Book Reviews

Anne of Green Gables * Lucy Maud Montgomery – 1908

Ever wanted to read the story of a little orphan girl who was overly excited about her world, full of curiosity and with a temper to match her red hair?
Why not try Anne of Green Gables, that is Anne with an e as Ann is too boring on its own. Anne’s boundless imagination often gets her into trouble, but it also makes everything around her more compelling. She possesses the sort of empathy one only gains from spending a lot of time pondering the lives of others. Anne is quirky, odd, over-the-top.

“Isn’t it splendid there are so many things to like in this world?” she says.

Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive–it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?But am I talking too much? People are always telling me I do. Would you rather I didn’t talk? If you say so I’ll stop. I can STOP when I make up my mind to it, although it’s difficult.”

While it’s not one of my favourite books – I do know some people who love it so much they have all the editions, illustrated or not, seen all the movies and even some obscure tv shows.

“It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”

Yet Anne is no Goody Two-shoes. She can hold a grudge like the best of them. When her boat sinks and Gilbert Blythe rescues her, she is almost moved to like him until she remembers the offending incident two years prior, when he embarrassed her by calling her “Carrots” and she was forced to bring her slate down on his head.

The story

Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert make plans to adopt an orphan boy to help with chores on their family farm named Green Gables. On arriving at the train station, Matthew finds instead a little redheaded orphan girl waiting on the platform. Matthew, normally shy and timid around females of any age, is charmed by the little girl and her precocious chatter. The little orphan girl, Anne Shirley, is a great romantic of eleven. Anne delights in the buggy ride and is soon enchanted by the environs of Green Gables.

There is no hiding Marilla Cuthbert’s dismay when she discovers the mix up. Marilla rejects Matthew’s suggestion of keeping young Anne Shirley but after learning of Anne’s hard-luck life does Marilla acquiesce to Matthew’s wishes to keep the girl.

My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.

Anne is a talkative and happy girl despite living an impoverished life as an orphan. Though she lacks social graces and education, she has a rich and sophisticated fantasy life and an optimistic and generous spirit. Because Anne acts according to her instincts and not according to a code of manners, she unintentionally defies expectations of proper ladylike behavior. She attends church for the first time wearing a wreath of wildflowers, for example, and screams at Mrs. Rachel for making fun of her red hair. Anne tries hard to oblige Marilla and follow her rules of social conduct, but she makes many mistakes, using liniment instead of vanilla in a cake, letting a mouse drown in the plum-pudding sauce, and delivering a heartfelt but ridiculous prayer on her first attempt to pray before bed.

Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer

At school, Anne feuds with a handsome, smart boy named Gilbert Blythe. When they first meet, Gilbert taunts Anne by calling her Carrots and pulling her red braid. Anne is extremely sensitive about her red hair, and Gilbert’s teasing infuriates her. She screams at him and smashes a slate over his head. This incident marks the beginning of a rivalry between Anne and Gilbert, the two smartest pupils, which lasts until the end of the novel.

People laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?

As Anne grows up, she loses some of her childish flare for the melodramatic and romantic, and turns her spirited attentions to academics. A beloved teacher, Miss Stacy, recognizes Anne’s intelligence and encourages her to join a special group of students preparing for the entrance exam to Queen’s Academy.

Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them– that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting

Her long-standing competition with Gilbert Blythe changes to an affectionate and familiar rivalry when, after four years of mutual silence, they both go to Queen’s Academy. Striving to make Matthew and Marilla proud, Anne devotes herself to her studies wholeheartedly and earns the prestigious Avery Scholarship, which grants her enough money to attend a four-year college the following fall.

What I liked about the book:

Anne is a dreamer and that can cause her to find herself in trouble. Daydreams constantly interrupt her chores and conversations, pulling her away from reality and into her own imaginary world. This escape pleases Anne, but her rich inner life often comes into conflict with Avonlea’s expectations of appropriate behavior.  Anne’s imaginative excursions lead to everything from minor household disasters, such as baking an inedible cake, to life-threatening calamities, such as nearly drowning in an attempt to act out a poem.

That’s the worst of growing up, and I’m beginning to realize it. The things you wanted so much when you were a child don’t seem half so wonderful to you when you get them.

Her sentimentality colors her fictional stories, which feature melodrama, true love, eternal devotion, and tragic loss. In part, Anne’s attachment to sentimentality provides a refuge from the real emotions of fear and loss she experienced as a child. Her parents’ death left her at the mercy of others, and as a young girl she was treated not with the love and attention that most children receive, but with cruelty and carelessness. Because Anne knows the pain of real emotion, the play-world of sentiment is comforting to her.


What I didn’t like about the book

It almost seemed to her that those secret, unuttered, critical thoughts had suddenly taken visible and accusing shape and form in the person of this outspoken morsel of neglected humanity.

Anne is too likeable, too endearing and very, very annoying. 🙂 I said it. Feel free to bring on the hate. I would probably tell her to shut up like her mom Marilla does ever so often 🙂

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