maanantai 30. marraskuuta 2015

They like Anne of Green Gables: Lena Dunham and Caitlin Moran (and Frances Mayes)

A while ago I read two similar books, one by Lena "Girls" Dunham and the other by the British journalist/feminist Caitlin Moran. The funny thing is that I read these books in a desperate effort to escape my dissertation when I was in the midst of final editing frenzy. Turns out you can't escape Montgomery even when you try. (*Later edit: Turns out too that it wasn't the final editing frenzy, oh no, it was only the pre-pre-final phase.)

Dunham's book is called Not That Kind of Girl (2014) and Moran's novel How to Build a Girl (2014). The titles alone should show the close kinship of these two books, but if you want more proof, the 29-year-old Dunham hasn't hidden the fact that the 40-year-old Moran is her idol and vice versa.

But what struck me as most interesting when reading the books (at least when up to my eyeballs in Montgomery) was that both Dunham and Moran mention Anne of Green Gables as an important inspiration - Dunham in her essay-type memoir, Moran in her autobiographical novel about Johanna Morrigan, the 14-year-old overweight girl who wants to become and eventually becomes a music journalist at the fresh age of 17.

For Johanna, Anne of Green Gables is all about Gilbert. Why? Because Gilbert is hot. And because Gilbert is a safe object of sexual fantasies. Johanna even writes her diary as imaginary letters to Gilbert:
"Today, like every other day, I’m going to go to bed still a fat virgin who writes her diary in a series of imaginary letters to sexy Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables." (27)
Moran herself says in this Q and A with The Guardian that "I owe everything I am to Jo March in Little Women and Anne Shirley in Anne Of Green Gables." That's girl power for you, and Moran's words attest to the wide influence Montgomery and Alcott have had on authors, women and young girls around the world.

So, in the early draft of this post, I had written: "Dunham echoes Moran in her memoir..." Turns out, she doesn't! Because for the life of me I cannot find a reference to Anne in Dunham's book even though I re-read it and skimmed through it a few times. 

Now, I'm sure she mentions Anne, but maybe it was in an interview I read at the same time I was reading the book for the first time (in Finnish). Or maybe the Finnish translation has added a reference to Anne? Or maybe my mind mixed up Moran's book with Dunham's book? Or maybe I shouldn't read books during the night and then write blog posts about them.

Whatever the case, Dunham's book has its merits even if it doesn't mention Anne, and it continues on the path that Anne Shirley partly helped open up. It is anarchistic in its open discussion of the female body and the insecurities and oddities and lovelinesses of a teenage girl. And at least I can verify that Dunham did read Anne of Green Gables, according to Strand's webpage ("Lena Dunham's Bookshelf"), so maybe this blog post is not as random as I thought.

And here's a lovely side note to wrap up

Anne has also influenced Frances Mayes, the author of Under the Tuscan Sun. When I was reading her Southern memoir, Under Magnolia (2014), I had to smile. Apparently it doesn't matter whether you're a pre-teen in a cultural Soho/New York home (like Dunham), a working-class teenager in the UK (like Johanna), or come from an upper-class but dysfunctional Southern home (like Mayes), you still read Anne of Green Gables when growing up. 

"All there was to do besides play on the beach was to swim at the Cloister pool and order sandwiches and ginger ale out under the umbrellas. The pages of Anne of Green Gables and Freddy Goes to Florida stuck together in the humidity and developed small green speckles." (Under Magnolia, 78)

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