By Mary Abrahamson
If you are an Anne of Green Gables fan as am I, you will be familiar with Marilla Cuthbert. Marilla is practical. She has little time for imagination. She has no patience with vanity. Marilla is a strong pioneer sort of spinster woman who, together with her bachelor brother, Matthew, adopts dear Anne from the orphanage. They had asked for a boy to help Matthew with the farm. But instead, got red-headed lively Anne. Anne who has known nothing but poverty and hardship comes complete with imagination galore and dreams of elegance and love.
I have much Marilla in me. And much of Anne.
The character of Marilla Cuthbert resonates strongly with me. I suspect I am by nature like the imaginative, head-in-the-clouds Anne. The previous generations of women in my family were Marilla. And like Anne to Marilla, I was a trial to my mother.
But as I became a wife and mother myself, I found myself trying to be Marilla. If Grandma could do it, so could I. I don’t want to be one of “these soft modern women” who doesn’t know how to work hard. I want to know the life skill of living through deprivation successfully. I want to be practical and not vain. I want to have a spotlessly clean house and perfect order therein.
But alas! I do not. Try as I might, I am still not Marilla.
I engaged in a little verbal sparring with my inner Marilla Cuthbert the other morning while folding laundry. I found a pair of my daughter’s underwear, … clean, … but stained with a brown smear in the, … uh, … bottom area. This stain was definitely not a poop stain. Because I had noticed the stain earlier, and had thought that someone had rudely tossed a dirty pair of unders into the clean basket, I had already re-washed it. But after going through the wash cycle again, the stain was just as dark and nasty looking as before. I’m thinking it’s probably motor oil or something along those lines. Not something that’s likely to come out even with the administration of intense elbow grease.
“Oh, shoot, that stain didn’t come out,” said my real self.
“They still have wear in them, just fold them and put them away.” answered Marilla.
“But that stain really looks like poop. She will think they are dirty.”
“If you explain to her that it’s only a stain and that the fabric is still serviceable, she’ll understand.”
“Yes, I know she’ll understand, but that knowledge and understanding would not help if someone else should see the stain and tease her.”
“Her discomfort would only be from vanity. It’s a good lesson in stamping out vanity.”
“Shut up, Marilla! I am throwing these panties away.”
Oh, that Marilla is very loud sometimes!!!
In reality, the above conversation took place in one of those microseconds. In that instant, I could feel the two personalities. The Marilla in me, so absolutely sure about the right way to raise kids. The other side of me not wanting to subject my child to unnecessary humiliation, and yet … also … out of long habit … somewhat tempted to agree with Marilla.
Can we force or coerce morality and rightness into a child’s or our own nature by the steady application of stricture?
Habit is one thing. And upbringing. Good habits and strong upbringing are indeed important. But such habits and upbringing do not protect us from sin. Much of the time they only protect us from a few obvious outward sins.
But when we can avoid outward sins, it is ever so easy to trust in our own morality, our own good habits or strong upbringing, to make us right with God.
Or if not exactly right with God, at least a little bit more right with God than others are.
Or sneakier still, the notion even if I can’t make myself right with God, I can at least make myself a little bit more right with God than I’d be without my good habits.
After sparring with Marilla the other day, I found myself craving a little Anne of Green Gables reading. I’ve read the original book many times. And I’ve read a few of the later books in the series a time or two. But I find that each time I read through these books I appreciate new angles and aspects of the story line.
This time I noticed the morality portrayed in the story. The morality. The religion. The kind of “Christianity” that prevailed in the fictional Avonlea. It’s very much the morality and religion that has prevailed within American Christianity throughout much of our history. And this morality, this religion, this particular brand of Christianity, still tempts many of us today to bind ourselves to the Law of God, and to Laws of Our Own Making, in an attempt to make ourselves that little bit more right with God.
I hope this article will be the first in a series to look at, to examine and analyze against the Bible, the morality of Avonlea, and perhaps even that of other well known and loved historical classics.