Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Anne of Green Gables: A Classic Revisited

Anne of Green Gables, 1st edition
Although L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables is one of the most beloved children's classics world-wide, having sold more than 50 million copies, I admit I never read Anne of Green Gables as a child.  I first remember encountering her in the enchanting award-winning 1985 TV adaptation starring Megan Follows and Colleen Dewhurst.  I read the entire series while in my 20's, and have recently been enjoying revisiting Avonlea and the adventures of Anne Shirley in audiobook, narrated by Barbara Caruso in the Recorded Books version. 

Anne from the 1985 TV version
If by chance you've never discovered Anne Shirley as a "kindred spirit", it's never too late to dive into these charming stories. No less than Mark Twain wrote, "In Anne of Green Gables you will find the dearest and most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice."

Published in 1908 to immediate critical and commercial success, the first novel is set in 1878, looking back nostalgically to an earlier generation (the later novels, which include not only Anne's adventures but those of her family, take the reader all the way to World War I).  The well-known original story centers around a lonely middle-aged brother and sister who decide to adopt a boy to help them with farm work, but who are mistakenly sent a girl instead.  And not just any girl, but the outlandishly romantic, hot-headed Anne Shirley, whose temper is as fiery as her much-hated red hair, but who has a bright intellect and a heart of gold just longing for friendship and love.  Her adventures will make you laugh out loud as well as cry; who can forget when she accidentally makes her dear friend Diana drunk on current wine (thinking she was giving her raspberry cordial instead), or when she cracks a slate over Gilbert Blythe's head in a fit of fury, or when in desperation over her horrible red hair, she dies it, turning her red locks green instead.

It's fascinating to read some of the current scholarship on this beloved story (called the most famous in Canadian literature), particularly the many feminist reinterpretations of recent years.  An excellent bibliography can be found online through the L. M. Montgomery Institute's website.  You can also find an overview of recent scholarship in an on-line article by Kathleen A. Miller, "Revisiting Anne of Green Gables and her Creator."   The L. M. Montgomery Institute also sponsors a biennial conference held on Prince Edward Island itself, which in 2012 will focus on L. M. Montgomery and cultural memory.  I'd love to attend that some time!

Although I believe the first book retains all its appeal and charms for contemporary readers, it is hard not to be disappointed in some sense with the later volumes, in which the fiery, independent Anne seems to settle down into a sedate matron, married to Dr. Gilbert Blythe, and gives up her ambitions of a career as a writer and educator for the supposed joys of married life.  The books become increasingly sentimental as well.

In Anne's House of Dreams, which starts with Anne's wedding at Green Gables and continues through the beginning of her married life, I couldn't help but be moved to tears by Montgomery's account of the difficult birth and subsequent quick death of Anne's first baby, Joyce, although part of me was glad, too, for Anne's married life with Gilbert was portrayed as so idyllic and filled with happiness that as a reader (or listener), I almost wanted to scream in frustration!  I'm afraid that kind of perfect happiness doesn't make for interesting literature, as I'm sure Ms. Montgomery well knew.  The later books deal largely with Anne's many children and their adventures, and Anne takes a secondary role in these volumes.  I have little desire to revisit those volumes, although I may yet change my mind.

A bit of Anne trivia:  Kate Middleton, the new Duchess of Cambridge, is an Anne of Green Gables fan, and visited Prince Edward Island during the couple's first visit to Canada, where she met with L. M. Montgomery's granddaughter and was presented with a special 100th anniversary copy of the classic novel.  See the following link for many photos of their visit there.

If you are an Anne fan, please leave a comment with your favorite Anne moment in the series!  Thanks so much.

1 comment:

Alyssa from Top Ten Books said...

I think books looking back a generation or two are nearly always destined to be successful due to human nature of looking back and lamenting "how good it was back then"...