The various talk on this blog about the appeal of reformed rakes got me thinking about a chapter in one of my favorite books of all time, Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery. Anne of the Island is the third book in the “Anne of Green Gables” series and covers Anne’s college years. As the most romance-oriented of the novels, it has a lot of interesting observations on the mating dance – principally Anne’s friendship with Gilbert (midway through the novel, she rejects his proposal and they spend two years estranged while they date other people, until – of course – Gilbert contracts a life-threatening illness that forces Anne to acknowledge her true feelings for him), but also the courtship of Anne’s best friend Diana with local farmboy Fred, and Anne’s beautiful and wealthy college roommate Philippa with a poor, ugly theology student, among other stories.
Anyhow, the chapter I am referring to is called “Averil’s Atonement” and is a recounting of Anne’s attempt to write a story for publication. Anne, who has always been a whimsical dreamer, wants to write a sweeping romance and become a famous author. Her heroine is a strong-willed young lady named Averil. The hero is named Perceval Dalrymple. Need I say more?
Anne spends a few weeks slaving over the story and finally reads it to Diana. But instead of being enthralled, Diana seems disappointed.
“Why did you kill MAURICE LENNOX?” she asked reproachfully.
“He was the villain,” protested Anne. “He had to be punished.”
“I like him best of them all,” said unreasonable Diana.
“Well, he’s dead, and he’ll have to stay dead,” said Anne, rather resentfully. “If I had let him live he’d have gone on persecuting AVERIL and PERCEVAL.”
“Yes — unless you had reformed him.”
“That wouldn’t have been romantic, and, besides, it would have made the story too long.”
“Well, anyway, it’s a perfectly elegant story, Anne, and will make you famous, of that I’m sure. Have you got a title for it?”
For the record, Anne of the Island was published in 1915, and the timeframe within the book is probably late 1800s. Reformed rakes never go out of style – because they have always been in style. (Also note that Diana dutifully tells Anne what she wants to hear in order to preserve the friendship – even though Anne’s story went against what Diana saw as reality.)
The chapter continues with Anne showing her story to her neighbor, the blunt Mr. Harrison. Mr. Harrison, being a man, doesn’t mince any words and tells her the dialogue is too flowery and the setting unrealistic. Says he:
“But your folks ain’t like real folks anywhere. They talk too much and use too high-flown language. There’s one place where that DALRYMPLE chap talks even on for two pages, and never lets the girl get a word in edgewise. If he’d done that in real life she’d have pitched him.”
Unless he was a Boundless blogger!
Anne, of course, disagrees:
“I don’t believe it,” said Anne flatly. In her secret soul she thought that the beautiful, poetical things said to AVERIL would win any girl’s heart completely. Besides, it was gruesome to hear of AVERIL, the stately, queen-like AVERIL, “pitching” any one. AVERIL “declined her suitors.”
Mr. Harrison then adds the worst insult: he agrees with Diana about Maurice Lennox!
“Anyhow,” resumed the merciless Mr. Harrison, “I don’t see why MAURICE LENNOX didn’t get her. He was twice the man the other is. He did bad things, but he did them. Perceval hadn’t time for anything but mooning.”
“Mooning.” That was even worse than “pitching!”
“MAURICE LENNOX was the villain,” said Anne indignantly. “I don’t see why every one likes him better than PERCEVAL.”
“Perceval is too good. He’s aggravating. Next time you write about a hero put a little spice of human nature in him.”
“AVERIL couldn’t have married MAURICE. He was bad.”
“She’d have reformed him. You can reform a man; you can’t reform a jelly-fish, of course. Your story isn’t bad — it’s kind of interesting, I’ll admit. But you’re too young to write a story that would be worth while. Wait ten years.”
Mr. Harrison isn’t really advocating for criminality or acting like a jerk; he’s advocating for the hero showing some alpha characteristics. Anne wrote a story about a placid beta and got nowhere with two disparate audiences. Of course, what Mr. Harrison says about the possibility of reforming a rake is questionable advice, at least according to certain definitions of alpha….
(The dénouement to this story occurs three chapters later, when Anne receives a check for $25 in the mail from the Rollings Reliable Baking Powder Co., with a congratulatory letter saying that “Averil’s Atonement” will be published in several prominent newspapers and in pamphlet form for Rollings Reliable patrons. Anne is confused and then horrified when Diana reveals that she secretly submitted the story – with one small addition:
“You know the scene where Averil makes the cake? Well, I just stated that she used the Rollings Reliable in it, and that was why it turned out so well; and then, in the last paragraph, where PERCEVAL clasps AVERIL in his arms and says, `Sweetheart, the beautiful coming years will bring us the fulfilment of our home of dreams,’ I added, `in which we will never use any baking powder except Rollings Reliable.'”