Anne, my much-loved Anne. Anne of Green Gables was one of my favorite books when I was a little girl. My grandmother had a beautiful hardcover copy, and I spent hours pouring over it whenever I visited her. Over time, Anne and I became very good friends. I acquired a complete set of all eight “Anne” books (there are also the Chronicles of Avonlea, in which Anne appears, but I’m just referring to the original series here) and I was – and remain – convinced that if I had known Anne in real life, we’d have been kindred spirits.
Anne of Green Gables is the story of young Anne Shirley, a dreamy orphan girl with fiery red hair and a temper to match. When the story opens, she has just arrived on Prince Edward Island and is waiting for Mr. Matthew Cuthbert to bring her to the first home she’s ever known. There’s been a mistake, though: Matthew and his sister Marilla had intended to adopt a boy to help with the farm work. They have no need of a girl, and no desire to adopt one. Anne immediately charms shy Matthew, who becomes determined to keep her. And as Anne works her way into Matthew and Marilla’s hearts, Green Gables works its way into hers.
The last time I visited with Anne, I think, was back in college, over a summer break. So it had been quite a few years. I can’t remember what my thoughts were the last time I read Anne’s story, but I’m sure they were very different from my feelings upon this reading. This reading, after all, is the first time I’ve read Anne since becoming a mom, and it was the first time I really comprehended just how lonely and starved for love little Anne was in the beginning. Every time Anne found herself in a scrape, every time she was in “the depths of despair,” all I wanted to do was scoop her up, tell her everything would be okay, and remind her that she was loved. All I wanted to do was mother her.
When I read Anne of Green Gables as a young reader, I thought that Anne would be the perfect friend. I imagined rambling through Violet Vale and Lover’s Lane and the Haunted Wood with Anne and Diana, giving names to the trees and dreaming up romantic adventures for ourselves. (My grandmother and I named different places near my parents’ lake house after Anne’s haunts – we had our own Violet Vale, our own Haunted Wood, our own Lake of Shining Waters.) I was indignant when Gilbert Blythe called Anne “Carrots,” I worshipped Miss Stacy along with her, and I thrilled when she received her first set of puffed sleeves or when she attended her first concert. But that was when (this) Anne and I were roughly the same age. Now, I’m old enough to be her mama, and I considered (this) Anne less of a friend and more of a lost little girl whose life until this point has left her desperately in need of mothering. (As Anne grows up throughout the next volumes, I expect I’ll feel more like her friend again, and less like her mom.)
I loved Anne of Green Gables just as much on this umpteenth re-read as I have every time I’ve read it before. I still love Anne’s romanticism and I still chuckle at her penchant for getting herself into scrapes. (The scene in which she “confesses” to losing Marilla’s amethyst brooch is one of my favorite parts of the entire series.) But I found myself more conscious of the adult characters – adults other than Matthew, that is – this time. There was Marilla, who loved Anne fiercely, and whom never got much credit for that from me before. And the minor adult characters, like Miss Stacy and Mrs. Allan, who colored the Avonlea landscape so beautifully for Anne – on past reads, I enjoyed them, but this time, I could see Anne a bit more through their eyes and it was fascinating.
Anne of Green Gables will always be one of my favorite books, I think. I love the whole series, really (and look for more posts about the books over the coming weeks). But this reading illustrates for me the real value in re-reading: when we dust off an old favorite and read it again, at a different time in life and with a different perspective, we find so much that is new and different. I’ll always love Anne for her starry-eyed tendency to give “poetical” names to her pet environments, and for her true love of nature, but now I have a new love for Marilla, Miss Stacy, and Mrs. Allen… and even for Mrs. Rachel Lynde (I’d forgotten what a delightful character she is, and what a good friend to Anne). I wonder, if I read this in ten years’ time, what I’ll find?
Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery: buy it here (not an affiliate link), or support your local indie bookstore!