When Marilla Cuthbert and her brother, Matthew, decide to adopt a child from a distant orphanage, they don’t get quite what they bargained for. The child who awaits them at the tiny Bright River train station is not the strapping young boy they’d imagined–someone to help Matthew work the fields of their small farm–but rather a freckle-faced, redheaded girl named Anne (with an e, if you please).
Matthew and Marilla may not be sure about Anne, but Anne takes one look at Prince Edward Island’s red clay roads and the Cuthberts’ snug white farmhouse with its distinctive green gables and decides that she’s home at last. But will she be able to convince Marilla and Matthew to let her stay?
Armed with only a battered carpetbag and a boundless imagination, Anne charms her way into the Cuthberts’ hearts–and into the hearts of readers as well. She truly is, in the words of Mark Twain, “the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.”
Full confession: I love the Anne series. With family in Nova Scotia, I spent each summer in the back seat of our car, passing the long journey back to the Maritimes by reading everything I could find. My mother, in a brilliant bit of wisdom, purchased all the books in Halifax, and each summer they were packed as faithfully as my bathing suit and pillow (hey, it was a looooong drive). That meant that I re-read the entire series each year, at least until I reached the age of summer jobs, when family trips were less likely to happen. Lindsey at Reeder Reads also shares my love of Anne, and, after a conversation we had over the holidays, decided to launch a 2015 read along.
Each generation of each country has their own classics. For my Australian friends, the adventures of Bunyip Bluegum and his friends in The Magic Pudding are well-treasured, while my British friends can recount Enid Blyton and Nesbit’s Railway Children from memory. If you are Canadian – and especially if you are female – you have likely read the Anne of Green Gables series at some point in your life. Our Anne-with-an-“e” is iconic in our literary landscape, The Anne books have sold over 50 million copies and have been translated into 20 languages, and have been turned into a stage play and a long-running TV series beloved by millions. The question remains: does Anne stand up to the test of time?
Re-reading Anne of Green Gables was like falling into a warm and soothing bath. Each time I re-read the books I discover something new, and this time was no exception. My first and immediate response had to do with the use of language in the books. Anne has always been particularly loquacious, and I can see how her vocabulary, while wonderful, is a little unsettling for an eleven year old on a station bench if you are reading her for the first time! It is very much a book of its time, and there are certain phrases that made me stop for a minute. Social conventions were different, and while that doesn’t excuse some of the phrasing and more… um … derogatory
Still, I was struck anew by just how beautiful Montgomery’s prose is throughout the text, particularly her descriptive imagery
In fact, there were several places I found I was tweeting quotes from AoGG, simply because I had forgotten how delightful certain phrases and paragraphs really were.
I had also forgotten just how much Anne matures in book one. While her language skills are definitely beyond her years, she is, at the start of the book, a very lonely little girl, who hopes that Green Gables will be hers. It is over the course of the book that Anne slowly comes into her own, secure in the knowledge that Green Gables – with Marilla and Matthew – as home. She is playful and spirited, getting into trouble like any young girl, and feeling remorse for her actions. Whether it’s almost drowning during her dramatic re-enactment, or accidentally giving alcohol to her dearest friend, Anne does know how to find trouble. Countering that, however, is an innate common sense about many things (including croup remedies and great baking), and she is more like practical Marilla than I might have otherwise noticed. By the end of the book, she is a poised young woman, smart and practical and with her own sense of style. She continues to charm everyone, but there is a hint of romance that foreshadows what is to come in further books.
There are some things that remain the same in each reading. I feel Anne’s heartbreak at being torn from her BFF Diana, her anger when Gilbert Blythe teases her, and the devastation felt when Matthew dies. Speaking of the men in Anne’s life… When you read book one and know what is to come between Anne and Gilbert, you can’t help but smile at her ability to hang on to her grudge. That’s one determined young woman, but, as Shakespeare noted, the lady doth protest too much, methinks. As for Matthew… for a man who wasn’t going to concern himself with her upbringing, he is as vital to Anne’s development as Marilla in my mind. He is her confident, her sounding board and her quiet champion, procuring the much-needed dress even as it just about paralyzes him. He is her father as much as Marilla becomes her mother, and they both adore her in their own way. I had never noticed before just how much Anne loves both of them in return; she regrets her impulsive actions because she wants Marilla and Matthew to be proud of her, and she values their opinions greatly. As a child, I don’t think the nuances of their family unit were clear to me, but as an adult, I can see how well they work well together.
I really enjoyed my re-read of book one of the series, and I’ve already plunged into book two, eager to remind myself what will happen to Anne. What about you? Was this your first time, or your tenth? Did you remember all that you thought that you did, and do you now automatically put an “e” on the end of every Ann? Leave your thoughts in the comments!