The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for lack of charm


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Charm, lack of

Cure: Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Those who lack charm may succeed by bullishness and naked ambition, but they will never be sought out as companions for picnics and other perambulations. Charmers make the rest of us feel even more intelligent, more fascinating, and more insightful than themselves, and awaken our delight in the world around us. They go places that the charmless can't, getting what they want simply because others find it is a joy to please them. Charm can't be taught, but it can be absorbed, either by close proximity to those magnetic men and women of our acquaintance, or from the world of literature.

Start with Anne of Green Gables – a turn-of-the-century novel that has bewitched millions of all ages. Eleven-year-old Anne, an unwanted orphan, arrives brimming with hope and optimism at the farm of elderly siblings, Matthew and Marilla. The pair need help on their farm, and want to adopt. When it turns out that they had expected a boy, and intend to send her back to the wretched 'asylum', all seems lost.

But Anne is not one to dwell on the downsides of life, and nevertheless gets on with enjoying Green Gables while she can, beginning by giving everything a new name, including herself (Cordelia, which she finds more romantic). Barry's Pond becomes the Lake of Shining Waters and the geranium on the window sill is christened Bonny. To the incredulity of all, the siblings are so charmed by Anne and her ability to transform their workaday surroundings into somewhere quite magical, that they soon decide they can't live without her.

Anne's conviction that the world is rapturously beautiful beguiles the most resolutely disagreeable folk. Start appreciating – and exalting in – the tiniest drop of colour or mystery, and you'll find yourself exerting a powerful new pull on those around you.

'The Novel Cure, An A-Z of Literary Remedies' (Canongate, £17.99);