Friday, June 29, 2007

Warning: Tear-Jerker Zone

I have developed a bit of a reputation in my Children’s Literature classes. It is a reputation for crying. For the most part, my students are tolerant of this habit of mine, though they do occasionally burst out laughing when they see me starting to film up. Occasionally they drop by my office or leave notes on their exam papers reassuring me that they too were moved to tears by the books on the course.

My other literature classes do not seem to produce the same effect. While many of the poems and novels deal with death and suffering, they do so in a way that provokes anger or nausea rather than tears. Children’s novels, on the other hand, seem to specialize in a kind of lyrical sentiment that I am powerless to resist.

I am able to control my tears when I am talking about the books – but when I open them up to read key quotations, there are certain passages that never leave me dry-eyed. Here are some of them.

1. When I read this one aloud I can usually keep the tears from actually spilling over, but it always chokes me up:

He was a little boy, and she was grown up. She huddled by the fire not daring to move, helpless and guilty, a big woman.

"Hullo, Wendy," he said, not noticing any difference, for he was thinking chiefly of himself; and in the dim light her white dress might have been the nightgown in which he had seen her first.

"Hullo, Peter," she replied faintly, squeezing herself as small as possible. Something inside her was crying, "Woman, woman, let go of me."


2. Nostalgia for lost childhood is always good for a tear or two, even in the context of a happy ending like this one:

Afterwards, Aunt Gwen tried to describe to her husband that second parting between them. ‘He ran up to her, and they hugged each other as if they had known each other for years and years, instead of only having met for the first time this morning. There was something else, too, Alan, although I know you’ll say it sounds even more absurd … Of course, Mrs Bartholomew’s such a shrunken little old woman, she’s hardly bigger than Tom, anyway: but, you know, he put his arms right round her and he hugged her goodbye as if she were a little girl.’


3. Okay, those two were just a warm-up. Now I’m pulling out the big guns.

Next day, as the Ferris wheel was being taken apart and the race horses were being loaded into vans and the entertainers were packing up their belongings and driving away in their trailers, Charlotte died. The Fair Grounds were soon deserted. The sheds and buildings were empty and forlorn. The field was littered with bottles and trash. Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all. No one was with her when she died.


(I have to say, reading these aloud in class is bad, but writing them out is much worse.)

4. Now here’s the one that really wrecks me, every time:

"Oh, Anne, I know I’ve been kind of strict and harsh with you maybe – but you mustn’t think I didn’t love you as well as Matthew did, for all that. I want to tell you now when I can. It’s never been easy for me to say things out of my heart, but at times like this it’s easier. I love you as dear as if you were my own flesh and blood and you’ve been my joy and comfort ever since you came to Green Gables.

At this point, I usually fling the book and down and dismiss the class for a break to give me time to collect myself before we move on to our next topic (Mrs. Rachel Lynde – friend or foe?). What I cannot do at all is read the following quotation from the previous chapter:

"Well now, I’d rather have you than a dozen boys, Anne," said Matthew patting her hand. "Just mind you that – rather than a dozen boys. Well now, I guess it wasn’t a boy that took the Avery scholarship, was it? It was a girl – my girl – my girl that I’m proud of."


Okay, seriously - am I the only one crying here?

42 comments:

painted maypole said...

sniffling....
I bet your students love you for being able to show emotion over these books. You will be the professor they think of years from now, as they read these words with their own children. Being able to cry in front of others is a gift.

Crunchy Carpets said...

you are a cruel cruel woman....sniffle...

All those books...sigh

Julie Pippert said...

I think...in context it gets to me.

But those are some of my favorites. :)

These days---oy---the baby (who is not at all a baby but almost 3) likes best the show Babies: Special Delivery. Yes I let her watch it. She reminds me at about 4 p.m. every day, "Mama, Born Babies on! Mama, turn on Born Babies show!"

That show makes me cry. First, the people usually have had a Hard Time and when they tear up holding their new baby I do too.

One day one of the babies did not make it (left in a note at the end of the show) and I had to swallow that down. Did not want to tell the kids.

Julie Pippert said...

Oh right got distracted. Sorry for two comments.

I think it is lovely you let the students see how moved you are. It must make them think more deeply and consider more carefully what they are reading.

Make you an even better teacher. :)

slouching mom said...

What about The Velveteen Rabbit, woman?

I can't even look at the cover without crying!

I agree about Charlotte's Web, and Anne of Green Gables, too.

NotSoSage said...

Oh, yes, those two passages from Anne...they get me every time.

But you've renewed my faith in faculty, after posting about the cold-heartedness of academia, I now know that you cry in your classes, too. Woo hoo!

Luisa Perkins said...

Okay, I am ridiculous. I braced myself, and still lost out to tears.

Good grief, I can't even get through Little Bear's Visit (you know, the chapter where Mother Bear tells her pet robin to fly away and be free) without breaking down.

When I read Charlotte's Web out loud to 5-year-old Christian, and I sobbed through the entire passage you quoted, he patted me on the back and said, "It's okay, Mama. It's only a story."

Then there's our Christmas Eve tradition of me reading The Little Match Girl out loud and having to hand the book to Patrick towards the end because ONCE AGAIN I have fallen apart.

And then when Jack dies in the Little House books, and...and...

All that to say--you're not alone.

I agree with the others; it makes you a much better teacher that you are willing to be that engaged and vulnerable in your students' presence.

ewe are here said...

I always loved my Children's Literature class when I was at University, one of my favorites.

And, sigh, Anne of Green Gables books, old favorites. And I always tear up when Charlotte dies.

sob

Mary G said...

Yep, eyes prickling, tears starting to ooze. And don't even mention when Beth dies in 'Little Women'. I love you for it, and I am loving the commenters who cry too. I can cry over poetry as well, though. How about 'Home they bore her warrior, dead'? And movies. One of the reasons I married was that my husband cries in sad movies at the same places that I do.

Mouse said...

Tearing up, not crying only because I was ready. I remember when I was in 5th grade and our teacher showed us the cartoon of "Charlotte's Web." I cried at the end and was teased mercilessly by my peers.

Blog Antagonist said...

Oh thank goodness. I thought I was the only one. My kids think I am nuts. All of your picks have me sniffling. Also, Black Beauty, A Little Princess, Where the Red Fern Grows and Heidi. I'm sure there are more.

I think it would be great fun to teach a course on children's literature. I think it's a shamefully overlooked genre.

Beck said...

For PETE'S SAKE. I got to THREE. And then I was sitting her with tears running down my face and by the time you got to "my girl that I'm proud of" I was sobbing.
Cut that out.
My children - and I've mentioned this before, but it's still funny - do a mean, blubbering imitation of me reading Charlotte's Web.

Glory Laine said...

It really doesn't get any better than Anne with an E. The movies are great too except do not waist your time on the last one. It's really disapointing.

cinnamon gurl said...

Oh Jeez. I've never actually read LM Montgomery (I know -- shock horror) but I LOVED the Kevin Sullvan movies of Ann of Green Gables. Loved them.

And those two scenes always reduce me to a blubbering mess. (Unless my memory is failing me, I'm pretty sure those scenes were pretty faithful to your passages...)

Major Bedhead said...

I get weepy over Charlotte and Anne, too. When Beth dies in Little Women, I fall apart, even though I've read the book eleven thousand times. There are tons of things that get to me that way. I can't even sing You Are My Sunshine without getting a little weepy.

It's nice to know I'm not alone.

flutter said...

OK now I am sobbing.

bubandpie said...

The version of Little Women I use for the course only goes up to the end of the first book, when Meg gets engaged to Mr. Brooke. So we don't get as far as Beth's death - though there is one passage that foreshadows it with talk of the cricket by the hearth that one day stops chirping... That one always gets me teary too.

Suz said...

I won't be myself the day that books can't touch me to tears- I can't even think of Where the Red Fern Grows without tearing up a little bit.

thirtysomething said...

oohhhh--Anne of Green Gables. I could cry now. sigh. I am so in love with children's lit, I can't wait for my own children to come of age a bit more so they can "enjoy" it with me...great post.

marian said...

The actor who plays Matthew Cuthbert in the Disney dramatic versions of Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea delivers those scenes between he and Anne with dear, precious perfection, doesn't he?

Coincidentally, I was just thinking about those the other day. I was saddened to realize that I may not want to share those treasured movies with my orphaned daughter, for fear that the characterizations of orphans set forth at the outset will lodge somewhere deep, next to the questions and hurt in her heart, despite all explanations to the contrary. Sigh.

Aimee said...

Is it just me, or does anyone else cry when the girls have to get their hair cut off? Jo March, Mary Ingalls, Anne (even though she brought it on herself by dying it) - I read these and my throat still tightens. Funnily enough, I've never been that attached to my own hair - I get it cut all the time. Maybe it's just because they were so fond of it (sometimes secretly fond of it), that it just seems so sad.

Oh, and that passage between Anne and Matthew . . . well, I can hardly type now. Tissues, need more tissues.

Lawyer Mama said...

My god, woman! Well, at least you put a warning on this one. I waited until I got home to read it.

But yes, I'm balling like a baby over here. Everything makes me cry these days, but those passages were particularly bad.

I now want to go reread Anne of Green Gables in the worst way.

bubandpie said...

Marian - You've probably got a point. I was just thinking about this today - a woman in one of my graduate classes earnestly assured me that as an adoptee she had been traumatized by Anne of Green Gables. I was a bit skeptical about her response, since it seems clear to me that the anti-adoption thinking in the book is shown to be wrongheaded, and everybody eventually learns the error of their ways. But Marilla's words are revealing: "as dear as if you were my own flesh and blood" - that's the gold standard that Anne reaches only at the end of the novel.

Aimee - I remember reading an excerpt from Mommie Dearest (or being told about it) in which Joan Crawford forces her daughter to cut her hair off because she was jealous of her beauty. I was so deeply appalled, not so much by the evil mother aspect - more at just the loss of that beautiful hair.

Omaha Mama said...

The crying is worse, the tears seem bigger, since I have become a mother.

I want to take your children's lit course.

Jill said...

When we first started dating, Eric was initially horrified when I made him sit through a viewing of Anne of Green Gables on video (the one with Meghan Fellows and Richard Farnsworth). Guess which one of us was crying when Matthew died? Hint: wasn't me.

Alpha DogMa said...

Cold and stoic. Until Matthew and Anne. Gets me every time.

Jenifer said...

Same as Alpha DogMa, all fine until Anne. Now I want to read it so bad...

I think I would enjoy your course very much.

Kit said...

Oh that bit from Tom's Midnight Garden always gets me too. It's the fickleness of time and its unbridgeable chasm that does it. The same goes for Peter Pan.

Have you read A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley? It causes me that same aching pang.

nowheymama said...

*sniff*

It's um, the hormones. Yeah, that's it.

I agree with luisa perkins, too. Jack dying in the Little House books gets me every time.

Kyla said...

Can't let you have 29 comments, now can we. *lol*

I haven't actually read any of these, except Charlotte...it kills me in context.

a happier girl said...

Charlotte's Web is so great. The one that makes me sob like a baby though is Where the Red Fern Grows. Oh, my word, the dog saving the little boy kills me every time.

thirtysomething said...

hi bubandpie. I am trying to tag you for a meme, that I was tagged by paintedmaypole..come to my blog and check it out...i haven't quite got the links at the bottom figured out yet though, still working on it.

Marymurtz said...

YOU NEED TO POST A WARNING next time you are going to pull a Matthew Cuthbert quote like that. I loved that series and have read that book about a hundred times. Every time, his death comes as a terrible blow and that passage about "my girl I'm proud of" destroys me every time.

bubandpie said...

Mary - YOU WERE WARNED!!! (Read the title!) ;)

PunditMom said...

Charlotte gets me every time.

Mardougrrl said...

I defy anyone to get through those Anne quotes without crying. Or Charlotte's Web.

*sniff*

Terri B. said...

Charlotte's Web ... just don't get me started!

It's been a long time, but I remember bawling my eyes out over "Beautiful Joe" and "Black Beauty."

kittenpie said...

Nope. I've become a sucker. Not sure how that happened... I swear I used to be a cynic, not that long ago.

edj said...

What is it with children's books? I'm the same way. There are many more examples. I'm just a mess.
I remember reading "Charlotte's Web" to Elliot when he was 5...he cried when Charlotte died, and I felt so proud that he was so affected by literature! :) Now he'd die rather than cry at books--he's 11.

Carrien said...

I love you Forever, has me blubbing every single time I read it to my kids.

When I was a girl I read everything I could get my hands on by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

What is that first book? I'm fascinated.

bubandpie said...

The first two are Peter Pan and Tom's Midnight Garden. (Always glad to find another LMM fan!)

Susanne said...

Sniff!

I'm constantly amazed at what tears me up since I had a child. Before I was nearly unmovable in that regard. And now? A mere gesture or word can send me brimming over with tears.

I'd better buy some water-proof mascara.