Anne of Green Gables

I would venture to say that for young girls of an imaginative nature (who hit their pre-teen/early teen years from 1910 through the end of the 1900s), there is no book more influential to their romantic notions than L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. And when that young girl is a redhead? Well, let's just say that we all knew that this was going to be one of the most significant books of my youth before I even opened its pages. (Quite frankly, only the Tamora Pierce series about redheaded Alanna could rival it.) I can't say much about girls that have reached those critical years post-2000, but I certainly hope that a large number of them are still being charmed by this series. While visiting my parents, my bedroom stuffed with the books of my childhood (despite the fact that it's not my childhood bedroom, but my parents could never throw away my library), I decided it was time to visit Green Gables once more, at the beginning of the long series that features one of the most beloved heroines of children's literature.

Anne 's arrival at Green Gables was a complete mistake. Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, siblings, live on Prince Edward Island and had decided that they were going to adopt a boy of ten or eleven so that he might grow up and be of help to Matthew, in exchange for providing the boy with a comfortable home and an education. However, when Matthew Cuthbert arrives at the train station to pick up the child, he finds a red-haired, freckled, slip of a girl by the name of Anne Shirley and she will not stop talking. Matthew is already terrified of women, no matter their age or size, but as he drives the girl back to Green Gables (so Marilla can decide what to do), he finds himself listening with pleasure at the girl's chatter. Marilla is less enthused at first, but even she comes to find something charming in the girl and the prospect of sending her back becomes slimmer with every passing moment until finally the decision is made to keep the child. Anne has many faults, but she becomes the focus and pride of their lives as they decide to keep and raise the young orphan with the wild imagination and boundless energy. She finds a "bosom friend" in neighbor Diana Barry and settles herself upon a life-long hatred of Gilbert Blythe after he calls her carrots and humiliates her in class (though fans of the series know that "lifelong" lasted approximately five-six years and her emotions toward this handsome young man became very different with time). She re-names most every location in town to suit her fantastic notions and enlists her friends in writing wild stories. Incredibly bucollic worries (will Anne be allowed to attend the picnic or drive to the exhibition?) mingle with more serious issues (like Marilla's missing brooch and the ill Barry baby) and ridiculous mix-ups (Anne's attempt to dye her hair and Diana getting drunk on wine mistaken for cordial). The substantial middle of the book follows several scenes of adolescence, which simply contribute to the heroine's development, even if they don't necessarily prop up an overarching storyline. As a result, I always thought this would be an excellent book to read aloud to one's child. Anne of Green Gables follows its titular heroine for something like six years, watching her make both good and bad decisions, almost all of which have amusing consequences. With an imagination that far outstrips everyone in Avonlea, she captivates the entire town, whether they'd admit it or not, and this is just the first in a long series of books about the vivacious redhead.

I cannot remember how many times I've read this book, but last count probably hovers around at least nine or ten. It had been years since I'd picked it up, but everything rushed back with fond familiarity. Anne is so bold and romantic, but the book feels a little dated in how quaint and idyllic the town seems. Perhaps it's just that I live in New York City, where kids seem to grow up long before they should, but I was incredibly worried that this might no longer be the same kind of childhood classic for this generation. Will it be added to the list of books that mothers beg their children to read, ultimately abandoning the effort and simply forcing them to watch the filmed series? I went to dinner with a few college friends and even the young men in the group could remember watching it (only one admitted to reading the book, but played the "I have sisters" card). I just don't know if it's something that children today (particularly city kids) can relate to without drawing conclusions about "the good old days" and "what life would be like if we moved to a farm and I was home schooled."

The only bad moment that I experienced came with the ending of the book, when I remembered my own significant criticism that, even as a child, I had to make of this first book (spoiler alert!) -- Anne's choice to give up her scholarship and stay home to care for Marillia was something that never sat well with me. One of the best things about Anne is the fact that she is incredibly intelligent. Geometry might be her Achilles heel, but every other subject would see Anne fighting with Gilbert to come out at the head of the class. Not only is she smart, but she's diligent about studying and set on doing her absolute best with her schoolwork, which makes her final decision all the most frustrating. Yes, Anne mentioned taking courses to ultimately get her college degree, but I remembered thinking to myself that no good parent (or pseudo-parent like Marilla) would allow her child to abandon her education in favor of staying home to care for the parent. My mother would have plucked out her own eyes to hasten the whole going blind thing rather than let me give up on such a significant opportunity. Chalk it up to the era, perhaps, but I still dislike the message that it sends with the ending of the book. Everyone understands *why* Anne does it, but it still doesn't make it the right decision.

Anne of Green Gables is, however, a major classic and despite this final flawed message about higher education, I will always love it. It inspires loyalty and dedication, so the next generation of girls better hope that it cane still appreciate Anne, or they're in for some long, frustrated hours, as I find it unlikely that their mothers will let this one go. I know families that have gone on Anne-inspired trips to Prince Edward Island. I know women who attribute their dyed auburn hair to the desire to be Anne. And I myself was always a little miffed that I could never pull off pigtail braids. Indeed, Anne Shirley is firmly rooted in even my generation's cultural consciousness and I hope that she retains such a place of honor with the generations to come.

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