I’m going to have to do my critique of Lucy Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables from memory, as I can’t find my own copy (I suspect my mum threw it out after I read it to pieces) and there’s a wait list on it at my libraries (take that, Ms. Meyer – I can’t see the Twlight saga being that popular a hundred years after publication!). But God knows, I’ve read it enough times in the last twenty years to know it.
AoGG follows the story of eleven-year-old Anne Shirley – spelled with an ‘E’ – an orphan who is adopted by brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert of Avonlea, Prince Edward Island, Canada. There’s an initial mix-up with her gender but after Matthew and Marilla accept Anne, things go smoothly. Well, as smoothly as they can, given Anne’s disposition.
Anne is a compulsive daydreamer who gets easily distracted, resulting in many a mishap – mice in the custard, dishes that slipped from her hands, burnt dinners. She has a vivid imagination, to a point she’s scared into a panic that clouds her rational judgement. She has a fiery temper, especially in regards to her despised red hair. In an arc that spans much of the first book, Gilbert Blythe, an older boy who, secure in his popularity, teases all the girls, calls her ‘carrots’. Anne then smashes her slate across his head, and holds an implacable grudge against him for several years that’s all out of proportion with the insult. At one point he saves her life, and she still isn’t grateful or gracious enough to forgive him. This isn’t a girl who gets fired up easily, this is someone who stays mad for years over a childish insult. The book ends with Anne forgiving Gilbert and the two becoming friends.
On the other hand, Anne is intelligent, fiercely loyal, hard-working and honest almost to a fault – including when it comes to her own faults. For someone prone to daydreaming, she’s remarkably level-headed in a crisis. Despite being somewhat unconventional in her thoughts and actions, Anne quickly becomes popular with most of her schoolmates for her generosity and imaginative wit, and it’s easy to see why: she’s a kind-hearted soul who never runs out of interesting things to do. She was way cooler than any of my friends growing up, and in retrospect, I think that’s because she was so flawed. Montgomery created a heroine with real flaws, not Bella-Swan-I’m-endearingly-clumsy flaws. Interestingly, Anne is remarkably strong-willed and opinionated about women being capable of doing almost as much as men can. Despite the fact the only careers available to women in the time were teaching and nursing, she still sees it as her right to pursue a career. And not in a ‘Rarw! Look at me, a woman, getting a job!’ way, either. It’s so God-given that Montgomery didn’t seem to feel the need to make an issue of it. Remember, this was a book published in the early 1900’s, before the feminist movement of the 1920’s.
If I have one gripe about the book, it’s not actually with AoGG itself but its second sequel, Anne of the Island, where she and Gilbert become engaged. (From there on, the series follows the lives of their children, most notably their youngest daughter, Rilla.) I don’t know if Montgomery always intended to have them married, or if it was something that the fans demanded because, well, you have the main female character, the main male character, ergo, they must end up together. But even that’s a small gripe compared to much of the YA fiction – and fiction in general – that has come since. Anne is unapologetically flawed and all the more relatable for it. And the fact that there is a wait list on the book a hundred years after publication says a lot about just how many people can relate to Anne even a century later.