Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
Bantam Books, 1908, 309 pages*
*The edition I read was published by Bantam Books in 1987, but I’ve maintained the original publication date for an indication of style and content.
It is decidedly odd to go about reviewing something so classic and well-known as L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, but because it is part of my 2017 Read Harder challenge, I feel compelled to include it this time around. Anne of Green Gables is the canon of my childhood. I grew up watching the Megan Follows adaptation on VHS and, later, DVD. I read the first few books once when I was a teen and recently decided to make another effort to get through the whole series, starting again at the beginning. In short, the first tale of Anne Shirley occurs when she is thirteen and newly sent to Prince Edward Island by mistake to live with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert (siblings, not spouses). As Anne begins to heal from the trauma of being a mistreated orphan, she relies on her imagination and intellect to connect with the people in her community and become a shining star among them.
So many people seem put off by the idea of Anne. They imagine the book as Pollyanna-ish, and they’re not necessarily wrong. However, what makes Anne of Green Gables so timeless is that, while it certainly is hopeful and optimistic, it is also realistic at its heart. The recent Netflix adaptation really brings this to light: though Montgomery may handle it differently, if we really consider Anne’s situation, she is a young girl who is likely suffering from her upbringing severely. Based on the anecdotes she shares with her new family, there’s no doubt Anne was severely abused and, if we consider further, it’s likely her rabid imagination is in fact an escape from or even symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Without modern psychology, Montgomery might not have been aware of the true impact of her work, but the reality is, Anne of Green Gables is a much deeper story than many might think.
Montgomery doesn’t only set Anne up well with a well-defined personality. Anne’s growth over the three years in which Anne of Green Gables takes place is marked. Her evolution is clear, even in its slow movement and focus on character over plot. This coming of age is realistically handled and spurred by events that make sense, showing Montgomery’s attention to detail and dedication to realism despite Anne’s flights of fancy. It’s this striking balance that keeps Anne and her story at the front of modern consciousness. The one break from realism is, perhaps, Rachel Lynde, who has a cartoonish edge. Still, this aura serves Anne’s story in a way that contributes to its realism at the end of the day.
On top of this, Montgomery tells her story with beautiful, descriptive, and imaginative prose. It’s no wonder that so many people venture to Prince Edward Island to see the rolling dunes, secret forests, and authoritative cliffs Montgomery describes. Anne’s environment is so distinctly pictured that there’s no doubt she is anywhere but where Montgomery writes her to be.
The focus on character development and setting does mean a sacrifice in plot. Anne, of course, has a desire: she wants a family and a place to belong. She wants to be loved. This problem is basically solved reasonably early on, leaving Montgomery to track the conflict in Anne’s day-to-day rather than an ongoing issue that might be solved as a plot by the end of the narrative. Literary fiction, or character-driven fiction, is arguably more difficult to achieve in children’s literature. While the concept of children’s literature was only just emerging when Montgomery was writing (and certainly she contributed largely to it), it’s handled reasonably well here. I might not expect a seven-year-old to sit through the entire novel totally enraptured, but each chapter features a sort of anecdote of Anne’s life, making the novel a great option for bedtime reading that satisfies while teasing enough to encourage reading the next night. “What scrape will Anne get herself into next?” readers will want to know.
If that Anne of Green Gables is an easy-to-read, if slightly slow-paced classic is not enough temptation for you to read it, I can also tell you it is humorous and soothing, reminding us often of the best parts of humanity and childhood, even as Anne suffers from a sort of lack of childhood. Anne will surprise you in quiet ways and loud ways. The caveat, of course, is that Anne is a work of its time and there are moments that make its historical context evident. Perhaps due in part to the location, racial diversity is essentially nonexistent, though the themes are certainly universal.
I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #9, “Read a book you’ve read before,” and I leave it behind with four-and-a-half hearts.
❤❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤