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‘The Best Age’
Sorrows of Childhood #3. Anne of Green Gables
“Published in 1908. Autobiographical novel by the author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, being adopted from an orphanage in Canada, she describes being orphaned essentially three times before going to the orphanage. The book mentions Barnardo Boys, a program of selling kidnapped English boys into slavery in Canada. I created a pdf of an article I found on it.
“I did some more reading and found that Anne of Green Gables is not really autobiographical. I don't think it takes away from the point but I'm sorry for giving you bad info. The author lost her mother in infancy and went to live with her grandparents but she wasn't the orphan of the story.
“Quotes from the book follow.”

[Annotations by James are in brackets.]
"Matthew went to Bright River. We're getting a little boy from an orphan asylum in Nova Scotia and he's coming on the train to-night."
[He has no name. This is impersonal. When we are told adults were kept in an asylum it is understood to be horrific. But for children it was supposed to be a blissful experience.]
Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert of all people adopting a boy!
"Mrs. Alexander Spencer was up here one day before Christmas and she said she was going to get a little girl from the asylum over in Hopetown in the spring."
[Hired help was scarce well after the Plantation Era due to the fact that many young men worked in family concerns, went to the city to work in industry, and that convicts and orphans performed forced labor. At whatever point an economy starts using forced unfree labor, then wages stagnate, as they did between 1550 and 1800, with a shilling a day being standard for 250 years. With stagnant wages and the inability for many laborers to find work due to forced labor, then the labor pool fails to expand.]
"You know how desperate hard it's got to be to get hired help. There's never anybody to be had but those stupid, half-grown French boys; and as soon as you do get one broke into your ways and taught something he's up and off to the lobster canneries or the states. At first Matthew suggested getting a Barnado boy. But I said 'no' flat to that. 'They may be all right - I'm not saying they're not—but no London street Arabs for me,' I said."
[The speaker is displeased with the notion of having a “broke” boy for only a year or two before he is free to go on his own. In Plantation Era he would not be free to go at adulthood, because you had Indians and gaolers to hunt him down and bring him back. But once that system was broken down and only criminals were attended by armed adult male force providers as they worked on chain gangs, then a husband and wife could no longer reasonably enslave a young man. This exposes the entire concept of child bondage and adoption as a force consideration. For this reason, it had been tradition for hundreds of years to rent a child to a master from 8-12, and then sell him or her to serve until ages 18 for girls and 21 for boys, as the girls would be ripe incubators for more free labor and sold as wives. Children acquired before the age of 8, when they were regarded as useful farm hands, would serve until 31. The Barrnado concern was so sleazy and represents the longest child bondage thread in Western History and will be explored in its own section.]
"...we sent word by Richard Spencer's folks at Carmody to bring us a smart, likely boy of about ten or eleven. We decided that would be the best age- old enough to be of some use in doing chores right off and young enough to be trained up proper. We mean to give him a good home and schooling."
[These are not overtly cruel people and seem to care that their boy has good living conditions. Likely was an old term that was found in many runaway advertisements of the 1700s, and indicates a boy who was likely to be useful and easily trained for work.]
"Why it was only last week I read in the paper how a man and his wife up west of the Island took a boy out of an orphan asylum and he set fire to the house at night—set it on purpose, Marilla—and nearly burnt them to a crisp in their beds."
[Hundreds of such reports from all over the slave states of the United States, of negro slaves starting fires and poisoning their masters and mistresses are on record. These slaves shared an unfree bound relationship with the targets of their wrath with these orphans who had been abducted and sold. In those times, all such behavior was regarded as demonstrative of bad character and justifying the plight of the enslaved. But today, only the European orphans are understood to have been “bad” and their adult African counterparts sainted and good.]
"Only don't say I didn't warn you if he burns Green Gables down or puts strychnine in the well—I heard of a case over in New Brunswick where an orphan asylum child did that and the whole family died in fearful agonies. Only, it was a girl in that instance."
"Maybe they were out of the boys of the brand you wanted." - [because they got a girl instead of a boy]
[“Out of the boys of the brand you wanted?” That such dialogue would be placed in a book of 1808, indicates that it was common usage, that branding with the iron had evolved into stereotyping by age, ethnicity and the trafficking agency.]
"I've never belonged to anybody not really. But the asylum was the worst. I've only been in it four months, but that was enough. I don't suppose you ever were an orphan in an asylum, so you can't possibly understand what it is like. It's worse than anything you could imagine."
[I coached a young man who was the athletic director at a juvenile detention facility in Maryland around 2012. He assured me that the 50 adult guards abused many of the 500 youth inmates, all accept a Salvadoran gang banger. More treatment of children in the current setting will be part of this series going forward. Suffice it to say, that if strapping teens capable of violent crimes are routinely raped by prison guards, it is only logical that little children of both sexes will be abused all the more.]
"I guess that’s why I’m so thin—I am dreadful thin, ain’t I? There isn’t a pick on my bones. I do love to imagine I’m nice and plump, with dimples in my elbows."
[The beauty standard in the entirety of pre-20th century Western Civilization was to be pale—as only servants slaved in the sun, as per the Song of Solomon—and to be plump, as the underfed waifs who toiled namelessly and now forgotten for the pale plump elite were as thin as concentration camp inmates.]
"She died of fever when I was just three months old. ... And father died four days afterwards from fever too."
"Finally Mrs. Thomas said she’d take me, though she was poor and had a drunken husband... I helped look after the Thomas children—there were four of them younger than me—and I can tell you they took a lot of looking after. Then Mr. Thomas was killed falling under a train and his mother offered to take Mrs. Thomas and the children, but she didn’t want me.
[Such necessary “disposal” or “assignment” of children due to the mortality of farm and industrial work and life before antibiotics, developed a systemic response that was practical and put in place means by which orphaned children could be sustained until adulthood. This, however, invited a legion of grifters, kidnappers, slavers, masters and judges to expand this tragic necessity into a massive business. A good analogy would be the traffic in illegal drugs going on side-by-side with the dispensing of legal drugs. Through all of this, the inability of the child to defend himself from adult abductors and masters was the key to their large scale trafficking.]
Then Mrs. Hammond from up the river came down and said she’d take me, seeing I was handy with children, and I went up the river to live with her in a little clearing among the stumps. It was a very lonesome place. I’m sure I could never have lived there if I hadn’t had an imagination. Mr. Hammond worked a little sawmill up there, and Mrs. Hammond had eight children....then Mr. Hammond died and Mrs. Hammond broke up housekeeping. She divided her children among her relatives and went to the States. I had to go to the asylum at Hopeton, because nobody would take me. They didn’t want me at the asylum, either; they said they were over-crowded as it was.
[As bad as the speaker’s plight was, the children given to relatives often fared as badly. It was common for step-sisters and step-mothers to sell those who fell into their care. Likewise, the orphanages would need to sell off children to pay expenses.]
“Were those women—Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Hammond—good to you?” asked Marilla, looking at Anne out of the corner of her eye. “O-o-o-h,” faltered Anne. Her sensitive little face suddenly flushed scarlet and embarrassment sat on her brow. “Oh, they meant to be—I know they meant to be just as good and kind as possible"
[Anne seems afraid to be found judging an adult and obscures whatever might have befallen her at the hands of a cruel or uncaring mistress.]
Mrs. Peter Blewett was up here yesterday, and she was saying to me how much she wished she’d sent by me for a little girl to help her. Mrs. Peter has a large family, you know, and she finds it hard to get help.
discharged servant girls told fearsome tales of her temper and stinginess,
I’ll expect you to earn your keep, and no mistake about that. Yes, I suppose I might as well take her off your hands, Miss Cuthbert.
[There is nothing in the extant biographies or fictions of the 1700s, 1800s and early 1900s I have read, to indicate that the author of Anne of Green Gables in any way exaggerated the plight of the orphan. Rather, she seems to be charting a middle road for her character, rather than gilding it or delving into horror.]
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sidvicJan 13, 2021

i weep
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