Vulpes Libris

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.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

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.

Anne of Green Gables

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


10 comments on “Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

  1. Pingback: Anne of Green Gables | Stuck in a Book

  2. Alana
    June 22, 2015

    I, too, have a maternal connection to these books (a mum named Rilla, who you’ll later see is Anne’s oldest child, several books down the line). I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the series. I will say that it is uneven–they were written somewhat out of sequence, and the second book, for example, which was written later in Montgomery’s life, is a bit weak in my opinion. If you agree, please persevere! Books three and four are marvelous, and I’m also a big fan of six and, of course, eight (“Rilla of Ingleside”).

  3. Clarissa Aykroyd
    June 22, 2015

    Do read Emily of New Moon. It is my favourite Montgomery (I grew up in Canada and enjoyed books about imaginative children, so I’ve read most or all of her books).

    Emily was the character Montgomery most identified with, and she is by far my favourite Montgomery character. I won’t give anything much away, but while there are similarities between Emily and Anne, they ultimately come across quite differently – I think. The Emily books are considerably darker and slightly gothic.

    As with Anne, the first Emily book is the best. There ended up being a lot of Anne books, because she was so popular, and they are indeed uneven (though all at least somewhat enjoyable) – but there were only three Emily books, the second and third being Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest. Emily Climbs is also very good. Emily’s Quest is rather over the top with all the drama (SERIOUS drama, even by book standards!), and ultimately rather unsatisfying, but if you like the first two books enough it’s worth reading just to find out what happens.

  4. Kirsty
    June 22, 2015

    Love Anne of Green Gables! Was really nervous reading this in case you didn’t. Like the rest of the series but Anne of Windy Willows isn’t great in my view, but Anne of the Island I do like (comes later in Anne’s time line though possibly not in terms of publication date).

    The Canadian TV films featuring Megan Followes are good (but avoid the third one).

  5. heavenali
    June 22, 2015

    I have been toying with re-reading this and moving on to the others that follow which I never did read. It might make for good winter comfort reading.

  6. Anne is total comfort reading for me and this is making me want to do a complete reread. I’m curious what you would make of the later books. It’s rather sad when she gets married and basically gives up writing, buried in domesticity.

  7. Jenny @ Reading the End
    June 22, 2015

    YAY, and when I say yay, I of course mean, you should read Emily of New Moon because it is better. Anne of Green Gables is pretty good, and so are the subsequent two books, but after that it all goes to hell. Emily of New Moon is awesome however. And so is Emily Climbs. And so is Emily’s Quest. So lucky you, with all that ahead of you. OH ALSO you should additionally read the standalone books Jane of Lantern Hill and The Blue Castle, because they are an m.f. delight.

  8. I doubt any books I read as an adult will ever have as much impact on me – or be loved half as dearly – as the Anne books. I read them first when I was eight and for the next three or four years read very little that wasn’t by L.M. Montgomery – I think I reread Anne of the Island (always and forever my favourite book in the series) twenty times one year. I would read it and then start right over from the beginning. It is still one of the only books I can quote large reams of from memory. Not that this is in any way useful.

    I enjoyed the Emily books but found them too ridiculously dramatic to ever love. The Anne books are grounded in family, community and the everyday whereas the Emily books are focused on Emily’s calling as an author (described in excruciating detail in the purplest, more overblown writing you can find) and all the DRAMATIC (so dramatic) things that she experiences as she pursues her dream. As Clarissa mentions above, they have a gothic tinge to them, which ruled them right out for me. And Teddy is probably the dullest central character L.M.M. ever wrote.

  9. Dixie Lee
    June 23, 2015

    I too did not read Anne until I was ‘older’ although i hesitate to say I was an adult, in my twenties. (Although I had read some of the short stories in the Chronicles/Further Chronicles of Avonlea) collections. Many of the stories and situations did not ring true to me as a young woman who thought that right would always triumph one day. I thought what LMM wrote was of the past and couldn’t happen now. As an older and wiser woman, I am struck by how little people change and how situations I thought were impossible are repeated in the present.

    As to the AOGG series, even if you don’t read the middle books, read Rilla of Ingleside. It’s a valuable insight into the changes wrought by the Great War into the lives of women slightly younger and farther from the action than Vera Brittain and her compatriots.

  10. Pingback: L. M. Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables | Fyrefly's Book Blog

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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