I never read much as a younger person and missed out on so many great books. Anne of Green Gables is one of these wonderful books, or at least I think it is; since I was busy sobbing through the last 40 pages or so, I couldn’t see the text too clearly.
Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, an older brother and sister, arrange to adopt a young orphan boy so they can get some help on their farm in Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. Matthew sets out from their house (which they call “Green Gables”) to pick up the boy, only to find that instead, they have been given an eleven-year-old girl. She has thick red braids and a face full of freckles, an unbeatable optimism, and an unstoppable tongue. Neither Matthew nor Marilla could live with themselves if they sent her back, and so they keep her.
The book takes place over five years, and follows Anne and the Cuthberts through their adjustment to one another, Anne’s adjustment to the town and the school, Anne’s eventual maturation, and her growing awareness of boys, or at least of one in particular. During this time, the small family also experiences growing appreciation and love for one another.
Discussion: The plot may not sound too original, and indeed, there are many other similar heartwarming stories that come to mind, from Pollyanna to “The Sound of Music” (“how do you hold a sunbeam in your hand?”). But several features of this book stand out:
One, no one in the book can resist Anne, and you, the reader, will be no exception! Most of the other characters are also endearing, even while representing a surprisingly diverse collection of “types.”
Two, Anne’s adoptive “parents” (although not “partners” in the traditional sense) are also unforgettable. The character of Marilla is so artfully drawn. Marilla is a woman who never wanted to admit to emotion or softness. It took Anne to break through her barriers. And yet it is not a facile process but one that seems right and true to who Marilla is. Matthew is a quiet, shy man who loves Anne from the beginning, with a gentleness and simplicity that keeps Anne warm for the rest of their life together.
Three, there are many scenes in this book that pay tribute to the outdoor beauty of Avonlea. Ordinarily, when an author fills up paragraphs with descriptions of nature, this is something I endure at best, and skim at worst. This book did not cause me to do either. The colorful depictions of the area surrounding Green Gables, as seen through Anne’s eyes, are so enchanting and evocative that I was never once tempted to gloss over these parts to get back to dramatic action. In a way, they were actually a part of the action, certainly for Anne. The beauty she saw in the world outside – her “great capacity for delight” – constantly brought out happiness and optimism in her, and helped her to overcome the darkest of times.
Evaluation: What a great book! So sorry I missed it when I was younger. On the bright side, it has sequels! It has movies! I love sequels! I love movies! I love Anne! Can’t wait!
First published in 1908, and reproduced many times thereafter