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Anne of Green Gables | Chapter 28 : An Unfortunate Lily Maid | Summary

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Summary

Anne and her friends have gathered at the Barrys' pond to act out the story of Elaine, "The Lily Maid of Astolat," a poem by Tennyson they studied at school during the winter. It's a highly romantic poem, but no one wants to play Elaine—Anne because she thinks red hair is unsuitable for a heroine, and the other girls because they're afraid: acting the part requires floating across the pond on a barge.

Finally, Anne agrees to take the part. She lies down on the bottom of the rowboat and closes her eyes while her friends drape the "barge" in black. A yellow scarf is arranged over Anne's still form, and she holds an iris because no lilies were available. Quoting from the poem, the girls give Anne her send-off, then run down to the lower headland, where they'll pretend to be King Arthur and his two companions in Camelot when the rowboat fetches up against the bank.

As Anne floats along, her eyes closed, she suddenly becomes aware the boat has sprung a bad leak. The oars are back at the landing, and the boat will sink long before it reaches the girls awaiting it. Anne gives "one gasping little scream," then gathers her wits. She knows there's only one way she can save herself: if the boat floats close enough to one of the bridge piles, maybe she can grab the pile and pull herself out. The boat does bump up against a pile, and Anne manages to haul herself out. She clings to the pile as the boat floats away. Now what will she do? Meanwhile the other girls have seen the boat sink and assume Anne is inside. Shrieking, they rush off for help.

Anne waits and waits, her arms becoming tired and sore. Just as she thinks she can't stand the pain any longer, Gilbert Blythe rows up to the bridge. Quickly he rows over to Anne. Miserable and furious, Anne allows him to help her into the boat. As briefly as possible, she tells him what has happened and asks him to row her to the landing. There she hops out onshore.

But Gilbert stops her: "Anne, look here ... Can't we be good friends?" He's sorry he made fun of her hair so long ago. Besides he thinks her hair is pretty now. Anne's heart gives "a quick, queer little beat." But two years ago Gilbert humiliated her in front of the whole school. She's still too bitter to forgive him. Coldly and emphatically she tells him no. Now Gilbert angrily responds, "I'll never ask you to be friends again, Anne Shirley." He jumps back into his skiff, grabs the oars, and rows away as fast as he can. Head high, Anne stalks away.

Very soon she meets Diana and Jane, who are frantic with relief at the sight of her. When Anne explains what has happened, Jane coos at how romantic the scene must have been. She's certain Anne will "speak to him after this." "Of course I won't," retorts Anne. She never wants to hear the word romantic again. And she has a feeling they won't be allowed to row on the pond from now on.

Analysis

It seems Anne can't swim, for she never considers that option. The other girls also must be unable to swim since they rush off without wondering whether they might be able to rescue her themselves. It shows how much freedom children are allowed at this period. It is hard to imagine modern parents allowing their children near water if none of them could swim!

Anne ends up in a perilous position, and it's genuinely romantic that Gilbert shows up at just the right moment. At least it would be romantic if Anne could see it that way. Her rage isn't the only funny part in the chapter. Montgomery perfectly captures the way girls talk when they're playing a "pretending" game. There's much more narration than action, and the girls weave passages from "Elaine" into their dialogue to hilarious effect: for example, "Now she's all ready," said Jane. "We must kiss her quiet brows."

At this stage in their lives, Anne and the other girls are enthralled with melodrama—readers will recall the kinds of things they write in their story club. Dramatic accounts of romance and rescue are all they read, and "Elaine" is exactly the kind of poem they love. From Tennyson's Idylls of the King it is the story of an innocent young girl who falls in love with Lancelot and dies of grief when he doesn't love her in return. Her body is draped in black, placed on a barge, and sent off on the river, eventually floating to a spot where King Arthur, Lancelot, and Queen Guinevere find it. Poor Anne! If Lancelot could have rescued her, everything would have been perfect. Having the rescuer be Gilbert ruins everything.

It's noteworthy Anne says she's finished with romance in this chapter. She has seen for herself the gap between reality and her ideas of romance. Perhaps she and her friends will play "pretending" games a little longer, but the world of imaginative play is almost over for Anne. Two chapters after this one, she'll be a young woman who would never think of drifting away in a boat while pretending to be dead.

As a side note, Montgomery never explains why the pond has a current. Exactly where Anne is being swept away is not clear. But Anne's beloved brooks would be too shallow for this adventure, and Montgomery hasn't written a river into the story—so the Barrys' pond it must be.

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