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An image of the cover of Anne of Green Gables

 


Anne of Green Gables (1908)

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Montgomery was a spunky and intelligent girl, like her fictional creation, Anne. Montgomery’s mother died when she was 21 months old; her father subsequently moved out west. He left his daughter to be raised by her grandparents in an isolated farming settlement in Prince Edward Island.

Montgomery developed a deep love of the island and nature. When she revisited PEI as an adult after moving to Ontario, she wrote, “Oh, I felt that I belonged there – that I had done some violence to my soul when I left it.”1

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s fiction

Montgomery wrote 20 novels, 18 of them for children. Most of them are set in her home province, Prince Edward Island. The 8 Anne and 3 Emily novels are what she is remembered for today.

Like Harry Potter and Laura Ingalls, Anne gets older as the books progress, but unlike most other series protagonists, Anne eventually reaches adulthood and becomes a mother.

The sequels to Anne of Green Gables reveal a marked decline. What makes Anne so interesting is her rebelliousness and originality. As Anne gains maturity, she conforms to the rules and is not as engaging. Although there are still good parts in all these books, many of them seem formulaic. All Montgomery’s books are still in print though and are very popular.

Montgomery is also known for the Emily of the New Moon series. These 3 novels are even more autobiographical than the Anne series. They focus on the protagonist as a budding artist, a genre known as “kustlerroman.”

An Introduction to the story

Anne, an eleven-year-old orphan, is sent by mistake to live on a Prince Edward Island farm with a middle-aged brother and sister. Although Marilla and Matthew expected a boy to help with the farm chores, they decide to keep Anne. As an imaginative child, Anne is an outsider in a small, provincial society.

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Anne of Green Gables has never gone out of print since it was first published in 1908. It was immensely popular right from the start, selling 19,000 copies in the first 5 months.  It is estimated to have sold over 50 million copies worldwide and has been translated into numerous languages. The novel has been adapted for films, musicals, a television series, and theatre productions. More than a quarter of a million people visit the Green Gables site in the Prince Edward Island National Park each year.2

The island setting

It is no accident that the novel is set on an island.3 The island characters remain isolated from the larger currents of the world, and have become static and insular. Avonlea society is narrow and provincial; everything that happens within this small world is predictable. Mrs. Rachel Lynde, with her “all-seeing eye” is the epitome of small-town life.4

Anne discovers that customary ways of doing things are the only way. “In Prince Edward Island,” Montgomery writes, “you are supposed to nod to all and sundry you meet on the road whether you know them or not.”5 Any deviation from the accepted norm is viewed as heretical.

The new teacher, Miss Stacey, is frowned upon for her novel ideas: “She led her class to think and explore and discover for themselves and encouraged straying from the old beaten paths to a degree that quite shocked Mrs. Lynde and the school trustees, who viewed all innovations on established methods rather dubiously.”6 

The characters

One of the best features of the novel is the characterization. Montgomery reveals great insight into the psychology and motivation of characters, insight gained from personal experience in a similar insular environment.

Who can forget the crusty, stoic Marilla; the bumbling, kind-hearted Matthew; or the domineering busybody, Mrs Rachel Lynde? These characters are wonderfully convincing portrayals of small-town people.

And why do readers particularly love Anne? She is unconventional, funny, imaginative, and refreshingly different from those around her. Like Tom Sawyer, she is an outsider to her world. Both characters get into trouble for not conforming to the norms of their societies, yet also bring a breath of fresh air into stagnant worlds.

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The theme of the imagination

Like Tom Sawyer, Anne uses her imagination to compensate for the narrow circumstances of her life, a strategy that helps her cope with the deficiencies of her world. When Anne discovers that Marilla never imagines anything, she draws a long breath and says, “Oh, Miss— Marilla, how much you miss!”7

Unlike Marilla, who insists on sticking to “the bald facts,”8 Anne continually envisions a better world and makes the reader look at everyday events in a new way. Anne also opens new vistas on the world for many of the characters in the novel. Like Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden, she becomes a redemptive influence on the adults around her.9

But Anne’s imagination continually clashes with the real world, causing her numerous problems. She envisions herself as a romantic heroine, a predilection which causes her to do foolish things such as dye her hair green or float down a river in imitation of Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott. During the course of the novel, Anne finds a balance between reality and the imaginative life.

Even though she expands horizons for others, Anne must face narrowed possibilities for herself. Instead of going away to school on a scholarship, she decides to stay home and help Marilla.  Like Laura Ingalls in the Little House series, Anne puts family responsibilities ahead of her own desires. Montgomery experienced this dilemna first-hand after the death of her grandfather.

Notes

1. Mollie Gillen, The Wheel of Things: A Biography of L. M. Montgomery; Author of Anne of Green Gables (Toronto, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1975), 137.

2. The Government of Prince Edward Island. Anne of Green Gables – Quick Facts. 2007. http://www.gov.pe.ca/infopei/index.php3?number=81411

3. Montgomery’s use of setting, argues Marilyn Solt, is one of the principal reasons for the continued popularity and success of the novel. “The Uses of Setting in Anne of Green Gables,” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 9 (Winter 1984): 179.

4. L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (1908; Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1968), 2.

5. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, 10.

6. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, 269.

7. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, 59.

8. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, 51.

9. In an article about the process of adjustment between the individual and the community in Anne of Green Gables, Susan Drain points out that such an adjustment involves the adaptation and conformity of the individual, or the community, or both.  Either “the child is subdued to the pattern of the adults,” or like Pollyanna, “the child manages by the sweetness of her character and the power of her example to transform the narrow and bitter adults around her.” “Community and the Individual in Anne of Green Gables: The Meaning of Belonging,” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 11 (Spring 1986): 15.