Monday, April 20, 2015

In "The Depths of Despair"

I think Gilbert Blythe may have been the first man I ever loved. I was young when I discovered Anne of Green Gables. The books came first-- I remember being about seven when my mother started reading it to my brother, sister, and me. I still remember the cover-- it was green, with an quirky red-headed girl in outmoded clothing and a straw hat. I was young to be reading that book, and I found it hard to stay focused as my mother's southern cadence caressed the words on her tongue and threatened to send me to dreamland. Years late, in fifth grade, my friends discovered Anne, and try as I might, I couldn't get into the books. Somewhere along the way, of course, I would have watched the miniseries, but I don't think I really fell for Anne until I discovered the books for myself in seventh grade (way later than all of my friends) and devoured them and anything else by L.M. Montgomery that I could get my hands on. I almost feel sure that the Anne series (eight books in total) taught me what a delight books are and birthed in me my life-long love of reading (and set in motion a voracious appetite for books that for years seemed to border on addiction and was quite insatiable).

The TV miniseries, which first aired in 1985, with a sequel airing in 1987, gave the world the faces of Anne and Gilbert. Anne (Ann with an E, mind you) was an instant bosom friend, a kindred spirit. I admired her spunk, her fierce spirit, her resolve. Anne was plain; I was plain. Anne's value lay not in her looks, but in her sharp mind, independent spirit, and all out quirkiness. She was an inspiration to me, and someone that I aspired to be like.

Gilbert, portrayed by actor Jonathan Crombie, wasn't exactly my type. It might have been that first impression, after all, when he teases my dear Anne-girl, provoking her by calling her 'Carrots,' so that she slams her slate over his head. His curly hair and freckles, coupled with that know-it-all smile, didn't engender him to me. I think his best trait, and the one that won me over, however, was his simple and life-long love of Anne. He had the good sense to love that irrepressible girl, and it's that-- that devotion that made me love him. Anne is truly a snot to him throughout much of the story, but Gilbert is always there, always loving her, always her friend. Their love story, and that culminating scene when Anne realizes that she loves him, is just as good as anything I have read in Jane Austen. Unlike Mr. Darcy, who seems to unwittingly fall for Eliza Bennett, Gilbert had the good sense to love poor orphan Anne from the first moment he laid eyes on her. And therein lies his virtue-- his wisdom in loving, and his faithfulness throughout.

Those books, and those characters on TV, definitively shaped who I am today. Anne showed me that it was okay to be a woman who loved knowledge. She showed me that I could be independent, and loved for who I am, and not what I look like. Her relationship with Gilbert showed me what it was like to be loved by a man-- to be utterly devoted to, because you are loved in your essence-- and what to long for and to seek out.

We lost Jonathan Crombie last week. Fans worldwide mourn his death as we reflect upon what his character meant to us. It's a strange thing, because it feels like we lost Gilbert himself. I'm thankful that in 2015, when it seems like the celebrities who grab the spotlight are more known for being infamous than for any actual skill or virtue, that a man who humbly graced the screen thirty years ago as one of literature's most beloved characters is remembered and mourned. Goodbye Gilbert Blythe, dear Jonathan Crombie. Thank you for your contribution to this world and what you impressed upon us. It's said that nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes. You may have escaped the latter this year, but not the former. May God rest your soul. Jonathan Crombie October 12, 1966- April 15, 2015

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