This week, the Anne of Green Gables Read-a-long continues with this thoughtful and timely piece by teacher and scholar, Tara K. Parmiter on "Chapter XXIX: An Epoch in Anne's Life."
Chapter XXIX: An Epoch in Anne’s Life
by Tara K. Parmiter
“An Epoch in Anne’s Life” follows Anne and Diana as they spend four glorious days with Aunt Josephine Barry in Charlottetown, visiting the Exhibition, attending concerts, “eating ice cream at brilliant restaurants at eleven o’clock at night,” and sleeping in an “elegant” spare bedroom. But though Anne finally gets to experience wonders she had only dreamed of before, she realizes by the chapter’s end that she “wasn’t born for city life” and that the best part of traveling abroad is “the coming home.”
As a city dweller myself, I thought I would be wrestling in this post with Anne’s seeming rejection of my home territory. But when I returned to this chapter the other day, I happened to be reading another book at the same time—Manoush Zomorodi’s Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self—and it shifted my attention away from the city and got me thinking instead about engaging our imaginations.
Zomorodi’s book addresses a familiar twenty-first-century dilemma: with the proliferation of smart phones, many of us are filling our spare moments with stimulation—checking news feeds, writing emails, playing games—rather than allowing ourselves to get bored. But, as Zomorodi explains, “When we let ourselves space out and our minds wander, we do our most original thinking and problem solving.” In other words, we need a little boredom, a little down time, to spark our creativity.
Both Bored and Brilliant and Anne of Green Gables acknowledge that our minds need some uninterrupted space to be truly creative, recognizing that our imaginations require not more outside stimulation but less. One of the most important messages of “An Epoch in Anne’s Life” is that diversions like a trip to the city can be fun, but if we let ourselves be entertained all the time, we miss the more important opportunities to entertain ourselves.
We can see the benefits of this creative entertainment in the opening anecdote of the chapter, a seemingly unremarkable detail of Anne “bringing the cows home from the back pasture.” Montgomery describes Anne going about her work “dreamily,” not focused on the task at hand but on the verses of an epic poem. She may be completing her chores, but her mind is “exulting in [the poem’s] rushing lines and the clash of spears in its imagery.” After reciting one particularly exciting verse, Anne “stopped in ecstasy to shut her eyes that she might the better fancy herself one of that heroic ring.” As Zomorodi might say, Anne is transforming a fairly routine chore into an opportunity to “space out” and dream. This capacity to wonder may explain why Anne never seems to be “bored” in the way a modern child might use the word: whenever she is tasked with a seemingly tedious project—fetching the cows, washing the dishes, putting the plum pudding sauce away in the pantry—her imagination kicks into gear and whimsical fancies (and hilarious mishaps) ensue.
Charlottetown, by contrast, is so dazzlingly “crowded with delights” that Anne can barely recount all its attractions to Marilla. Anne revels in the newness of these experiences, but also refuses to be overwhelmed by them. As she and Diana sit in Aunt Josephine’s parlor, all velvet and silk and luxury, Anne realizes that this showy richness is not what she truly longs for in life. “There are so many things in this room and all so splendid that there is no scope for imagination,” she confesses. If our rooms are already full of fine carpets and curtains, Anne asks us, what will spur us to imagine splendors? And as Zomorodi might add, how are we to engage our minds in creative thought if we’re constantly closing ourselves into our own digital parlors, so crowded with splendid things that we have no time or inclination to let our minds go?
Whether we’re waiting at a train station in Bright River or on a subway platform in Brooklyn, Montgomery and Zomorodi remind us to lift our heads, look around, and see where our minds take us. I didn’t expect this chapter on Anne’s big city adventure to spin me off into meditations on technological distractions, but that again is one of the reasons why Montgomery’s novel is so appealing to me: through Anne, we readers are prompted to reflect on our own homes, ambitions, loves, fears, friends, beloved landscapes, wildest dreams…and yes, even our ever-distracting phones. Every time I reread the novel, I find some new connection, a new way of thinking about Anne, and myself, that I hadn’t noticed before. And unlike Aunt Josephine’s parlor, the book offers both a wealth of splendid things and an endless scope for imagination. It’s always a pleasure to come home to it.
Tara K. Parmiter teaches Expository Writing at New York University. She received her first copy of Anne of Green Gables for her 11th birthday, but never imagined that she would be so lucky to still be reading, writing, and researching Montgomery’s work all these years later. She has presented at multiple Montgomery biennial conferences, and has essays in the CreArta special issue on Montgomery’s Interior/Exterior Landscapes and in the forthcoming L. M. Montgomery and the Matter of Nature(s).