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?