March 03, 2013

Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter

The popular story of orphaned Pollyanna and the 'glad game'. As soon as Pollyanna arrives in Beldingsville to live with her strict and dutiful maiden aunt, she begins to brighten up everybody's life. The 'glad game' she plays, of finding a silver lining in every cloud, transforms the sick, the lonely and the plain miserable - until one day something so terrible happens that even Pollyanna doesn't know how to feel glad about it. (Source: Goodreads)

My Thoughts
This was the second time that I'd read this book and I enjoyed it. I re-read it for my Classics Club challenge but also because this is the book that the Kindred Spirits book club on Goodreads, which I am member of, was reading in February. The Kindred Spirits decided to read this book, because there seem to be many similarities between the plot of L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables and that of Eleanor H. Porter's Pollyanna.

As Pollyanna wasn't an undiscovered terrain for me, I knew what to expect. But this time, I wanted to read it also for the sake of drawing a comparison between the two above-mentioned novels. This is why I'm laying the emphasis of my review on the differences and similarities between Anne of Green Gables and Pollyanna.

The next part of the review may contain spoilers; so, proceed with caution!

To begin with, Pollyanna is an orphan like Anne is; but, unlike Anne, she has a relative who is still alive: her Aunt Polly. Aunt Polly is the sister of Pollyanna's late mother and she is a very dutiful person who couldn't bear the thought of giving her niece free for adoption not because she is fond of her, but because she considers it her duty to give Pollyanna a "home". Thus, Aunt Polly opens her house for Pollyanna, but she doesn't want to open her heart for the little girl. What is more, she does not even seem to fulfil her self-imposed duty inasmuch as she puts Pollyanna in the shabbiest room of the house and forbids Pollyanna to talk about her own father, simply because she (Aunt Polly) hated him. Aunt Polly is proud and cold-hearted to the core. She only begins to change when a tragedy strikes, which is somewhat disappointing, especially because there seems to be no plausible reason why Aunt Polly is so filled with bitterness. It was, ultimately, her own pride that drove the love of her life away.

By contrast, Marilla Cuthbert is no relative of Anne, which is why she has no moral obligation whatsoever to provide Anne with a home. However, Marilla, who is a kind-hearted and caring woman, does not want to build walls between herself and Anne and provides her with the necessary care, environment, cloths, and attention, even if she doesn't understand half of what Anne is chattering about. Hence, the change that Marilla's character is undergoing in the course of Anne of Green Gables is not radical; Anne's presence only helps to bring out the best in Marilla. Correspondingly, even though I've sympathised with Marilla almost right from the beginning of AoGG, it took me a long time to warm to Aunt Polly.

Second, both protagonists show a remarkable talent for forming friendships and handling relationships. They’re similarly talkative; they both wear their hearts on their sleeves, but also have a sympathetic ear for other people with problems. It is no wonder that Anne and Pollyanna become very popular in their respective domiciles. But, there’s a huge difference between the narrative structure of the two novels: Whereas Montgomery meticulously developed every detail in and around Avonlea and Green Gables and we get acquainted with many a kindred spirits, Porter’s Pollyanna is lacking in detail. There are many stories and characters that we only learn about towards the end of the novel, and even then only indirectly. When Pollyanna falls ill, many people of Beldingsville come to visit her and tell their stories to Aunt Polly. But, these retellings of “sub-plots” are just unsatisfactory, in my opinion.

This is especially true of the love story between Aunt Polly and Dr Chilton. Do you remember the love story of Mr Irving and Ms Lavender Lewis in Anne of Avonlea? They had had some kind of disagreement earlier, which is why Ms Lavender never got married and Mr Irving had a family with someone else. But then, in Anne of Avonlea, thank to good fortune and Mr Irving’s son (a pupil of Anne) they reconcile and get married. Aunt Polly and Dr Chilton’s love story bears similarities to the afore-mentioned story, but the sub-plot of their reconciliation and subsequent marriage tends to be shallow and underdeveloped. It all happens in about half an hour and during the half of a chapter.

Finally, there seems to be a big difference between how Anne and Pollyanna go through life. Even though Anne is generally happy and positive, she is sometimes in the "depths of despair". She is very human. By contrast, there are times when Pollyanna seems almost angelic. Of course, when Pollyanna fells seriously ill, she too loses her positive attitude for a while. I believe, however, that the main difference between the two novels arises from the different aims their authors pursued. True faith and religious duty seem to play a central role in Pollyanna, which is why it qualifies as a religious fiction, whereas they have only a secondary function in Anne of Green Gables.

Due to the above-explained shortcomings of Pollyanna, I was somewhat unsure as to how to rate this book (with three or four cherries), but I finally decided to give it four cherries, because I enjoyed reading it and I will probably re-read it later or read its sequel—Pollyanna Grows Up. In sum, I recommend Pollyanna to kindred spirits who love religious fictions and who are looking for an easy and fast read and doesn’t mind when a novel’s plot is less complex. Pollyanna is a charming and sympathetic character, and if you’re not as highly critical as me, you might like Aunt Polly too.

Favourite Quotes
... the game was to just find something about everything to be glad about—no matter what 'twas ... (p. 31) 
You breathe all the time you're asleep, but you aren't living. I mean living—doing the things you want to do: playing outdoors, reading (to myself, of course), climbing hills, talking to Mr. Tom in the garden, and Nancy, and finding out all about the houses and the people and everything everywhere all through the perfectly lovely streets I came through yesterday. That's what I call living, Aunt Polly. Just breathing isn't living! (p. 43)
... there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it. (p. 47) 
It's funny how dogs and cats know the insides of folks better than other folks do, isn't it? (p. 98)
... if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it—SOME. (p. 161)
What men and women need is encouragement. Their natural resisting powers should be strengthened, not weakened.... Instead of always harping on a man's faults, tell him of his virtues. (p. 163)
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, ye righteous, and shout for joy all ye that are upright in heart. (Psalm 32:11) (p. 164)

Rating:
Title: Pollyanna
Author: Eleanor H. Porter
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Release Date: 2011
Format: Hardcover
Length: 227 Pages
ISBN: 978-0192732842
Language: English
Source: Library

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