The permanent and official blog of the University of Leicester's School of Museum Studies PhD student conferences and special events.

27 March 2012

A Seventh Sounding: Real and Imagined Past at Green Gables Heritage Place

At Green Gables Heritage Place, Canada, visitors are encouraged to engage to reimagine the history of Lucy Maud Montgomery and her home there, through the fictional world of Anne of Green Gables. It is this world into which our friend, Sarah Conrad Gothie, leads us.

For many visitors, the experience of visiting Green Gables is a once in a lifetime pilgrimage. Green Gables has not only interpretive trails detailing the influence the site and it's nature had upon Montgomery, but also recreations of the rooms and situations from the Green Gables novel.

It's a site which has been romanticised, in fiction and in film. And Sarah wants to think about it as a recollective utopia, in which we can think about individual pasts, and create communal utopias, based, to some extent, on these idealised fictions. Literary tourists are often motivated by the desire to experience an idealised place gleaned from fiction - often that of their childhood. These places can be seen as arcadias, 'pleasant paradises' as Nobleman said, places of rest where nothing bad will happen.

I wonder if these unspoiled places are really utopia. I'd question the notion that the stable, unchanging qualities of arcadia are paradisaical, for I wonder whether this makes them, in fact, places of stasis and cessation - perhaps a similar concern as was raised by David Francis. Certainly they are wonderful places in which to relax, to contemplate, to pause and rest - but they cannot, I would argue, be places we can stay. For to do so would be to die. Utopia is ephemeral.

Sarah also notes how sites such as Green Gables are circumscribed. Anything which has happened within them has already happened within the confines of the book, and those who visit the site know already that the worst thing to happen is the death of the father figure, Matthew.

But there has to be more to a utopia than a geographical location. Green Gables Heritage Place is a good place to think about individual and collective pasts. Recollective means recall, but also suggests communal practice.

Visitors to such sites fall along a spectrum from Fans, driven by their personal identities as readers to Rans, who are more random. Fans have a passion for a particular text, and their visit may result from a desire to remember the story and engage with others with the same interests. In the case of Green Gables, many visitors reimagine themselves as Anne, with the distinctive red braids and hat. There is, here, a nostalgia for childhood, which is facilitated by their engagement with a favorite childhood story and character. They are validated in this practice by others whom are doing the same. The visitor cards reveal a great deal of information about the personal, and public, collective experiences which these engender.

But the resonance of these recollective utopias are dependent upon the visitor's personal ties. There are those visitors, more random, who experience this particular engagement with a site much less. Some, indeed, may find it 'creepy'. It certainly seems to be a very different experience for men than for women - the books are far more popular for the latter.

Who, then, is permitted to access these recollective utopias? Not everyone, it seems. For it is about a particular, personal, resonant engagement with a site. Utopias can be, as we have seen above, private, personal, spaces of the mind - places which we do not always share.

In relation to both this paper, and to many of the papers in this section, we might raise the question of historical integrity. How can 'truth' be found in situations where the power lies, in part, in fiction and in that which cannot be articulated? I don't know the answer to this - perhaps you can debate the point below.

1 comment:

  1. Kate Middleton apparently was very excited about her honeymoon to Canada specifically for the chance to go to Green Gables. /Royal trivia.