I’m trying to write a post about P.D. James playing with the world of publishing and crime writers in Original Sin, but somehow my brain has turned into mush and I’d rather write something easier for the moment. MMh… Children’s classics. I’m not one to dwell on childhood memories a lot. I don’t remember the books I read during those years, yet I remember reading all the time. Among the books I tirelessly reread were Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring, and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Prairie series. How’s that for a splits? LotR was all male and fights and monsters, the Little House was 100% girly and nice, but both showed that courage and will were essential qualities to overcome difficulties. It’s rather late that I was introduced to Anne of the Green Gables, so I was maybe too old for her and I couldn’t enjoy the charm of the nice Canadian orphan girl (I was already in my sneering teenaged phase).
Lately I discovered that L.M. Montgomery’s classics were copyright-free and that Ann took up a complete shelf in Gutenberg.net library. I read parts of the first book in the series and then Ann’s House of Dreams, the part when she is just married and having her first child. I came to think about these spirited, defiant, fun-loving little girls turning into conventional wives later on. Both Laura and Ann are independent and work for a living (as teachers), but then they marry and fall into the stereotypical role of the housewife. Is that disappointing or comforting to children? I’ve never been a great fan of Alcott’s Jo of the Little Women, but I kind of remember the same evolution about her. Of course, it’s all part of the late 19C – early 20C context. I saw these books as models where girls could be as strong and active as boys, only to eventually be reminded that they grow up turning into their own mothers. These are not really the feminist manifesto I thought they were, but I still read them with relish.
I tried to find some analysis on line to back my impressions (I can’t be the only one on the web planet to think that way, or can I?). I didn’t find much (apart from fan clubs, I mean), but apparently someone wrote an academic essay linking Laura Ingalls and Ann of the Green Gables… to Jane Eyre! (I couldn’t read the essay, it’s protected by password in Muse). To me, it makes perfect sense. Jane Eyre is the independent, slightly awkward little girl confronted to many hardships, who grows up against the odds and becomes a working woman of her times, as a governess, later to fall in love with her master and become his wife. The mood is much darker as it’s not a children’s book, but I could find in Jane Eyre the same sense of rebellion mixed together with sincere conservatism (on morals, religion etc.). Maybe conservatism was the only way to make the readership accept the more daring sides of these unusual female characters. Or maybe the (female) writers themselves couldn’t imagine a true heroin who didn’t marry in the end. What do you think?