Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Originally published in 1908
Source: I listened to the Librivox recording
Brother and sister Marilla and Matthew Cuthburt live and farm at Green Gables, in the village of Avonlea on the Prince Albert Island in Canada. When they decide to adopt a boy from an orphanage to help on the farm, they get instead Anne Shirley, a precious eleven year old girl. Marilla is more than ready to send her back immediately but Matthew is charmed and soon Anne finds herself a part of life on the farm. For her part, beyond being thrilled with the idea that she will finally have a home, Anne is overwhelmed immediately by a love of the natural setting of Green Gables. By the time Marilla gets a chance to find Anne another home, she has made the decision to keep Anne. A decision she will question again and again as Anne fumbles and stumbles her way through life. Because Anne is so prone to daydreaming, she is also prone to making careless mistakes. But she is also enthusiastic, loving and tries so hard to improve. The reader follows Anne through her life in Avonlea, her friendships (she is always looking for kindred spirits), and on through her days in high school where she excels.
My book club reads a "classic" every year and this year we choose "Anne of Green Gables." One of our members is a playwright who incorporated several classic girl's books into a play that some of us heard a reading of which prompted us to revisit our childhood. Of the five books incorporated into the play, this was the only one I had never read and I was eager to see what makes it so beloved. When I finished, I was still wondering.
I found the book excessively wordy, although Montgomery does a lovely job of describing nature. I quickly grew tired of Anne's daydreams and found much of the book repetitive. Further, I found it odd that Montgomery spent whole chapters discussing some situations then, as the book neared the end, condensed entire school years into a single chapter.
I did like the juxtaposition of Anne, who is all imagination, and Marilla, who is no nonsense and watching them gradually grow on each other. Although it often annoyed me how hard Marilla was on Anne even after she has warmed to her. But then I also felt sorry for Marilla when Anne would proclaim how fond she was of other people without ever really showing any fondness for Marilla.
The book is clearly of the time that it was written. On the other hand, young people today are every bit as concerned as Anne was about their appearance and having the right clothes. At one point, a couple gets married in a home because no one gets married in a church--and don't people still worry all of the time about what other people will think of them?
When I got to my book club meeting last month, I found that I wasn't the only one that was unimpressed with this book and when our playwright, who loves the book, arrived, we were quick to ask "why?" Her defense did make some of us reconsider the book. One of the things that still appeals to her about this book is that it does not preach, as do almost all other books written for children in this time period. True enough--it does not. And she loves the way Marilla allows Anne to make her mistakes and learn from them, a way of childrearing that was unheard of at the time but a way that most experts now recommend.
So, I'm left wondering...if I had read this book as a child, would I love it?