You know what’s great? Revisiting your favorite shows from when you were a kid and realizing just how ridiculous and horrible the characters were. Yes, I used the word ‘great’.
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.
RIP Jonathan Crombie. You were kind of a dick on TV. But you know who else was a dick? another Anne of Green Gables regular – Marilla Cuthbert.
If you’re Canadian, imaginative, bookwormish, or red-headed, chances are at some point you read and loved Anne of Green Gables. 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. Not to ruin this children’s classic for you, but Marilla wasn’t a kindly old lady trying to give an orphan a new start in life. She was a creepy church hag. Here’s why:
Marilla Tried To Buy A Little Boy To Do Chores
When her brother-husband got too old to run the farm, Marilla did the only logical thing (if you’re creepy and also awful) – she bought an orphan boy to do chores. Or tried to, because she got sent an orphan girl instead. Like Target, the orphan asylum has a pretty liberal return policy, but to her credit Marilla does keep the kid.
There Are Church Ladies, And Then There Are Church-Hags
… and Marilla is the latter. She initially kept Anne on a trial basis, like a mail-order vacuum. Even after she made up her mind, she wasn’t so sure about Anne – because as a neglected orphan/indentured servant, I guess Anne’s bosses forgot to teach her about Jesus. Keep in mind, Anne was 11 and had already raised two families of what I can only picture as 19th century Garbage Pail Kids, so I guess she didn’t have time for scripture. Sorry Church-Hag, but she didn’t. To her credit (?), Marilla tried to buy a pre-Christianized orphan: she specifically told Rachel that she didn’t want a “London street Arab.” When Anne screwed up her bedtime prayers because nobody had ever cared about her enough to tuck her into bed and teach her social norms, Marilla said “Don’t you know it’s a terrible wicked thing not to say your prayers every night? I’m afraid you are a very bad little girl.” But later, when Anne tells Marilla about her boring day at church, “Marilla felt helplessly that all this should be sternly reproved, but she was hampered by the undeniable fact that some of the things Anne had said […] were what she herself had really thought deep down in her heart for years, but had never given expression to. It almost seemed to her that those secret, unuttered, critical thoughts had suddenly taken visible and accusing shape and form in the person of this outspoken morsel of neglected humanity.”
Yep. Marilla doesn’t even like church, but she’s still obsessed with it and tells small children that they’re “very bad” because nobody told them how to pray. And that, my friends, is a Church-Hag.
And Remember That Shit With The Brooch?
This is like 50% Marilla being a creepy church hag and 50% Anne being an idiot, so maybe you get the family you deserve. Anne gets all worked about about going to her first picnic and eating her first ice cream, and although picnics are uniformly less fun than you think they’d be (it’s seriously just eating, but outside), ice cream is awesome and she’s right to care so much. But Anne borrows Marilla’s brooch and leaves it on her shawl, and then Marilla thinks Anne stole it because orphans and heathens or something. So Marilla says Anne can’t go to the picnic unless she confesses to taking it. Anne gives a false confession under duress, and I can’t blame her because I would have confessed to murder when I was 11 if it meant I could get some Ben & Jerry’s. Still would. Then Marilla’s all “well, now you definitely can’t go to the picnic,” and Anne doesn’t know that picnics are lame yet so she is pissed. Then they find the brooch, and Marilla learns a valuable lesson that non-church hags never really need to learn in the first place: not to badger orphan children into confessing things they never did because you can’t keep proper inventory of your own stupid brooches.
She Uses Wine “Medicinally” … But We All Know What’s Up
Anne tries to give Diana raspberry cordial, but accidentally (or “accidentally”) rips into Marilla’s secret stash of currant wine instead. Marilla makes the following excuses and admissions:
- “Well, this story will be a nice handle for those folks who are so down on me for making currant wine” – so, it’s known in the community that Marilla has a problem.
- ” I haven’t made any for three years ever since I found out that the minister didn’t approve”- EVEN YOUR MINISTER, Marilla. Even your minister.
- “I just kept that bottle for sickness.” – AKA withdrawal tremors
- “[The currant wine] couldn’t have the least effect on anybody” – well, no, not if your tolerance is off the charts.
Bitch, If You Have Enough Money To Buy A Human Child, You Can Afford Puffed Freaking Sleeves
Damn, Church-Hag. I don’t know the going rate for a chore-orphan in the early 1900s, like how many toonies or whatever, but if you have that kind of money you can probably buy that kid the ugly dresses she wants. So you have to buy a few extra yards of fabric for the kid’s stupid sleeves? Most teenagers at some point will tell you that they “didn’t ask to be born” but seriously, Anne didn’t ask to be born, orphaned, leased out as a work-horse to human breeding farm Mrs. Hammond, so starved for human contact in an orphanage that she creates imaginary friends in the mirror like Tom Hanks on a deserted island with a soccer ball, bought by old married siblings by accident, and then given the worst dresses. Do you know what Marilla dressed Anne in before Matthew took pity on her and bought her those ass-ugly sleeves? Wincey. I Googled it. It’s basically burlap.
Like, did you spend so much buying your orphan that you have to dress her in bag material? That’s not just cruel, that is straight-up terrible budgeting. Get an accountant, Church-Hag. Maybe you could work out a budget to save up for a heart.
You Are The Company You Keep. Marilla’s Company Is Rachel Lynde.
You know those people who manage to insult everyone, but everyone makes excuses for them? That’s Rachel Lynde, Actual Worst Person In The World. So by association, Marilla is the Actual Worst Person In The World. Marilla may be your classic Creepy Church Hag, but Rachel is an even more insidious Church Hag – the normal-seeming gossipy kind who makes fun of orphans. Rachel doesn’t even like Marilla. She compares Marilla and Matthew’s living situation to getting used to being hanged – which, also, is Rachel some kind of idiot, because I’m 100% sure you don’t get used to that over time, you just get more and more dead. Rachel is the kind of mean old bag who meets a motherless child and says things like “She’s terrible skinny and homely. […] Lawful heart, did any one ever see such freckles? And hair as red as carrots! ” That one got me in the gut, as a fellow skinny, freckly redheaded kid and also a human with feelings. But Marilla makes Anne apologize for calling Rachel out, because Marilla is a high-school girl who is friends with the queen bee because she’s too afraid not to be friends with her. Frankly if I want this kind of petty Canadian mean-girling I would just watch season one Paige and Ashley on Degrassi.
Oh. The other “company” Marilla “keeps” is the child she bought by accident, so that doesn’t really speak too well of her either, does it?
The Legacy Lives On
Despite her creepiness, Marilla has some good points. She does decide to keep Anne, and doesn’t do a totally awful job raising her, and Anne is so dense and weird that I can’t blame Marilla for getting frustrated sometimes. When Anne and Gilbert finally get their act together, they even name a kid after her (and honestly, that’s a whole other 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). Marilla was a creepy church hag, there’s no doubt about it, but she was at least a sort of crusty, lovable creepy church hag. In fact, if I ever buy a child to do chores for me, I hope I can be half of the owner-parent that Marilla was to Anne.