Do you ever get the feeling some of our role models are a little unattainable? Are we only instructed to focus on the perfect aspects of these exemplar human beings? Every day we are bombarded with beautiful magazine covers, great sporting achievements, powerful world leaders, and it can leave us feeling helpless. Sometimes what we need is a good example who is a little more…human. Someone with a few more faults, someone we can identify with.
I’ve been selectively rereading volumes from L M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, and taking comfort from a whole company of strong, imperfect female role models. From the busybody Mrs Rachel Lynde to the upright and sensible Marilla Cuthbert, the reliable Diana Barry to her stern yet generous Aunt Josephine, the scatty Phil to the guarded Leslie Moore, the stories burst with boldly contrasting personalities, each inspirational and flawed in their own way.
There are good men, too – Matthew and Gilbert ranking highly among them of course – but we see much less of their motivations and inner lives. Gilbert may be the Prince Charming of many AOGG fans, with his handsome looks, his charm, and his patient love of stubborn Anne, but mostly we see him through the eyes of our beloved heroine, without much insight into his own experiences.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a story of its time with a young female protagonist, it is the women who receive the most attention. There may be much to learn from this varied bunch of characters (and L M Montgomery is never short of them), but clearly, most obviously, we can learn from Anne Shirley herself. Despite her wild fancies and obsession with trees, Anne-with-an-e may be the perfect imperfect heroine.
Anne is certainly a long way from being a model woman. She makes plenty of mistakes, and often seems to cause havoc without even trying – including in her early days at Green Gables, making Diana tipsy with currant wine instead of raspberry cordial, and managing to dye her own hair green. Yet Anne is sincere, caring and compassionate, loved by many around her – a real role model for us.
Not all the characters bring such delight to my heart. Naturally, there are several ladies readers would rather overlook – Pyes and Pringles spring to mind – but even here we can learn from Anne’s treatment of them how to skilfully negotiate similar characters in real life. Anne might flit around in a fantasy world of blossom and imagination, but she has her share of griefs and sorrows too – orphaned in childhood, deprived of love, coping with deep personal loss – and still faces life with an admirable resilience and joy.
It is refreshing to look up to someone who is inspiring and yet reassuringly human. We need heroes and heroines who are aware of their failings but not held back by them, who bless those around them by virtue of being themselves, and who are optimistic with each new opportunity.
As Anne reflects, “tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet”.