Anne of Green Gables

I first became acquainted with Anne of Green Gables through the well-known production that aired on PBS in the mid-80s, and I was enthralled. I had never heard of the books before, though they were hailed as classic children’s literature. My education had been enormously deficient! So I bought and read an eight-book set by Lucy Maud Montgomery containing the six Anne books as well as Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside.

I decided to revisit Anne for the 5 Minutes For Books Classics Bookclub and the L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge hosted by Carrie at Reading to Know.   L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

If you’re not familiar with Anne, she is an orphan girl who has been passed around to different homes primarily as a “mother’s helper” until she ends up in an orphanage at the age of 12. She’s bright and witty but spends a great majority of her time daydreaming, imagining, and reading, perhaps as a way to escape and survive her circumstances. Unmarried brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert of Prince Edward Island in Canada decide to send for a boy from an orphanage to help around the place as they are getting on in years, but through a miscommunication they receive…Anne. Soft-spoken and tender-hearted Matthew thinks perhaps they can do her some good and should keep her. Practical Marilla disagrees, but when she finds out Anne will be sent as a helper to a cheerless, “fractious” woman with a houseful of children rather than back to the orphanage, she can’t in good conscience hand her over, so she sets about to “raise” Anne properly.

But this description fails to capture the charm of the books and the characters:

Anne, who emphasizes that it is “Anne with an e” because the “e” adds so much character and interest, who is so sensitive about her red hair that she breaks a slate over a boy’s head for teasing her about it and tries to dye it “raven black” only to end up with it green, who longs for “a bosom friend,” who has never tasted ice cream and thrills at the possibility, who aches over beauty, renaming a tree-lined avenue the “White Way of Delight” and renames Barry’s Pond “The Lake of Shining Waters,” who gets into a series of amusing “scrapes, who, though she has “tragical” days in “the depths of despair,” usually finds the bright side of any situation.

No-nonsense Marilla, who has a kind heart and a latent sense of humor despite her strictness and sparseness, who at first is driven to distraction by Anne’s chattering but later grows to like it, who has trouble expressing her feelings.

Matthew, who never went courting because it would have involved having to talk to a woman, who decides to buy Anne a pretty dress for a ball and gets so flustered he buys a garden rake (in the dead of winter) and 20 lbs. of brown sugar before he can work up the nerve to ask for what he wants. The segments where he buys the dress, fashionable with “puffed sleeves” which Marilla thinks are so silly but which Anne has been longing for, and Anne’s running out to the barn to thank him with love and devotion shining from her eyes are some of the sweetest.

Then there is Anne’s “bosom friend” Diana; the mischievous Gilbert Blythe, whom Anne steels herself against because he teased her, but of whom she is ever aware despite her sworn animosity; busybody Rachel Lynde who does have some redeeming features nonetheless; beloved teacher Miss Stacey, who helps her give form and definition and restraint to her imagination in her writing and who nurtures her love of learning.

Though the story is not a “Christian” one per se, it is a God-fearing moral one, and though it is called children’s literature, many adults love it just as well. My reading this time was somewhat overshadowed at first by Carrie’s discovery that Lucy Maud Montgomery’s life was not characterized by the brightness, warmth, and charm of her writing, and that she in fact ended her own life. But after a while the joy of the story took over, and I could take joy in the joy she evidently found in writing. I wondered if her imagination, like Anne’s, was an outlet, an escape for whatever darkness she experienced, and I only wish she had anchored her hope in the One who could deliver her.

Just after reading the book I watched the first DVD again. Though there are a few differences from the book, overall it is remarkably true to it, and it is visually stunning as well. The scenery, the clothing, the hats, the wallpaper, the decorations — all are a feast for the eyes. And Hagood Hardy’s soundtrack is gorgeous: I kept hearing Anne’s theme even as I was reading the book. (The second film was wonderful as well, though it strayed a little farther from the books, but the third one about Anne’s first years of marriage was a complete rewrite for which Anne fans have yet to forgive Kevin Sullivan. I don’t think he quite realized just what it was about the Anne stories that captivated and charmed viewers. But we’ll save that discussion for another time.)

My first time through the books was a joyful journey of discovery: this reading of Anne was a visit with old friends. I predicted that this would make me want to reread the whole series again, and it has, but I am going to have to hold off for now and get back to that stack of new books that I need to clear off my shelves. But later in the year, perhaps this summer, I hope to visit with Anne again and continue on through the series.

(This post will also be linked to Semicolon’s Saturday Review of Books.)

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24 thoughts on “Anne of Green Gables

  1. Barbara, I love Anne and all her literary flourishes in her speech! I am more of a purist when it comes to movies that are based on books…. I liked the first DVD a lot, and decided not to watch the rest because of the deviation.

  2. Oh *sigh*…now I have to go read them again! You did a splendid job of summarizing it up…I miss Matthew…*sigh*…it’s like a real death to me…*sniff, sniff*
    Okay…stop laughing…it’s all your fault…bringing out the corny literary nut in me! 🙂

  3. I know it (about hearing the soundtrack)! I can almost quote the whole book now though but I read it with Megan Follows’ voice inflections. I can’t help it. She IS Anne to me. The movie follows the book amazingly well, in my opinion.

    And yes, it IS hard to reconcile the fact that Montgomery led such an unhappy life while writing about such genuinely happy things. I like that you point out that it is not a Christian classic, but a God-fearing and moral one.

    Loved your review! I’m so glad you read it. I just finished it for myself (again) the other day and now I’m onto Anne of Avonlea. I’m definitely not going to finish the series during this challenge, but I’d like to read it through again this year.

  4. I have loved Anne of Green Gables since my Grandma gave me her old, torn copy when I was 11 years old! I really enjoyed your descriptions, Barbara – they’re just right. My daughter is reading the series now, and we’ve recently watched all 3 movies – when I once again fumed that Kevin Sullivan had the nerve to ruin Anne in that third one! LOL And I still cry every time I read or watch the scene where Matthew dies – I loved him!

  5. We LOVE Anne of Green Gables!
    When my oldest was in 8th grade, we did a whole unit study on Anne of GG. Obviously heavy on literature, everything except math was incorporated into it. We both loved it. Of course that was after we read the book series and watched the movies.
    Now, Grace is interested and I’ll probably start her on the books within the next couple of years.
    Classics for sure!

  6. I thought that I had read Anne Of Green Gables… but now from your description, I know that I haven’t. I think I did SEE a portion of one of the movies when I was substituting at the High School once… but I rarely paid attention to the movies the kids were supposed to watch. I usually had a book I was reading! I’m going to have to get a copy now… I think I would like these books!

  7. I too was introduced to Anne through the PBS specials and watched them everytime they came on. During those times we didn’t have dvds where we could watch it whenever we wanted. My daughter is now almost eleven and has read and watched the first in the Green Gables installment and she loves it also. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this beloved character.
    Blessings
    diane

  8. I love this reading challenge! Since I had recently read Anne 1-3, I started with Windy Poplars. It was good, but I loved Anne’s House of Dreams. I just started Ingleside.

    Like you, I have been thinking about how Maud took her own life…and paying attention when the books speak of death…but still trying to enjoy…and successful.

  9. This was an excellent review! I, too, appreciate the God-fearing quality of the story — and gentle, kind Matthew is my favorite character (and I think that might be another blog post for me coming up!).

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  12. I really must re-read these books soon. It’s been too many years since my last visit to PEI. While I’ve enjoyed every Montgomery book I’ve read, the Anne series is still the shining star. And I didn’t even know there was a third film. Well, I’ll just stick with the books. Thanks for the review.

  13. I love Anne very much. She’s really affecting me, the way she talked, the way she imagined. sometimes I imitate her in some way. It’s a lot of fun.
    Aniway, I knew bout Anne when I see the list of 100 best novel all time. yes, Anne of GG deserve to be there. She’s extraordinary!

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  18. I just finished reading all 9 books for the 3rd time last night (I do reread them every 3 years or so). I also was brought into Anne’s world via the Kevin Sullivan movies and I agree. The first movie is wonderfully faithful to the book and a feat both in front of the cameras and behind the cameras. The second movie is great too, even though it is a mesh of different Anne books. But the third movie is just awful. I guess the very closest it comes to the Anne books is maybe it comes close to what may have happened between Faith and Jem… but on the whole it is just awful. What a shame too, because I don’t think Megan Follows will ever bathe in that river again.

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