Sunday, March 13, 2011

Anne of Green Gables

I've just had the most incredible morning!  Earlier this week I began re-reading L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables for the first time in many years and this morning, over about four hours, I finished it.  I must admit that I had partially forgotten its magic.  So much time and so many changes have gone by since what Anne might call the "epoch in my life" in which I first discovered the Anne books.
As I lay reading this morning -- my slightly worn 1987 paperback edition with the Megan Follows cover -- so many memories came flooding back to me!  Not just memories of my previous readings of the novel but memories of my own childhood which can sometimes be forgotten in the blindingly fast evolution to adulthood.

Montgomery does such a superb job of capturing the spirit of youth; not at all carefree but so strong as to be able to overcome almost any obstacle.  As an orphan who had rarely been treated with kindness, Anne Shirley was never carefree and even after she moved on to her life at Green Gables she was never spoiled or coddled.  And though her heart was often heavy her imagination and love of the gifts of nature made her seem carefree.  It's amazing to compare the way children are raised today to Anne's upbringing (fictional though it may be).

Though I love towering skyscrapers and bustling cities, at the moment I've overcome with a nostalgia for a time I never knew when a child might not taste ice cream until the age of 11 and time spent relaxing was all the more rewarding after one had worked hard all day to help feed and clothe the family.  Just as Anne thought the days of Camelot, as described by Tennyson, were "so much more romantic than the present," I admit to feeling the Victorian days described by Montgomery seem so much more romantic than our present.

There are so many things to love about this book!  The story itself is of course charming, heartbreaking and romantic.  Montgomery's voice is wonderfully pleasant to read.  Her vivid and loving descriptions of locales on Prince Edward Island are a love letter to the island and even if the reader has never been there the descriptions recall to memory other natural settings, just as beautiful, that most people could never describe with such simplicity or charm.  But for all that, it is truly the characters of Anne of Green Gables that make it so personal and memorable.

Anne Shirley (Anne with an 'e') is one of the greatest literary heroines ever created and it is a crime that she is not more often remembered alongside Alice (of Wonderland), Dorothy (of Oz) and Jane Austen's heroines.  I can say quite earnestly that I think Anne embodies the best qualities of the human race and I think that if everyone took some of her lessons to heart the world might be a better place. Montgomery's other characters are just as wonderful!  Everyone must have known a busybody like Rachel Lynde and a mild-mannered sweetheart like Matthew Cuthbert.  Marilla Cuthbert is a wonderful example of a woman caught between two worlds as the Victorian Empire gives way to new roles and new ways of living for women in the twentieth century.

For me, the heart of the novel is really in the relationship between Anne and Marilla as they figure each other out over several years.  Anne transforms Marilla's somewhat sad, conservative life with her whirlwind of enthusiasm.  It seems to me that, through Anne, Marilla is able to see the world with fresh eyes; which makes her condition at the end of the novel all the more painful.  In turn, Marilla is able to temper some of Anne's wild qualities.  She bestows upon the child gifts of knowledge in how to run a household and also the gift of work ethic which helps Anne get so very far in life.

I remembered keenly over the past week how much I fell in love with Anne's scrumptious vocabulary, including words like "enpurpled" and "thrillier."  I can imagine these probably seemed quite strange to readers in 1908 and there were probably many Marilla Cuthberts who forbade many Anne Shirleys from reading such frivolous nonsense!  I have often said that it is sometimes wise to lose one's self in nonsense in order to truly figure out who one actually is.  I have read that the original manuscript was rejected by several publishers until it was finally bestowed upon the world in 1908.  I'm so thankful that it was!  I'm excited to re-read the rest of the Anne books now as I prepare to visit Green Gables this summer.

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