Netflix announced it will adapt L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables into an eight episode series coming in 2017. As a child, I watched the 1985 miniseries adaptation staring Megan Follows with my grandparents. They had a strange obsession with Anne of Green Gables and would laugh through our screenings like every viewing was their first.
Because of my memories with them, Anne holds a special place in my heart. I can’t remember if I ever read the book as a kid, but I figured now would be a good time to do so, before the release of the Netflix series.
Set in Avonlea, a small town on Prince Edward Island, the story opens from the perspective of a supporting character, Mrs. Rachel Lynde, spying her neighbor Matthew Cuthbert dressed-up and driving his buggy up the road. As the town busy-body, Rachel can’t resist making way her over to Matthew’s house and asking his sister Marilla for an explanation.
In general, Montgomery does a great job with perspective. Every scene is told through a character’s eyes, changing chapter by chapter. You never really feel that there’s an all-seeing narrator, despite it being told in third person, but it really feels that the characters guide the story.
Mrs. Lynde’s is the perfect perspective to begin things. She gives a reason for Marilla to say that Matthew is going to the train station to pick up a young boy who came from an orphan asylum in Nova Scotia. Mrs. Lynde’s anxiousness for the details made me want to know why Matthew was driving down the road too.
Nothing is ever easy for Anne, which probably makes her romanticism and enthusiasm that much more charming. When Matthew arrives at the train station for the little boy, all he finds is red-haired, freckled Anne and her dilapidated carpetbag. He can’t very well leave her there and he’s too shy to tell her the truth, so he takes her back to Marilla for her to break the news to Anne that there’s been a mistake.
Eleven year old Anne immediately reveals her active imagination. Imagination is her bread and butter, really it’s her best friend since she has never known any friends. She describes to Matthew how she would have slept in the nearby cherry tree if he had not come to get her that day.
On the buggy ride home, Anne displays her ability to talk… and talk and talk. She admires the beautiful Avonlea landscape and gives her own names to what she sees. They cross a lake which becomes The Lake of Shining Waters and The Avenue becomes The White Way of Delight.
When Anne and Matthew make it back to the house, Marilla is surprised to find a girl and says so. Hearing Marilla express her disappointment in the mistake, Anne bursts into a crying fit and says the she should of known because no one ever wants her.
Marilla attempts to comfort her and asks for her name. Anne requests that she be called Cordelia. Marilla is stumped by this and can’t understand why the girl would want to go by anything other then her own name. Anne reluctantly gives her name, Anne Shirley, and says:
“But if you call me Anne please call me Anne spelled with an E.”
‘What difference does it make how it’s spelled?’ asked Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot.
‘Oh, it makes SUCH a difference. It LOOKS so much nicer. When you hear a name pronounced can’t you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished. If you’ll only call me Anne spelled with an E I shall try to reconcile myself to not being called Cordelia.’
I had to quote that passage directly because it’s just about the greatest. Montgomery’s wit is sprinkled everywhere in this book and the Anne with an E scene is a classic. Marilla’s comedic first meeting with Anne in chapter 3 sets up their relationship and the tug-of-war between them many times to come. These two characters are opposites in their personalities, but also the right balance. Then Matthew acts as the peacekeeper between the two.
Later in chapter 3 Anne says that she’s in the “depths of despair” and cannot eat. Marilla asks what this means and Anne beautifully describes a type of disappointment that anyone can relate to, involving a lump in the throat that causes a loss of appetite. Anne sees beauty in the tragic as well as the dramatic. It’s sort of admirable because we are shaped by our mistakes as much as our success.
After this evening of despair, Anne wakes up the next morning to all the loveliness that Green Gables has to offer, telling Marilla, “Don’t you feel as if you just loved the world on a morning like this?” Marilla responds by telling her to get ready for breakfast.
In chapter five Marilla and Anne make their way to Mrs. Spencer’s, so that Marilla can settle the mistake of receiving a girl instead of boy. On the drive, Anne tells Marilla her sad history of her parents death, her foster situations, and eventually the asylum. She describes her life with a sentence she read in a book: “My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.”
Anne’s story tugs at Marilla’s heartstrings and Marilla begins to consider the benefits of keeping her.