The Book

This beloved girls' novel was written by Lucy Maud Montgomery and first published in 1908. It tells the story of Anne Shirley, an orphan who finds herself making the trip from an orphanage in Nova Scotia to a farm house owned by an elderly brother and sister, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, in the lovely town of Avonlea, Prince Edward Island.

When Anne first comes to Avonlea, she is 11 years old. This skinny, freckled redhead is much given to chatter and daydreams, and fair talks the ear off taciturn Matthew on the buggy ride from the train to home. Matthew, afraid of womenfolk, has decided that he will let Marilla tell the child that she isn't quite what they had ordered: they wanted a boy to help the aging Matthew with his farm chores. (They need an orphan boy, Marilla explains to her neighbour, the nosy Mrs. Rachel Lynde, because the "stupid, half-grown little French boys" who are all they can get for "hired help" inevitably take off for the lobster fisheries once they get them properly trained and broken in. A shocking bit of English Canadian racism that I don't remember from my obsessive childhood rereading of this book. But, as Anne is wont to do, I fear I digress.)

In any case, Anne, who has grown radiant during the ride home, quickly discerns that she's not wanted; thrown into the depths of despair, she resigns herself to her sorry fate, declining the offer to go outside and play because then she'll love everything too much and feel even sorrier to leave. Marilla's pretty firm in her views, but Matthew ends up being firmer; he obstinately insists they keep the girl, and Marilla gives in. So Anne is there to stay.

From here the story follows Anne and her adventures through high school and into teacher's college in Halifax.

Along the way the excitable girl meets several kindred spirits, of whom Matthew is just the first. There's also Diana Barry, her bosom friend and loyal confidant; the girls at school - except for that nasty Josie Pye; Miss Stacy, the radical young teacher who believes students should be interested in order to learn and encourages Anne to the top of her class; Mrs. Allan, the pretty young minister's wife; and crusty old Marilla, who learns to love Anne passionately, though she cannot tell her so.

But Anne has trials and tribulations as well: early on in her school days, handsome fellow student Gilbert Blythe holds up her fat red braid and taunts "carrots". Now you must understand that Anne firmly believes that her red hair is terribly ugly and unromantic, and Anne cares much for beauty and romance. In fact, her red hair is so offensive that she declares that it stands in the way of true happiness. So naturally she is mortally offended at Gilbert's teasing; she cracks her slate over his head and bears a grudge against him for years. (Adding insult to injury, she is forced to sit at the front of the class with "Ann Shirley has a very bad temper" written on the blackboard behind her: the teacher (not the beloved Miss Stacy, the one before) forgot to spell her name with an "e", and if there's one thing she can't abide, it's people forgetting that "e". Anne looks so much nicer than Ann, she avers.) Later she tries to rid herself of her worst afflication by dying her hair raven black, only to end up with mossy green tresses, and has to have it shorn. And who can forget the time she has Diana for tea and accidentally serves her cranberry wine instead of raspberry cordial, and Diana's mother, seeing as how Anne made her daughter dead drunk, forbids the two from speaking for some time? Anne, as Marilla tartly notes, has a particular skill for getting into scrapes.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. It's a girls' book full of fun girl adventures, with a loveable character at the centre. And I did love these books as a child. Understand, I was a red head, a Canadian, and a smart articulate girl, just like Anne, and my middle name is even Ann, though without the redeeming "e". I had lots to identify with in this book, and like Anne herself I may have carried my identification too far: I suspect I got quite histrionic when I was reading this book for the umpteenth time, and my mother used to look at me searchingly as I waved my arms about dramatically: "Are you reading Anne of Green Gables again?" I thought my mother had magical powers of ESP.

The Sequels

Anne of Green Gables was Montgomery's first published novel, and it was a great success. She followed it up with several others that told the story of Anne through her life: Anne of Avonlea (1909) in which Anne takes over the little schoolhouse, and romance begins to bloom between herself and Gilbert - she forgave him at the end of the first book; Anne of the Island (1915) in which she goes to college for a bachelor's degree; Anne of Windy Poplars (1936) in which she becomes principal of a school and agrees to marry Gilbert once he becomes a doctor; Anne's House of Dreams (1917) in which Anne and Gilbert finally marry; Anne of Ingleside (1939): she's got five children now!; Rainbow Valley (1919): six kids!; and finally Rilla of Ingleside (1920), about her youngest daughter. And of course Montgomery wrote many other books, some about Avonlea, as well.

On the Screen

The story of Anne has been made into cartoons (in English and in Japanese, as "Akage no An": Anne is hugely popular in Japan) and movies. Megan Follows is most indelibly linked to the character in the Canadian imagination - she first played Anne in a TV movie in 1985 and reprised her role some years later. I must mention too that the actress who played Anne in a 1934 silver screen version, Dawn O'Day, legally changed her name to Anne Shirley after her role. That Anne really gets under people's skin, it seems.

The Merchandising

These days, Anne Shirley boosts tourism on Prince Edward Island immeasurably. Green Gables is a real house in Cavendish (the model for Avonlea), and it's a bona fide tourist attraction visited by thousands of people every year. You can take a virtual tour of the house at http://www.gov.pe.ca/greengables/index.php3.

Anne herself is used to sell everything from clothes to chocolates, but don't think you can just use her name any way you like: According to the Anne of Green Gables store at www.anneofgreengables.cc/, "Anne of Green Gables and other images of Anne are trademarks and Canadian official marks of the Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority Inc., Charlottetown, PEI and are used under licence by Raspberry Cordial Inc." So watch out.

The complete text of this delightful book can be found several places on the internet, including www-2.cs.cmu.edu/People/rgs/anne-table.html. I just reread it in old-fashioned form for the first time in decades and found it quite as much fun as I did many years ago.

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