A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
When I was musing over which author to read for the third Shelf of Shame week, I had (as my line in the Coming Up This Week post suggested) mulled over whether to read Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner. In previous Shelf of Shame weeks I’d turned my attention to Christopher Isherwood and Aldous Huxley; my hypothetical shelf is filled with Big Name Men of literature. But the more I thought about it, the more it was surprising (not to say shameful) that I hadn’t read Anne of Green Gables (1908). And perhaps that made it a rather more suitable choice.
Why hadn’t I read it before? It was my Mum’s favourite book as a child, I believe (not least because she is also called Anne – spelled the correct way), and countless people have recommended it to me since then. And yet my steady diet of Enid Blyton as a child had put it to one side, and somehow it had never quite worked its way to my reading pile. When I bought this beautiful edition, I knew it couldn’t be too long before I read it – and I was confident (rightly, as it turned out) that I would love it.
Despite not having read a single word of the text, Anne of Green Gables was precisely what I thought it would be. For the one or two people in the world who don’t know its premise: brother and sister Matthew and Marilla are looking to adopt a boy to work on their Canadian farm. When Matthew turns up to collect the promised boy, he is greeted instead by a young girl with red plaits, a pointy chin, and a talkative attitude. A little bit of debating with Marilla later (she being rather stricter and rational than Matthew), and Anne is permitted to stay. Such was the ease of adoption a century or so ago.
For Anne to take things calmly would have been to change her nature. All ‘spirit and fire and dew’, as she was, the pleasures and pains of lifee came to her with trebled intensity. Marilla felt this and was vaguely troubled over it, realizing that the ups and downs of existence would probably bear hard on this impulsive soul and not sufficiently understanding that the equally great capacity for delight might more than compensate.
Anne is an entirely beguiling character, as generations of children have learned. She is highly imaginative, renaming all the local sites things like Haunted Wood and Lake of Shining Waters; she talks nineteen to the dozen, vocalising every thought; she makes clumsy and amusing mistakes, like putting liniment in a cake instead of vanilla – but, as she cheerfully points out to Marilla, she doesn’t make the same mistake twice. And she is entirely unmalicious, wanting to do right by her new family; she is charming enough to become much-loved by the local children, teachers, and even no-nonsense Rachel Lynde. Oh, and the reader, of course. Who could help loving somebody who speaks in such overblown romantic rhetoric?
“Ten minutes isn’t very long to say an eternal farewell in,” said Anne tearfully. “Oh, Diana, will you promise faithfully never to forget me, the friend of your youth, no matter what dearer friends may caress thee?”
The only trait that didn’t ring true, to me, was her avowed hatred of Gilbert Blythe – a boy who teases her on her first day at school, which is apparently enough to warrant a lasting grudge. This is explained away as Anne’s passionate nature, but she is so willing to forgive others (and expectant of forgiveness herself) that it seems out of character, and presumably mostly used to set up the sequels – in which, I am led to believe, they eventually marry.
Much as I loved reading this book, and thinking of my Mum reading it as a little girl, I think I might like the sequels even more. Anne of Green Gables was originally intended as a book for any age, and only latterly became thought of as a children’s book, but I think it would have been best read as a child – whereas, as she grows up in the sequels, they might suit a maturer first time reader?
But, nonetheless, L.M. Montgomery paints a world that is inviting and all-encompassing. I felt like I loved the area through Anne’s eyes, and the people no less – and even cried towards the end, which is extremely unusual for me when reading (despite being more or less inevitable when watching films). I can only imagine how delightfully inviting this would have been to a child. Well, better late than never, and I’m so pleased that Shelf of Shame Week prompted me to read this. And now… the rest of the series! And Emily of New Moon, which I’ve heard raved about, and has a premise exactly identical to Anne of Green Gables…