Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Not everything is perfect on good old P.E.I.

Do you know who my least favorite character in the Anne of Green Gables canon is? The absolute most despicable person we encounter in all 8 books?

Not Josie and Gertie Pye.
Not the Pringle family.
Not Mrs. Gibson, who makes poor Pauline's life miserable.
Not Mrs. Campbell, who makes poor little Elizabeth's life miserable.
Not Jenny Penny or Dovie Johnson or Delilah Green.
Not the Kaiser, against whom all the young men in Canada risked - or gave - their lives.

It's the sympathetically-portrayed, but utterly awful Ellen West Douglas. How could someone treat another person so terribly? She flat-out refused to allow her sister Rosemary to marry John Meredith.

"He means to ask her, St. George--I'm perfectly sure of that. So he might as well have his chance to do it and find out he can't get her, George. She'd rather like to take him, Saint. I know that--but she promised, and she's got to keep her promise. I'm rather sorry in some ways, St. George. I don't know of a man I'd sooner have for a brother-in-law if a brother-in-law was convenient. I haven't a thing against him, Saint--not a thing except that he won't see and can't be made to see that the Kaiser is a menace to the peace of Europe. That's his blind spot. But he's good company and I like him. A woman can say anything she likes to a man with a mouth like John Meredith's and be sure of not being misunderstood. Such a man is more precious than rubies, Saint--and much rarer, George. But he can't have Rosemary--and I suppose when he finds out he can't have her he'll drop us both. And we'll miss him, Saint--we'll miss him something scandalous, George. But she promised, and I'll see that she keeps her promise!"

And then - what, a year later? less? - the good Ellen decides she wants to get married, she no longer has any use for their sacred promise of eternal singlehood, and she wants to be released from it. And - whereas Rosemary was so committed to their promise that she wouldn't even tell John Meredith why she was refusing his proposal - Ellen tells her beau Norman Douglas all about it so that he can go ask Rosemary for her permission.

"You know as well as I do, girl. Don't be putting on your tragedy airs. No wonder Ellen was scared to ask you. Look here, girl, Ellen and I want to marry each other. That's plain English, isn't it? Got that? And Ellen says she can't unless you give her back some tom-fool promise she made. Come now, will you do it? Will you do it?"

It took me years to view Ellen as an awful person, as Rosemary holds no grudge and L.M. Montgomery continues to paint her sympathetically through the rest of the series. But her actions are the most despicable I think I've encountered anywhere in Avonlea, Summerside, Four Winds, or the Glen.

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