Most people–maybe everyone, but I’m leery of giving universals–enjoy when they’re reading a book and then-bam!-there’s a character with their name. There’s something legitimizing about it. As for me, I’ve had a life-long struggle with my name. My mother’s name is Dianne, which is insanely close to my own. We’ve been called by each others’ names for years, and we’re still in the middle of arguing with the post office about why they keep forwarding my mother’s mail to me in New Orleans, even though our names are spelled differently.
I was named after my mother, so it makes sense that our names are so close. But my name is also that of a Greek goddess and of a disco superstar. And of a princess. It’s not really a common name, but it’s got some things attached to it. And especially when I was young, I loved learning about people and characters who had the same name as I.
Enter Diana Barry, the “bosom friend” of Anne in Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series. She’s lively, pretty, and fiercely loyal to Anne. She also manages to get up to all sorts of trouble–generally prompted by Anne. This reminded (and still reminds) me of me in more ways than just the name. I managed, as a younger person, to get into all sorts of trouble on accident.
But Diana is, when it comes down to it, a sidekick—and an important one. She’s not as imaginative or as bright as Anne. But she is Anne’s foil in almost every sense of the word. Anne is freckled, scrawny and has bright red hair. She’s an orphan. Diana is plumpish, with dark hair, porcelain skin, and a a family that not only exists, but is often overbearing. Anne wishes for all of those things. More than anything, though, Anne wishes for a friend to confide in, a “bosom friend” who will act as a “kindred spirit,” and Diana is that friend. The two stay friend their entire lives, naming their firstborn girls after one another.
There are coded lesbian elements to their relationship, certainly. These have been picked up on by critics and readers. But perhaps part of what we’re seeing is the way we imagine girlhood and the relationships between girls. Perhaps what we’re seeing is the complexity inherent in a strong friendship, which is its own kind of attraction, its own kind of love. Either way, it’s nice to see girls who are more dramatic about supporting one another than cat-fighting.
And even though we see this as lesbian subtext now (and some of it very well may be), it’s important to remember that Montgomery writes in a different time and place, when sentimentality was more often used as a strong rhetorical device than now. There’s a queer element to the relationship, certainly. But that’s just one of the qualities that makes the books complex, the characters worthwhile, and that allows for the complexity of girls and their relationships with one another. It’s a good thing, and it’s not an argument we should try to settle in an absolute way–it’s many things at once, as is Diana Barry.