Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1), by Lucy Maud Montgomery
First, a Little Background
I resisted reading "Anne of Green Gables" until sometime in my young adulthood. Somehow I had it in my mind that it was just a couple hundred pages of sweetness and light and cutesiness. One day, my mom made me sit down and watch the Kevin Sullivan production with Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst, and Richard Farnsworth, which ran in the United States on the PBS "WonderWorks" series. I fell in love.
Far from being too sweet and cutesy, Anne has a lot of imagination and creativity, much of which leads to one scrape or another. She also has a temper, which gets her into trouble more than once. Later I bought the series on VHS and introduced my husband to it. He had been avoiding the series for the same reason I was and was just as captivated. It was at his suggestion that we went on to introduce a number of our other friends to the series.
I began this reread a littler earlier than I had planned because my father was watching the 1934 movie on Turner Classic Movies and the actress who played Anne (who took "Anne Shirley" as a stage name) had a surprisingly deep voice for a 16-year-old girl, much less one playing an 11-year-old girl. Megan Follows was 17 when she starred in the Sullivan production, but I felt that Follows was more convincing as an 11-year-old than Shirley was. They also changed the storyline to make the movie fit into 78 minutes and ended up changing some characters and removing some of my favorite parts. As a result, I just had to reread the books. I am not sure where my copies of the books are. I think they may be stuffed behind the pieces of a dismantled twin bed in my garage. Fortunately, all of the books in the series except for "Anne of Windy Poplars" and "Anne of Ingleside" are all in the public domain in the United States, so I found a website that had the book and began reading.
"Anne of Green Gables" is the tale of Anne Shirley, who was born in Nova Scotia, Canada and orphaned at an early age. She was passed from one family to another until the family she was placed with could no longer keep her and surrendered her to an orphanage. Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, brother and sister, wanted a boy to help them on their farm on Prince Edward Island, so they sent word to someone who was going to an orphanage to bring back a boy for them. By the time the message got to the neighbor, however, the message was mangled and the person brought a girl instead: Anne.
After considering passing her off to the Blewett family, Matthew and Marilla ended up keeping Anne. This book traces Anne's history from her arrival at Matthew and Marilla's at the age of 11 until she graduates from Queen's Academy (which is the rough equivalent of a high school) at the age of 16. Through the book, Anne makes friends, and enemies, and enemies who become friends later. Best of all are the adventures. Anne is imaginative, impulsive and curious and this leads her into adventures both benign and dangerous.
I noticed a couple of new things that I had never noticed on my previous readings. One was that we don't hear Anne's name until the third chapter. The first chapter is devoted to Rachel Lynde's musings over Matthew's trip to the train station. The second chapter is devoted to Matthew's reactions to Anne. Not until Marilla asks her name in Chapter Three does Anne tell us her name.
Another thing I noticed was that Montgomery definitely was not a devotee of the "show don't tell" school of writing. We cover Anne's life from the age of 11 until 16 in this relatively short book. As a result, we spend a lot of time hearing Anne tell about things that happened (such as the Sunday-school picnic and her first day of school) rather than watching them ourselves. I can see how Anne's relating these events helps to develop Anne as a character, but it was odd to not see such important events firsthand.
There was also an odd sort of racism in the book (and as I am discovering as I read further, the other books) that, as with much literature from before the 1960s makes this book mildly problematic. There are references to "London street Arabs" which were children, not necessarily of middle-eastern descent, who committed crimes such as picking pockets. Another time, Anne clarifies that a peddler who swindled her was not Italian, but was "a German Jew." These moments of racism are few, but they serve to remind the reader that "Anne of Green Gables" is not only set in the past, but is also an artifact of history.
Despite its weaknesses, though, I love this book and intend to reread it many more times in the future, just as I have in the past.