Eliza.’
‘There isn’t any bright side.’
‘Oh, indeed there is,’ cried Anne, who couldn’t endure such heresy in silence. ‘Why, there are ever so many bright sides, Miss Andrews. It’s really a beautiful world.’
I agree with Anne and Catherine. The world is — overall — a beautiful one. I am best able to appreciate its “many bright sides” when I look at my children, who are always able to make me smile, for example, by opining on the literary merits of Supreme Court decisions and by imagining Anne’s Avonlea to be a culturally and racially diverse community like the one we live in instead of the homogeneous one Canadian author L. M. Montgomery created in 1908.
We’ve come a long way since 1908 in Montgomery’s country and also in my own. Within the last century, women in both countries gained the right to vote and now, in the United States, a woman has finally become a nominee from a major party to our highest political office.
Whatever you may think of Hillary Clinton, whatever your political leanings, you have to admit that her nomination is a big deal. It means a lot to me, and it means a lot to my girls.
Progress is slow, so slow that sometimes it doesn’t look like it’s even there, but it is. I am sure of it. Today, I am a Catherine. How about you?
*We’re editing Anusha of Prospect Corner, our multicultural take on Anne of Green Gables, while continuing Anusha’s story in Anusha of Melrose Square.