Faith, Fiction, and Fame: Sowing Seeds in Danny and Anne of Green Gables

Faith, Fiction, and Fame: Sowing Seeds in Danny and Anne of Green Gables

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Title: Faith, Fiction, and Fame: Sowing Seeds in Danny and Anne of Green Gables
Author: Patchell, Kathleen M.
Abstract: In 1908, two Canadian women published first novels that became instant best-sellers. Nellie McClung's Sowing Seeds in Danny initially outsold Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, but by 1965 McClung's book had largely disappeared from Canadian consciousness. The popularity of Anne, on the other hand, has continued to the present, and Anne has received far more academic and critical attention, especially since 1985. It is only recently that Anne of Green Gables has been criticized for its ideology in the same manner as Sowing Seeds in Danny. The initial question that inspired this dissertation was why Sowing Seeds in Danny disappeared from public and critical awareness while Anne of Green Gables continued to sell well to the present day and to garner critical and popular attention into the twenty-first century. In light of the fact that both books have in recent years come under condemnation and stand charged with maternal feminism, imperial motherhood, eugenics, and racism, one must ask further why this has now happened to both Danny and Anne. What has changed? The hypothesis of the dissertation is that Danny's relatively speedy disappearance was partly due to a shift in Canadians' religious worldview over the twentieth century as church attendance and biblical literacy gradually declined. McClung's rhetorical strategies look back to the dominant Protestantism of the nineteenth century, in contrast to Montgomery's, which look forward to the twentieth-century's waning of religious faith. Although there is enough Christianity in Montgomery's novel to have made it acceptable to her largely Christian reading public at the beginning of the century, its presentation is subtle enough that it does not disturb or baffle a twenty-first-century reader in the way McClung's does. McClung's novel is so forthright in its presentation of Christianity, with its use of nineteenth-century tropes and conventions and with its moralising didacticism, that the delightful aspects of the novel were soon lost to an increasingly secular reading public. Likewise, the recent critical challenges to both novels spring from a worldview at odds with the predominantly Christian worldview of 1908. The goal of the dissertation has been to read Sowing Seeds in Danny and Anne of Green Gables within the religious contexts of a 1908 reader in order to avoid an unquestioning twenty-first-century censure of these novels, and to ascertain the reasons for their divergent popularity and recent critical condemnation.
Date: 2011
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/19811
Supervisor: Fiamengo, Janice
Faculty: arts
Degree: phd

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