As a child my mum was very good at pushing classic children’s literature on me, and I have many happy memories of long winter afternoons curled up with The Secret Garden, Little Women, The Railway Children, Matilda, and so on. Somehow, despite it being a childhood favourite of my mum’s, Anne of Green Gables never crossed my path until I moved in with my best friend when I was 21, and she had all of the Anne books on her shelf. She assured me I would love them, and I agreed that I probably would, and I soon set about acquiring my own copy. However, it was only the pressure of knowing I would have to leave my books behind for a year in just under under two weeks that made me finally read it, and my goodness, how I have missed out on the joy of knowing Anne Shirley!
I normally thoroughly enjoy most books I read, as I pick wisely, but to say I thoroughly enjoyed this would be a massive understatement. Not only has it now become one of my favourite books of all time, easily on a par with my beloved Little Women, but it charmed and delighted me in a way no book ever has. No words can describe just how truly lovely Anne of Green Gables is. Every page contained something beautiful, and Anne Shirley has to be the most simply delightful heroine in all of fiction. I want to rush out now into the streets of London and press a copy of this book on every downhearted, tired, stressed, and disillusioned person I see, for this book is medicine for the world weary soul. It was the perfect book for me to read as I prepare to go and forge a new life for myself, as it has reminded me of how important it is to wonder at everything, and to see the beauty in the everyday, two things I have truly taken to heart now that I have the opportunity to begin again in a totally new environment.
Anne of Green Gables chronicles the arrival of the red haired skinny orphan girl Anne to the home of the elderly Cuthberts, Marilla and Matthew, who have, due to crossed wires, ended up with a girl instead of the boy they wanted from the local orphanage. Their initial disappointment soon turns to love (albeit reluctantly on Marilla’s part) as Anne sets about charming even the most crotchety person in the small town of Avonlea. Her breathless enthusiasm for life, delight in everything and everyone, wild and romantic imagination, and passionate, loving heart are terrifically endearing and life affirming. She is a truly beautiful soul, and it was the most heart warming, charming and emotional experience to watch her grow up in front of me on the page.
What I loved best about Anne was her ability to turn the simplest things into something magnificent, and how she used her imagination to make her often humdrum surroundings a more exciting and beautiful place for everyone around her. I did have brief moments of wishing I had read this when I was a child, but actually, I think I would have missed most of the joy and beauty I found in it if I had been younger. I certainly wouldn’t have appreciated Montgomery’s sensitive depiction of Marilla’s often inexpressed, but deeply felt love for Anne, and this touching and often tear jerking relationship was one of the aspects of the book that I enjoyed the most. Matthew’s strong and silent personality and fierce love and pride in Anne was also wonderfully written, and when I read the saddest chapter of the book (I won’t reveal what happens in case you haven’t read it!) tonight on the train back from London, I was in tears…most unfortunately as the ticket inspector was asking for my ticket, and I was so absorbed in Avonlea, I couldn’t understand what he wanted!
What is truly remarkable about Anne of Green Gables is how different and fresh it is compared to so many children’s books of the same era. Anne tries woefully hard to ‘be good’, just like she is taught to be by the old fashioned Marilla and the other God fearing adults in Avonlea, but she can’t suppress her romantic imagination or reign in her emotions. Even though she has a temper, indulges in countless hours of daydreaming, talks incessantly and isn’t afraid to voice her opinions, L M Montgomery shows that Anne’s heart is pure and good regardless. Anne demonstrates that true strength and beauty of character come not from following rules and ‘being good’, but by daring to be true to your own heart, and not ashamed of what lies within it. In Anne, Montgomery celebrates the unbridled, passionate, loving and imaginative soul of the child, as yet unburdened by the pressures and griefs of adult life. Unlike other contemporary books for children, Anne of Green Gables is a hymn to the innocence of childhood, and to the magic adults can once again capture through the eyes of the little people they love. It throws out the rule book of didactic, strict, moralising Victorian children’s literature and sings of the delights of impulsiveness, clumsiness, laughter, tantrums, and soaring emotions, all of which are what should be encouraged and embraced, rather than admonished and replaced with neatness, quietness and sickly sweet goodness. Anne is a modern heroine, for the modern age, and L M Montgomery’s bravery in reclaiming childhood from its ethereal Victorian martyrdom and her encouragement of the frivolity and breathless wonder and possibility of youth is what I think has made Anne of Green Gables endure amongst other books of its period.
I want to quote my favourite parts, but I might as well quote the entire novel, as it was all so magnificent. L M Montgomery was a genius and her insights into the human soul and ability to appreciate and perfectly express the beauty and wonder of nature and how it lifts the spirits to gaze upon spring flowers and snow covered dells are just beyond-words-wonderful. I can’t imagine ever loving a book more than I did Anne of Green Gables. Anne Shirley is just the most beautiful creation in the entire HISTORY of world literature and if you haven’t read it yet, you need to go and buy it right this minute. I am now spectacularly excited for the rest of the series…what a joy to know that I have so many books filled with the world of Avonlea to come!