Marilla Reveals A Softer Side In Episode 4 Of Anne With An E
With 'An Inward Treasure Born,' a catastrophe causes Marilla to lean into her maternal role at last.
Though emotional repression is as much a fixture of the late 1800s as corsets and gas lamps, part of what makes Anne Shirley-Cuthbert so charming is that she doesn't adhere to societal norms. She wears her heart on her sleeve. You don't have to wonder what Anne is feeling; she'll tell you in no uncertain terms. Everyone else in Avonlea, however, is as buttoned-up as can be.
In the wake of a violent outburst in which she hit her classmate, Gilbert, across the face with a slate, Anne has decided not to return to school, and Marilla and Matthew are indulging her. That is, at least until Anne nearly burns the house down while playing pretend. Then Marilla lays down the law, insisting that Anne return to school the next day.
Anne, unsurprisingly, isn't too keen on being told what to do. For the next two days, she pretends to go to school, while really sitting in a shed in the woods, talking to pinecones (which is such an Anne Shirley move). She's busted when Diana and Ruby stop by Green Gables and ask Marilla if Anne is ever coming back to school.
Marilla's solution to this act of truancy is to call in the local minister. But the minister's advice isn't exactly the beacon of rationality she's hoping for. His grand suggestion is to take Anne out of school permanently and teach her how to keep a home, so that she can be prepared to become a wife. Marilla, who is definitely a secret feminist, is deeply troubled by this advice, while Anne just seems perplexed that anyone could ever imagine her getting married.
Later that night, alarm bells awaken Anne and the Cuthberts. A fire has broken out at Ruby's house and they all race to help put it out. Anne, ever the smarty pants, assesses the situation quickly, realizing that the doors and windows in the house should be closed to slow the fire. Instead of making this suggestion to an adult, Anne runs into the burning building on her own. After several tense minutes of Anne scurrying through the smoke-filled rooms, she emerges outside, triumphant, having slowed the fire's progress.
Once the fire's out, it's decided that, much to her disgust, Ruby will stay with the Cuthberts while her family's house is repaired. Anne and Ruby spend the next week together and become genuine friends. They even form a story writing club with Diana.
On her last night at Green Gables, Ruby says how much she'll miss Anne, since they don't see each other in school anymore. This realization strikes a chord and leads to a beautiful scene between Anne and Marilla, in which the show's stoic matriarch finally lets her softer side show.
Anne tells Marilla that maybe, now that she has two friends, school wouldn't be so bad, and that to give up on the idea of any future occupation besides matrimony wouldn't leave much to the imagination. Marilla is visibly relieved that Anne has come to this conclusion on her own. She tells Anne that the minister's suggestion is old-fashioned and that Anne should be open to exploring lots of different options because, in Marilla's day, a woman couldn't choose her fate.
Though Marilla doesn't like to call things by inaccurate names, she is Anne's mother, and this is the first we've seen her accept the role and act accordingly. Up until this moment, Marilla has been the stern disciplinarian, leaving the gentler parenting to her brother. But since the softer moments are the heart of this show, it's a relief, at last, to see Marilla relaxing her Victorian sense of propriety so she can get in on them.