Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Parenting Wisdom of Marilla Cuthbert

I haven't been doing much in the way of writing, but I have been doing a considerable amount of reading lately. In particular, I've rekindled my love of Anne of Green Gables. 

It's been many years since I read the books, and I had either forgotten or hadn't realized that as timeless as the Anne-girl is that the time period the books are set in is dated. The callous manner in which orphans were once treated and discussed is shocking. Legalities aside, the fact that people used to once "take in" children to serve as farmhands or household help certainly makes you cringe. Then there's the book's open mistrust of "outsiders," with the characters going so far as to spell out which ethnic groups one should be suspicious of. The books are obviously fiction but they are nonetheless a reflection of the social consciousness of the time.

Today, it is common to hear people mourn the depths to which modern society has fallen. What people seem to forget is that we didn't have far to fall from! These are just two examples of how the world has changed, for the better. (And our world really is in so many ways a better place.)

But all of that was a tangent. One of the real joys for me in re-reading the books is Marilla Cuthbert. Matthew may have been one of Anne's kindred spirits, but Marilla takes the cake. She may have been a sarcastically-inclined "spinster" (thank goodness we no longer say that either) who believed that overt displays of affection would spoil a person, but, man, is Marilla wonderful. 

Here are just a few choice Marilla bits: 

After Anne's outburst to Rachel Lynne, Marilla tells Anne she must apologize. Anne retorts that she'd rather be locked in a dark, damp dungeon: "We're not in the habit of shutting people up in dark, damp dungeons," said Marilla dryly, "especially as they're rather scare in Avonlea."

Anne goes to church alone and when asked about the minister's sermon reports that it was "awfully long" and "without imagination": 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, especially about the minister's sermons and Mr. Bell's prayers 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. 
Gilbert Blythe calls Anne "Carrots" at school and she breaks her slate over his head in response. Anne goes home and tells Marilla that she's not going back to school given that magnitude of the insult. 

"Insulted fiddlesticks! You'll go to school tomorrow as usual." 

(Anne responds that she will not.)

Marilla saw something remarkably like unyielding stubbornness looking out of Anne's small face. She understood that she would have trouble in overcoming it; but she resolved wisely to say nothing more just then.

Anne tells Marilla that " I do not believe that God Himself can do very much with such an obstinate person as Mrs. Barry.": "Anne, you shouldn't say such things" rebuked Marilla, striving to overcome that unholy tendency to laughter which she was dismayed to find growing upon her.

Anne worries that she'll fail as the school teacher in Avonlea: "You'll hardly fail completely in one day and there's plenty more days coming," said Marilla. 


Anne tells about the trouble she's had at school with student Anthony Pye: When the tale was ended [Marilla] said, briskly, "Well never mind. This day's done and there's a new one coming tomorrow, with no mistakes in it yet, as you yourself used to say. Just come downstairs and have your supper. You'll see if a good cup of tea and those plum puffs I made today don't hearten you up."

(Finally and perhaps best of all) "Anneyou do beat all!"


  1. Yep, Marilla is a wise sage, ramrod straight in many ways. But a soft spot for Anne.

  2. Oh, Marilla! Why does reading this make me miss you so much? How many times did we stay up all night watching those movies? I almost wish we were thirteen again... Maybe not...

    But Matthew will always have my heart.