In this week’s installment of our Nostalgia series, I’m tackling a book whose very language has inscribed itself in my heart and mind.
A child of about eleven, garbed in a very short, very tight, very ugly dress of yellowish gray wincey. She wore a faded brown sailor hat and beneath the hat, extending down her back, were two braids of very thick, decidedly red hair. Her face was small, white and thin, also much freckled; her mouth was large and so were her eyes, that looked green in some lights and moods and gray in others.
Yes, it’s L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. If you love this book as I do — or even if you don’t — come on in and let’s talk about it…
When I first discovered Anne, I was maybe ten years old, a redhead with a precocious vocabulary, a lively imagination, and an irrepressible sense of wonder. Is it any wonder I fell in love? She was just who I wanted to be — perhaps minus the bigger scrapes she got herself into, like dyeing her hair green instead of black. Marilla, Matthew, Mrs. Rachel Lynde, and all the rest were such vivid characters it was not hard to love them too. Another “character” was the setting. Green Gables and Avonlea were vividly rendered in prose with the soul of poetry, and the historical era of corsets and horse-drawn carts held its own strong appeal.
Then I discovered the TV miniseries, which brought the books to life in a way that could never be topped. (At that time only the first two installments, Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel, existed, and to me they are still the only ones.) Megan Follows was Anne Shirley. Together they sank so deep into my heart that it was as if they’d always been there. Years later, my then-boyfriend said innocently “Who’s Megan Follows?”, and his sister and I responded in scandalized chorus, “Anne of Green Gables!!” (Reader, I’m marrying him anyway.)
As was usual for me, I tore through all the other Anne books and a healthy chunk of Montgomery’s other novels. Then I devoured the TV miniseries Road to Avonlea. I loved them all, but none of them had quite the same impact as the first.
I recently reread Anne of Green Gables after many years. As with Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quartet, I found the experience of rereading to be more like remembering, the words and the rhythms of the sentences rising out of the page to meet me. It’s almost as if I can see Montgomery’s handwriting behind the lines of print. (Anne to Marilla, after learning that her being brought to Green Gables was all a mistake: “‘How can you call it a good night when you know it must be the very worst night I’ve ever had?’ she said reproachfully.”) I imagine that since the words have embedded themselves so deeply in my mind, they must have an effect on everything I write. Or at least I can hope.
Granted, Montgomery’s prose is a bit too purple for our taste today. But here’s the thing. Some years ago I was lucky enough to visit Prince Edward Island. I toured Green Gables and some of the other locations nearby — the inspirations for the Haunted Wood and the White Way of Delight. And I have to tell you that if I were writing about them, I too would wax poetic. Even with the bustling tourism industry that has risen up in Cavendish (the real name of Avonlea), even when visiting these places among other tourists, the beauty and the magic remain.
Rereading the first book as an adult, I found myself more sympathetic to Marilla than I was at Anne’s age. The narration favours Anne, of course, but it also balances her youth with Marilla’s tempered wisdom. Just as Anne blossoms at Green Gables, Marilla blossoms when exposed to Anne. Marilla just takes a little longer to shed her cynicism. Regardless, I was almost as glad to revisit her and Matthew and the other secondary characters as I was to spend time with Anne again. They’re old friends too.
When did you discover Anne? Has your relationship with the book(s) changed over the years?