I am reviewing this book in honor of my grandmother who loved it. She died nineteen years ago, but had she lived she would have turned 100 this June. Anne of Green Gables is well-known, but I will try to convince you why it is worth another look for adults who may have been put off by the saccharine TV series and movies associated with the books.
My Grandmother gave me her Anne of Green Gables books shortly before she died and I have been dragging them around the world with me ever since (sadly, not to their great benefit). In these days of e-books I especially appreciate these books as objects. When I hold one of her books in my hand, without even starting to read it, it tells me a lot. It is a well-worn hard cover, yellowed and spotted, with a cup ring on the front. The spine is starting to sag and the thick, soft pages are getting brittle. In the front is written, “Gwenyth, 31/10/38” and her address. This is the address that I loved to visit as a child and the book still faintly smells of her house. As an adult I know that in 1938 my grandmother had one small child and was mourning the loss of a stillborn son, the memory of whom brought tears to her eyes fifty years later. It was the tail end of the depression and the uncertainties and fears of World War II were looming. For my Grandmother money was not abundant so the book represented a precious and much-wanted prize possession.
The story is set around the turn of the last century and centers on Anne Shirley, an orphan who is mistakenly sent from her orphanage to work on a farm. Aging brother and sister Marilla and Matthew wanted a boy to help with the farm work, but they keep Anne anyway. After this inauspicious start they grow to become a family. Anne is a unique and independent soul, who accidentally dyes her hair green, gets her best friend drunk on raspberry cordial, but saves a neighbor’s baby who gets croup. When she is dared to walk the ridge pole of a roof, she feels she must because “My honor is at stake.” After the inevitable fall the girls have the following conversation:
” Anne are you killed?” shrieked Diana, throwing herself on her knees beside her friend. “Oh, Anne, dear Anne, speak just one word to me and tell me if you’re killed.”
To the immense relief of all the girls…Anne sat dizzily up and answered uncertainly:
“No, Diana, I am not killed, but I think I am rendered unconscious.”
“Where?” sobbed Carrie Sloane. “Oh, where, Anne?”
Anne is a literary character who feels real. She has felt like a friend to thousands, perhaps even millions of people, like my grandmother, who have loved her over the last hundred years. Anne of Green Gables is undoubtedly old-fashioned, but there are good reasons that it has stayed in print since it was first published in 1908. Also with good reason, it has been made into over a dozen screen adaptations, starting with a silent movie in 1919 and including a Japanese Anime in 1979. Canada’s Prince Edward Island now has an Anne of Green Gables festival every July. To many of us Avonlea and the surrounding imaginary towns on Canada’s Prince Edward Island feel like our real home, where we really belong.
So, if you read Anne of Green Gables a long time ago, try it again. Or if you have never tried it or have only met Anne Shirley through a TV series or movie, I urge you to check out one of our many copies and enjoy some soul-nourishing summer reading. You never know, you might make a new friend.
Tomorrow I will be blogging about the eighth book in the Anne of Green Gables series, Rilla of Ingleside.
Check the WRL catalog for Anne of Green Gables.