Saturday, July 2, 2022

"Anne of Green Gables" by L.M. Montgomery

The first time I read "Anne of Green Gables" -- the classic first novel by Canadian author L.M. Montgomery, published in 1908 -- I was about 8 or 9 years old. It was around 1969-70, and my family had recently moved to a small, remote, rural community in northwestern Manitoba. To our dismay, the town lacked a local library -- the closest one was 40 miles away -- but we soon learned we could order, receive and return books from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, through the mail!  (I wrote about this service in a post here.)  

I don't know if I'd heard of "Anne of Green Gables" somewhere before, or if I was intrigued by the description in the library catalogue, but I do remember that's where I got the book from. I read and returned it -- and then devoured the sequels, one after another -- as well as Montgomery's other novels -- and bought some copies of my own -- and re-read them all, over and over again during the years I was growing up and entering young adulthood (to the point that some of my personal copies started falling apart!). 

I was infatuated. I started naming objects and places around the town like Anne did. I already loved to read books and use big words like Anne (and felt like a misfit among my peers, as a result). Anne was even Canadian, like me!  Clearly, I had found a "kindred spirit."  

I can't tell you when the LAST time I read "Anne of Green Gables" was, but it's safe to say it was quite a while ago -- certainly more than 20 years ago, very likely more than 30 and possibly even 40 or more. In the interim, I've seen multiple movie and TV versions of the book (albeit not the recent "Anne with an E" series);  I've read books about Montgomery herself and read scholarly publications about her work. (I was an English major at university, but unfortunately, the study of "CanLit" and (especially) Montgomery specifically was only in its infancy then.)  I still haven't been to PEI -- yet!! -- but in the early 1970s, we went to Winnipeg on my sister's birthday to see a touring production of "Anne of Green Gables" the musical that's been performed in Charlottetown every summer since 1965 (with time out in 2019 and 2020 because of the covid pandemic -- but it's back this year!) -- and my high school drama club put on a non-musical "Anne of Green Gables" play when I was in Grade 10. I hoped for the part of Diana or Anne herself -- but alas, I wound up playing... Anne's nemesis, Josie Pye!

So -- needless to say -- the story has become well engrained in my memory -- and when I opened my newly purchased copy of the book (I splurged, and bought the entire Anne box set produced by Tundra Books!) and started reading, even after all these years, I could practically recite the words on some of the pages without even looking at them -- they were so very familiar.  It was like coming home to an old friend.  (And how appropriate that I finished reading it on the Canada Day long weekend...!)  :) 

I picked up "Anne" again recently because, after covering 7 other (non-Anne) Montgomery novels since the pandemic began in March 2020, my L.M. Montgomery Readathon group on Facebook announced that "Anne of Green Gables" -- the book that started it all -- would be our next read together.

By now, the basic plot is pretty well known: middle-aged brother & sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (both unmarried and childless) decide to adopt a boy, unseen, from an orphanage in Nova Scotia, to help Matthew with the work on their Prince Edward Island farm near the small town of Avonlea. But when Matthew goes to pick up the child at the train station, the boy turns out to be a precocious 11-year-old girl with bright red hair, freckles, a wild imagination and a prolific vocabulary, who is overjoyed at the prospect of finally having a real home. Reluctant to send the child back to the orphanage and an uncertain fate, the Cuthberts decide to keep her anyway, changing their lives (and Anne's -- and ours!) in ways they never could have imagined.  And thus, a literary phenomenon was born.  :)  

I may be pretty familiar with the story but there were a few things I'd forgotten about or was reminded of:  for example, right from the start of the book, the reader is confronted by certain stereotypes about orphans and adoption (particularly as cited by neighbourhood busybody Mrs. Rachel Lynde in the opening chapter), some of which linger to this day. Of course, unlike Anne, most adoptees today are not orphans whose parents are dead. They are usually surrendered for adoption (through agencies or private arrangements) because their biological parents are unable to care for them, or they are placed in foster care by the state, until they are reunited with their families, or parental rights are relinquished or terminated and they become available for adoption. 

For all that I love "Anne of Green Gables," I wouldn't call it my favourite LMM novel (or maybe even my favourite "Anne" book). That would be a toss-up between "Rilla of Ingleside" (which is about Anne's youngest daughter, growing up during the years of the First World War), "The Blue Castle," and "Jane of Lantern Hill" -- all books we've covered in the Readathon, and all reviewed on this blog. Nevertheless, and despite some of the dated aspects mentioned above, it's still a classic (and deservedly so), and it's easy to see why it's still so beloved, in Canada and around the world, more than 100 years after it was first published.  

4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 on Goodreads. :) 

Our chapter-by-chapter group discussion of "Anne of Green Gables" begins on Monday, July 4th.  If you're a fan, come join us! I will count this book again as a re-read once we're finished (in mid-November). 

At the recent biennial conference of the L.M. Montgomery Institute of the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, the L.M. Montgomery Readathon received the 2022 Dr. Francis W.P. Bolger Award, which is presented for "outstanding contributions to our appreciation of Montgomery and place in Prince Edward Island, through scholarship, education, preservation, creative works, or by other means."  Announcing the award, Philip Smith said, in part, "The last two years and more have been times, for some, of separation, loss, fear, and loneliness. The L.M. Montgomery Readathon has invited people into the Montgomery community, invited connections with her Prince Edward Island, from the early days of the pandemic. It has provided a route for Montgomery to serve during the pandemic as a refuge, an inspiration, a means to community."  :)  

This was Book #30 read to date in 2022 (and Book #1 finished in July), bringing me to 67% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 8 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2022 tagged as "2022 books."  


  1. I love love loved Anne of Green Gables when I was a girl, and I read it multiple times, along with as many of the subsequent books as possible. (I can't remember if I've read Rilla of Ingleside or not. It was a long time ago! lol) So when my husband and I planned a trip around the eastern states of Canada (I had business to do in New Brunswick, so we decided to take a holiday around it), I knew we had to go to PEI. My husband was a little bemused by my excitement to be there, and to then visit the Green Gables house (and oh, my reaction when I saw a brown dress hanging in her bedroom - and yes, I know it is fiction! lol), but he indulged me. We went in May, so it was off season, but I was amazed at the huge car park there, and the spaces available for tour buses. They said it is because the Japanese are huge fans of Anne. Which seemed odd to me, but in reality it is no odder than a little girl from the Sth Pacific loving it.

    I loved the recent TV series, especially because the Anne actress looked so like my red-haired freckly niece Charlie, who is a bit of a misfit for other reasons. (Like you, there was so much of Anne I related to - the books, the feeling that there was a big world out there to experience, etc.) I might just have to join your book group for this month's discussions!

    1. There's a whole story behind the Japanese love of Anne... I recently saw an online presentation by the daughter of the woman who translated the book into Japanese -- she'd gone to a school in the early 1900s run by missionaries and one of her teachers -- a Canadian -- gave her a copy of AOGG. After WWII, many English language books were translated into Japanese to help promote western values there, and Anne was one of them! The Japanese loved the descriptions of nature and of course Anne was a novelty, quite unlike any little girl in Japan at the time!

      No pressure to join, but if you love Anne & Montgomery's other books, you would probably love the Readathon -- we cover two chapters per week, with a reading of the chapter done on video by a volunteer (you might even see a familiar face/name doing one occasionally...!) and then discussion questions and posts related to the content of the chapter, explaining everything from the fashions of the time to recipes to literary allusions. It's a literary feast for Montgomery fans! & we learn so much from each other!

  2. Dear Lori, Anne of Green Gables came to Germany in the 1980s when everyone watched the Kevin Sullivan Show. I loved this show so much that I hurt a really good friend who had invited me because I cancelled in order to watch (we didn’t have a video recorder then - you had to watch it on live TV or you would miss it! Later I had another friend whose family had a video recorder and every time I visited we watched her tape of the last episode when Gilbert finally proposed :) Very awkward, because the TV was in her father’s office, but he was very patient with us!). I think I wrote that in another comment on this blog, I started to improve my English when I discovered that there were many sequels to Anne of Green Gables which were not available in German at that time. At the beginning I had to look up nearly every word - and a lot of them were not in our dictionary. Later one of my best friends married a Canadian from Toronto and we holidayed together in Nova Scotia and spent a whole week on PEI - an epoch in my life! We went to Green Gables of course, but also to Park Corner where I spoke to a lovely old lady who was related to Frede, LMM’s beloved cousin who died from the Spanish flu (gulp!) And there were so many other LMM sights - her birthplace and her grave, the post office her grandparents ran, the school in Summerside she taught… My husband was a bit exhausted at the end of the week and still jokes that there is no place on the whole island without a sign with a LMM quotation :) When we visited our friends in Toronto we also holidayed at Lake Muskoka and I made my husband stop at Bala - unfortunately the LMM museum there was closed (that was in the early 2000s when we didn’t have smart phones to check opening times in advance…).
    For me, Anne of Green Gables is still my favourite LMM book - it is so hopeful and uplifting and also such a great portrait of village life. I also like Anne of the Island and Rilla of Ingleside. Thank you so much again for pointing me to the LMM readathon - I am still a group member (passive, too shy to post…) and enjoy this very much! And thank you for blogging - your blog helps me a lot to navigate the Road Less Taken! Many greetings from Germany, Annette

    1. So lovely to hear from you again, Annette! I'm envious of your Montgomery travels -- I have been to the manse in Leaskdale, Ontario, where she lived (and I've written about that here, in July or August 2014, I think), and they are fixing up the one in Norval, where they lived after that -- which is less than an hour's drive from where I live now, so I am looking forward to visiting there sometime once that's done! Glad to hear you are enjoying the Readathon! :)

    2. Of course I remember your post about visiting Leaskdale - thank you for sharing! Now I am looking forward to your account of a visit to Norval. And I keep my fingers crossed that you can travel to PEI soon - it is so lovely. Is there also a site at LMM’s last residence in Toronto? I am not sure. Well, my friends are back in Canada, so maybe one day (after Covid…) I will visit them again at beautiful Ontario and see Leaskdale and Norval.

    3. Her final home in Toronto is a private residence, but apparently there is a plaque outside. I haven't been by there, but I know the area where it is!

  3. You know, I'm realizing I never read the book. Just the TV mini series of the 80s. I will always see Megan Follows' face when I think of the story. Now you've made me want to read it, as well as "Rilla,"Blue Castle," and "Jane."

    And thank you for pointing out the stereotypes about adoption and adoptees.