This blog is meant to be a sort of curated Museum of Heather’s Mind/What I would sell in a store of my Favorite Things. And if we were creating a physical space with all my favorite things, there would definitely be a corner devoted to Anne of Green Gables. When I was about 9, I became obsessed with Anne. My mom started reading it to me one afternoon – I believe someone had given us a copy of the first three books in one big volume. I wasn’t immediately hooked. The opening, where Mrs. Lynde is being a busy-body didn’t really appeal to me. But my mom continued reading, and I was eventually reading it on my own, and going to Walden Books to spend my allowance on the rest of the series. That year the movies came out, and I was always in front of the TV, tuned to PBS, every week waiting for the next installment. And about a year later, I persuaded my parents that we really should go to Prince Edward Island for vacation that year (a perk of being an only child; there was no competition with which to contend).
In case you haven’t read the stories, or watched the movies, Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908 by Lucy Maud Montgomery, is about a little girl called Anne (with an e) who grew up in various orphanages and foster homes. She longs for a home of her own, and believes she has found it when she gets word that the Cuthberts, a brother and sister pair on Prince Edward Island are looking for a girl to help out around the house. Though she’s clumsy, she never makes the same mistake twice, and she is anxious to go meet these Cuthberts. Matthew picks her up at the station and realizes that there was a mistake – they actually wanted a boy to help him out around the farm. But he’s too quiet and shy to say anything, and anyway Anne does enough talking for both of them, so that when they get home and Marilla (who isn’t as shy) is surprised and immediately wants to send her back, there’s a terrible scene.
Eventually the Cuthberts decide to give her a trial, since they feel sorry for her. She goes and makes a mess of it by being rude to Mrs. Lynde, and slapping a slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head when he calls her “carrots” on the first day of school (because of her red hair). So things get off to a rocky start. But kindly shy Matthew falls for this sweet girl, and Marilla’s heart is softened, and they decide to keep her. The books center around how Anne settles into life in her little village, Avonlea (though the real Green Gables is in Cavendish, PEI), the stories of the people in her town, and how she eventually succeeds as a writer and teacher.
Lucy Maud Montgomery was born in 1874, so she would have been about 35 when she first published the Anne books. When she was younger she had lots of jobs, and, though she had a number of suitors, she declined proposals from several, and accepted one, which she later cancelled. She eventually married, in 1911, Ewen MacDonald, who was a Pres-
byterian minister, and they lived in Ontario. She had two living sons, and a stillborn son in the middle. Her husband experienced bouts of religious melancholy, and writing was her main solace during a life that was also plagued with depression (which was revealed by her granddaughter in 2008).
I feel like I have a kindred spirit in LM Montgomery. When I was 9, I had a kindred spirit in Anne, who became my dearest imaginary friend, a fellow little girl whose imagination worked overtime, was kind of a misfit, and had dreams bigger than people understood. Now I feel like I have a kindred spirit in her creator, having also had a stillborn son, and also being plagued with depression.
A few years ago I forced my husband to watch the movies with me, in celebration of the 100th anniversary. He asked me, “were these movies based on you, or did you just mold yourself into Anne, because either way, that chick totally reminds me of what you must have been like as a kid.” It’s an interesting thing to ponder. Did I mold myself into being like Anne? Certainly I did my best to be like Anne when I was a kid. And maybe during that pivotal time of character and personality development I took on some of those traits that stayed with me for good. But others – the incessant talking and a crazy imagination – were with me way before I read the books.
Anyway, LM Montgomery also wrote lots of short stories based around Avonlea, which reminds me an awful lot of the stories and monologues of Garrison Keillor about Lake Wobegone, which I really enjoyed in the mid-90’s. In fact, I had cassette tapes of the monologues that I would listen to as I was going to sleep – Keillor’s voice lulled me that much. The idea of inventing not just a character, but an entire town full of characters, and a history of this imaginary town, and all the events around the town – it seems both daunting and appealing at the same time.
Mark Twain said Montgomery’s Anne was “the dearest and most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice”. Now that I have a babygirl, I am looking forward to reading these stories to her when she gets a little bit older (she’s 13 months old now – she’s just figuring out how to hold a spoon. As much as I think she’s quite clever, I think Anne would be a bit lost on her now! For the moment, she adores Slinky Malinky which we discovered when we went to New Zealand this past spring.)