Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908. It was an immediate success, and continues to be often read–and filmed–in our day. The author was Canadian L. M. Montgomery (b. Nov. 30, 1874–d. Apr. 24, 1942). Today, by interesting coincidence, is the birthday of Lucy Maud Montgomery. I didn’t plan it that way, when I decided to write about her book. So happy birthday, L. M. Montgomery. I hope you are resting in peace.
The character of Anne Shirley is likely to keep the book popular for many years to come. She is a very interesting young heroine, intelligent, sensitive, passionate, “with beauty-loving eyes,” with a loving heart but imperfect in her behavior, and an orphan searching for a home where she is wanted, needed, and loved. I think we all are looking for home. We may not be orphans, but very few of us (none of us?) have the nurturing families our human nature needs and wants. Anne, in a sense, represents all of us–for we are all searching for home. Augustine said our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Anne has a restless heart, and wants not to be an orphan any longer. It doesn’t come easy for her, to find that home.
Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, brother and sister, are taking in an orphan boy so that he can support Matthew in the work on the farm on Prince Edward Island, Canada. Matthew drives to the train station, and gets a surprise. There, instead of a boy, is a young girl of about eleven years in an ugly dress and with “decidedly red hair.” (p.11) There has been a mistake of some sort. Matthew, a shy older man, leaves the explanation for Marilla to sort out, and drives Anne to the Cuthbert home.
She is a talkative young lady. She rattles on, with little input from Matthew. “Matthew, much to his surprise, was enjoying himself. Like most quiet folks he liked talkative people when they were willing to do the talking themselves and did not expect him to keep up his end of it.” (p. 15) L. M. Montgomery is quite capable of valuable insights.
They reach the Cuthbert home, after we have been fully introduced to Anne’s romantic nature. She guesses, correctly, which house is Green Gables. She loves it on first sight and is ‘”nearly home.”‘ (p. 21)
Not quite yet. Brisk and straightforward Marilla Cuthbert makes it clear that there has been a mistake. They were expecting a boy. Anne grasps the full meaning. ‘”You don’t want me!” she cried. “You don’t want me because I’m not a boy! I might have expected it. Nobody ever did want me. I might have known it was all too beautiful to last. I might have known nobody really did want me. Oh, what shall I do? I’m going to burst into tears!”‘ (pp. 23-24) Which is exactly what she did.
Well, all is not lost, as it turns out, but I won’t try to explain more of the details of the plot.
Matthew may be old and shy, but he understands the value of Anne, and tells Marilla, ‘”I kind of think she’s one of the sort you can do anything with if you only get her to love you.”‘ (p. 48)
Early on in the book, plain-spoken Rachel Lynde says in Anne’s presence that Anne is ‘”terrible skinny and homely,”‘ as well as freckled and redhaired (p. 64). She gets a plain-spoken response–more than she expected. Anne, trembling from head to foot, responds from her passionate, wounded heart. ‘”I hate you,” she cried in a choked voice, stamping her foot on the floor. “I hate you–I hate you–I hate you–” a louder stamp with each assertion of hatred. “How dare you call me skinny and ugly? How dare you say I’m freckled and redheaded? You are a rude, impolite, unfeeling woman!”‘ (pp. 64-65) She brings forth another paragraph of violent criticisms of Mrs. Lynde, before being banished to her room until Marilla can decide what to do about all this. The outcome is entertaining. Anne has a lot of growing up to do–but even Marilla, as upset as she is with Anne, knows that Mrs. Lynde has gone too far, and tells her so. Anne is not the only person who has some growing up to do. So does Mrs. Lynde.
Growing up is what Anne does for the rest of the book–but she never stops being her fascinating self.
The characters of Anne, Matthew, and Marilla are all portrayed consistently and well. Anne finds her home–and Matthew and Marilla are blessed as well.
Anne Shirley is a special heroine in . . . Japan? Yes, apparently there is something about her brave, feisty, independent spirit that speaks to the Japanese soul. Every year thousands of Japanese tourists show up on Prince Edward Island to see the home of Anne of Green Gables.
At least one titan of literature has been similarly enamored of Anne. According to Wikipedia, Mark Twain said that Anne was “the dearest and most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice.”
L. M. Montgomery wrote 20 novels (including a large handful more about Anne), 530 short stories, 500 poems, and 30 essays. Reading about her on Wikipedia, she seems to have had a checkered personal life. Life is difficult for most of us, and sometimes proved so for her.
Anne of Green Gables is considered a book for children. But like the best of children’s literature, adults will appreciate it as well.
Anne Shirley is very like my own Aged Parent in one department. Like my mother Anne, Anne Shirley insists upon the value of spelling Anne with an e on the end. ‘”A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished. If you’ll only call me Anne spelled with an e I shall try to reconcile myself to not being called Cordelia.”‘ (p. 25)
Anne Shirley, any of us who have read about you, Mark Twain included, will gladly call you Anne spelled with an e.