Anne of Green Gables

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.

Comments

  1. says

    I simply had to comment when I saw the subject of the review. Anne of Green Gables continues to be one of my favourite books of all times. Whenever the movies are playing on television, I stop what I am doing to watch them. They are great with the exception of the last one; it was a bit over the top. I remember when the first movie came out and watching it as a family and how Anne made my Dad giggle. This story is absolutely timeless and I know that generations of kids will grow up reading Montgomery.

  2. says

    You know, the whole Anne series (along with other Montgomery works) are now available on Project Gutenberg (http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/author?name=Montgomery%2C%20L.%20M.%20(Lucy%20Maud)%2C%201874-1942) and GirlEbooks (http://girlebooks.com/ebook-catalog/lucy-maud-montgomery/).

    Sorry about the links….I always forget the code to hyperlink.

    I prefer GirlEbooks simply because they do a much better job with the formatting – makes it easier to read that anything Gutenburg produces.

  3. Scarlett says

    Yeah, I’ve gone through 3-4 copies in my life – it’s one of those books, like GWtW, that I read over and over until the book gets damaged (my current copy of GWtW is sans cover). Every time I start to read it, I get sucked back in. I never thought about its enduring popularity in terms of how realistic Anne is but it must be something more than simple childhood reminisence that makes me pick it up over and over. I certainly don’t read A Little Princess and Secret Garden as much. (In fact, I think I have my original copies of both somewhere.)

  4. sandra says

    I seem to recall from my children book study days that the publishers pressured her into having Gilbert and Anne together. Memory can be faulty, but.

    • Unwisely says

      My vague recollection is that she didn’t intend to make a series, but got pushed into it. So I imagine she hadn’t really thought it through.

      I, too, love the books and reread them (through the marriage, they kinda suck after that, to the point where I’ve never managed to read the Rilla books). My big pet peeve is the part where Gil and Anne get back together and Marilla mentions that she and Gilbert’s father used to be an item. Every single time I get to that part, it bothers me. It seems so, so ridiculous and pasted in for no reason and….argh, why??

      • Scarlett says

        Yeah, I wasn’t fussed on it post-AotI. It makes sense that she didn’t mean for it to be a series; from memory, AoGG feels a lot more self-contained than the rest of the books. I’ve read the whole series through, but only ever managed up to AotI a second or third time. (And only AoGG like, ten.)

        I’d forgoten the ‘Gilbert’s father and I used to be engaged’ bit; maybe I repressed it. What book does it happen in? At the time, my ten-year-old self found it quite romantic, but looking back, I think it’s tacky for the same reason I found it romantic; it felt intended to be a ‘don’t make the same mistake I did’ cautionary tale.

  5. Anemone says

    I was never really an Anne fan myself – she’s too conventional for me. I prefer heroines who like having green hair, and who don’t feel any particular desire to be sensible. But I can see how she’s popular given how strong a character she is. She wants what she wants and that’s what makes a character go.

  6. Maria says

    The thing about her being sensible is, she was an orphan who knew that she couldn’t be flighty and get adopted, and that she’d need to take care of herself. I liked how practical she was. <3

  7. Anemone says

    My mind is all tangled and I’m wishing I hadn’t commented, because I don’t want to derail.

    The thing about being sensible is that needing to be sensible and being able to be sensible are two different things. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t be on welfare right now.

    Anne is more like Jessica Fletcher than Jane Eyre. There are a lot more Jessica Fletchers in the world than there are Jane Eyres, so naturally Anne is popular. But I think the book is unnecessarily prejudiced against creative types.

    I did a breakdown of the story a few years ago when looking for Canadian classics to adapt to the big screen, and at first I thought there wasn’t any traditional story structure, because the crisis about being adopted is resolved in the first quarter of the book. When I took a closer look, I realized that the real crisis is that Anne has somehow bought into the romantic image of the suffering artist, and needs to discard it because it doesn’t suit her. Her parents were suffering artist types and they died young, so obviously being a creative type is bad in her world. Anne has lovely creative-orange hair, but wants to be auburn. And when she stops trying to be someone else, it grows in auburn.

    I got the impression that LMM was prejudiced against creative types for some reason, and that she would disapprove of someone like me who can’t “auburn” myself like I’m supposed to. Which finally explained to me why I never really liked the books. Which goes to show how important it is to have a wide variety of authors, so that we have a variety of role models with respect to sex, age, race, ability, and personality.

    I do wish, though, that LMM had written the story in such a way that you could be a creative type and still feel welcome in Anne’s sensible world.

    • says

      I’m glad you did comment, because that’s a perspective we may not have gotten otherwise, and it’s very interesting to me. I can’t remember the books – read ‘em, forgot ‘em.

      What you’re describing sounds like a meta-message – the author telegraphing her own views on a subject via what happens to the characters who agree/disagree with her views. If it was intentional, that’s particularly interesting, because one would expect LMM to think of *herself* as creative. Did she think she was an exception to the rule because she was also sensible, or did she hate herself for being creative? Or some third option that’s not coming to me?

      • Anemone says

        Well, technically speaking, everyone is creative. I once read a biography of Angela Lansbury in which the author went on and on about how creative Lansbury is, and she’s not the sort of person one thinks of as a particularly creative person, even with her job, because of how conventional she is as a person.

        But there’s creative and then there’s creative. I took a divergent thinking test once, with questions like how many uses for a brick and what would happen if TV were banned, and carefully scored myself at somewhere between 200 and 210. I was trying to be careful, because I didn’t want to overscore myself. Then I checked the test results, and the highest category started at 30! I have the kind of mind that spills over constantly, and had I not kept quiet in school, the teachers would have hated me. LMM was a teacher (I think) and I expect she thought overly-creative types were a menace, on purpose. I don’t think she would have liked Pippi Longstocking and other rebels.

        Maybe unconventional is a better word than creative, but Anne’s issues were about her imagination versus reality, so I don’t know.

        • Maria says

          I think she was actually differentiating between posers and creative types — one’s the pose of a suffering artist, and one’s someone who actually sits down and writes and is less invested in having other people recognize whether they’re “creative” or not.

        • Scarlett says

          Yeah, she was a teacher, or journo (maybe I’m confusing her with Margaret Mitchell!) – I just remember she had one of those careers that was heavy in the reading-and-writing skills.

      • orthent says

        Commenting on a moldy old thread just to say that if LMM were actually prejudiced against creative types, or had hated herself for her own creativity, she’d never have written a trilogy about a young writer coming of age–Emily of New Moon. (And I do mean that it’s a trilogy about a young woman learning to be a professional writer–not someone who’s going to give up her girlish dreams of accomplishment for the right man. Although Emily narrowly avoids doing just that.) On the other hand, I’m sure she did believe that you needed to ground your creativity in practical good sense.

        And while I don’t really think you can make an equation of “unconventional” and “creative,” Emily definitely takes great pleasure in being unconventional–and her friend Ilse even more so! Quite a few of LMM’s later heroines defy convention in one way or another–in The Blue Castle, the protagonist leaves home to care for a friend who has become a social outcast because she had a child while unmarried. Of course, that attitude is a little less remarkable given that The Blue Castle and the Emily books were written in the 1920s and 30s.

  8. Sarah says

    I don’t know if the US versions of the Anne series are very different, but though Anne and Gilbert get engaged at the end of Anne of the Island, they don’t get married until the start of Anne’s House of Dreams (the fifth book), which is about them as newly weds, not their children. Anne of Ingleside is a more of a family book but still focuses on Anne, and then Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside are about their children.

    • Scarlett says

      Yeah, they get engaged at the end of the third book, Anne of the Island, and are married by the fifth, Anne’s House of Dreams, or get married early on. I found out recently that the fourth book, Anne of Windy Willows, was actually written like ten years after AHoD and the original series went straight from AotI to AHoD. Which makes sense, because from memory, AoWW felt very different to the other books. But that’s going on a very patchy memory, because I didn’t like any of the books past the third – possibly because by the time I got around to reading AoWW I was about 18 and into more racy stuff – so the first three are the only ones I’ve ready several times.

  9. Anemone says

    Maria, I hadn’t thought of that, but it makes sense. (ran out of nesting) But at the same time it did feel like prejudice against people whose minds are actually different. If perhaps only by not acknowledging the existence of any other groups.

    I remember an Angela Brazil schoolgirl book from the same period that featured a young musically gifted girl whose parents had been wild-living artists who came to an early end. Her lesson was to learn to apply herself and not waste the gift. Same period, completely different lesson.

    I can see why Anne is more popular, though.

    • Maria says

      I think that’s actually one of the reasons why Anne spoke to me — it’s hard to get your creativity acknowledged when you don’t “look” creative or like a “serious artiste” — thin, white, generally male, and angsty. What Anne did for me was not only show that that wasn’t true (even when her hair is auburn she’s still a writer!) but she also linked her creative passion to a commitment to social justice by being a teacher.

      I loved this and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the same reason — being a hero is serious business, it takes a lot of work, and being true to yourself (whether you are a turtle with ninja powers or an orphan with a talent for writing) looks different for everyone. :D

      Have you read Ronia the Robber’s Daughter? THAT is one untamed, creative YA heroine.

      • Anemone says

        It never even occurred to me to look at Anne this way. Interesting what you learn when you talk about it with people who come at it from a different angle. Cool.

  10. minerva says

    Loved the whole Anne series as a kid… practically a compulsory part of Canadian identity! :)

    But looking back now I am disturbed by the erasing of the lesbian potential in the books – i.e. Anne & Dianna’s passionate friendship, complete with kisses and declarations of love, which Anne knows damn well will be destroyed when Diana gets engaged. As a historian of the period I find it fascinating that this example of a common form of female relationships in the 19thC – soon to be wiped out by the rise of psychoanalysis and the ‘dangerous lesbian’ through the 1910s/1920s – is writ plain and also without excuses.

    But I should not say ‘erasure,’ at least on the author’s part, because I think LMM’s commentary there is intentional. There’s more than one nexus of female relationships in the books that are shown to us, then we are shown what conventions block them.

    • Scarlett says

      Minerva, I’ve never thought about it like that, and now I want to go and see how much slash fiction there is out there :p But I DO remember being a little surprised by how much blatant, unapologetic affection there was between Anne and Diana. As I recall, all the girls were quite affectionate with each other, hugging and kissing all the time. You don’t see a lot of that in ANY fiction these days without the implication of lesbianism.

  11. jennygadget says

    re: the whole orange hair and being creative bit (sorry, the nesting seemes to have maxed out) I always saw it as mostly learning to take pride in yourself versus trying to conform.

    When Anne goes on about her looks, including her red hair, it’s almost always a repetition of what others have said to her or in relation to the looks of various fictional characters. (Making, it seems to me now that I’m older, the fact that fictional Anne had red hair to be rather meta as well.)

    There is also a tension between her dreams and desire for adventure and beauty and the Cuthbert’s (er, rather Marilla’s) practicality and disdain of vanity. While I can’t say there aren’t parts that I would change – or at least like to see done differently elsewhere – I do think that there is a certain amount of resolution in Marilla learning to appreciate Anne’s originality and frivolity and Anne learning to go with what she loves and not with what others want her to love.* It’s hampered by the fact that – in order to be palatable for the audience of the time (and probably fit the author’s wishes) – Anne becomes more conventional in many ways. However, I do think there is a small bit of triumph of Anne’s originality in the way that, for example, her dramatic recitation of a Romantic poem is greeted with accolades. She may be conventionaly dressed and in a conventional setting while doing it, but it’s still exactly the sort of thing that used to get her into trouble – in fact, it’s the very thing that got her sent back to the orphanage that sent her to the Cuthberts in the first place. (Which seems to me to be a very missed opportunity for a discussion about class, but alas.)

    *For some reason the parts that stood out to me the most from the books were always the parts like when Anne is talking about how she thinks diamonds pale in comparison to opals or how she never understood the idea of going to a church and bowing one’s head to pray, that looking up at the sky in an open field felt more appropriate to her. It seems to me that she learns to bow her head most of the time, but still hold onto her opinions and find places to gaze upwards when she can as well.

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