Gilbert Blythe just died again. I say again because, had the fictional Gilbert been a real person, he’d be about 120 years old, and sorry friends – or sore-y, Canadian friends – there’s just no way. But for a lot of us, Gilbert lived and breathed through the 1980s CBC Anne Of Green Gables movies. Jonathan Crombie was a Toronto youth acting in school plays when he was cast as Gilbert, and he made the character more lovable than I think he even was on the page.
When Crombie died earlier this month, we lost a little bit of Gilbert Blythe. Ah, but which Gilbert Blythe? Things aren’t always black and white in Avonlea (don’t get me wrong, Avonlea is very, very white, insomuch that Anne’s red hair is a real exotic shot of diversity). In a previous C+S Book Club installment, we dispelled the idea of Marilla Cuthbert as a kindly yet stern benefactress: in my heart, she is first and foremost a creepy church hag. Likewise, one could argue that Gilbert Blythe is an early 1900s dream man – but just as easily, he could be an old-timey sarsaparilla-scented burlap douchebag. Let’s discuss.
Gilbert Blythe, D-Bag
I’ll defer to our Anne of Green Gables synopsis from our last post about the book: “Published in 1908, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s story is a timeless tale of orphans and family and imagination and screwing up your hair and dreams and getting your friend drunk by accident and Canada and Canadians and will they/won’t they romance and child-buying. Especially child-buying. When Anne, a plucky carrot-topped orphan with a heart of gold, ends up in Green Gables, she brings love, light, and happiness to Matthew and Marilla, a brother and sister who are married or whatever. ” Today, we look into the romance in question, between Anne – a child nobody has ever loved, who longs to achieve despite an early childhood deprived of education – and Gilbert, a boy who has parents and stuff but is still really mean to the orphan who wasn’t allowed to go to school.
I mean, Gilbert. First of all. Your top academic rival is a little girl who had to raise a litter of Garbage Pail twins and talk to herself in the woods instead of going to school. You think she’s weird? I don’t know, maybe it’s because her only childhood friend was herself, in a mirror. Then she finally gets to interact with humans and basically manages not to seem like a feral child – success! And you mock her, day 1. Kind of a dick move, Blythe.
If you’ve forgotten, Gilbert called Anne “carrots” and pulled her hair. Here’s something boys don’t seem to get: it hurts when you pull hair, because that shit is hooked onto your scalp. Also, “carrots” is sort of a juvenile insult for a thirteen-year-old. Oh, what’s that? Isn’t Anne 11? Yeah, she is – but Gilbert missed school for a few years to help out his sick dad or something. If Anne of Green Gables were a 1980s sitcom that’s the part where Anne would scream “Yeah? Well at least you HAVE a father!” and storm off. But the point is, at thirteen it’s pretty pathetic to have to make fun of a child two years younger than you, much less one who is the indentured servant of a mean old bag and an elderly man who’s afraid of her. I’m sure it’s in part due to Gilbert’s teasing that Anne dyed her hair green that one time.
In our last Anne Of Green Gables post, I posited that we could call an Anne and Gilbert post “Anne And Gilbert: Shit Or Get Off The Pot,” or alternately, “Anne And Gilbert: When You Hate Someone It’s Probably Not Because You Secretly Love Them.” If you’re a young lady, I want you to repeat that last title to yourself a few times until it really sinks in. When you hate someone, it’s probably not because you secretly love them. Also, if a boy treats you like garbage it’s probably because he’s garbage, not because he’s in love with you and doesn’t know how to show it. What nonsense is that? But people believe it, and maybe Anne and Gilbert are a little to blame. Or maybe …. maybe she liked him for a reason. Maybe, just maybe, he was the dirtbag of her dreams.
Gilbert Blythe, Dream Man
First of all, in Gilbert’s defense, Anne is kind of an idiot. We know that she grew up in shacks and orphanages, and we aren’t saying it’s her fault she’s an idiot, but she still is. It’s like when that homeschooled kid whose parents forgot to socialize her would transfer to your school, and she just didn’t grasp social norms. You understood that she was struggling with the whole… milieu, or what have you…. but that didn’t mean you particularly wanted to hang out on weekends (don’t worry, I know, #NotAllHomeschoolers).
So, yeah, he did call her carrots. She was particularly sensitive about her red hair, so I do get that. But that was ONE TIME. Chill, Anne. You’re going to let that follow you for your entire high school experience, or whatever you call high school when it’s a one-room schoolhouse and your teacher is banging Prissy Andrews? He pulled your hair, he didn’t kill your parents. He couldn’t because you don’t have any. As far as insults go, carrots is pretty weak. Hair-pulling is admittedly shitty, but holy cow, Anne broke a slate over his head. Slates were what chalkboards were made of before Pinterest invented chalkboard paint, and those things had sharp edges. Disproportional use of force, Anne. Jeez. Anything stupid Gilbert did after that point is probably because you concussed him.
Also, Gilbert isn’t the one who declared an academic rivalry; that was all Anne. And when you really think about it, she picked the kid who had been out of school for two years taking care of a parent (pressed much?). Talk about low-hanging fruit.
Anne didn’t really chill out until Gilbert saved her life. Gilbert wouldn’t have had to save Anne’s life if she hadn’t set herself off down a body of water pretending to be a poem. Classic Anne, y’all. Also I was joking that it’s Gilbert’s fault she dyed her hair green; that was her own shit.
My take? As a kid, I was firmly in the Gilbert Blythe, D-Bag camp. He reminded me of boys who would make fun of me for having red hair, or freckles, or reading too much. But now I see that Anne needs to get a damn grip. A lot of people are kind of awful when they’re 13. I’d go so far as to say that most kids hit a developmental stage of just being horrible people somewhere around middle school. So Gilbert made fun of you one time? Meh. No big. I’m glad that Anne eventually realized that he had a good heart, sharp mind, and awesome hair so their six kids weren’t all total carrots. And considering they named their son Shirley, those kids needed all the help they could get.