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July 6, 2008

Rereading Anne of Green Gables

The first time I encountered Anne in print was in an abridged version of the story at the beginning of my Anne of Green Gables colouring book. I first read the novel when I saw seven or eight, my understanding of which was greatly influenced by the film. My Anne was always Megan Follows, Marilla Colleen Dewhurst, etc. Try as I might, these associations refuse to be shed. Which is not such a bad thing.

The last time I read Anne of Green Gables was seven or eight years ago, the first time as an adult, and I read my wonderful annotated edition. I remember finding the annotations interesting, though I can’t remember any of them now. I do remember being struck by the novel’s humour. As a child I’d taken it all as sincerely as Anne did, but now I could see that much of the book was really quite funny.

This time rereading Anne of Green Gables, I went back to my old novel. It has become quite a treasure, though the dust-jacket is gone (I hated dust-jackets when I was little, how they’d get torn and ratty, and I used to throw them away). I wish I could remember what the cover had looked like. My edition is a reprint of the very first edition, old style fonts and textual decos, illustrations by Hilton Hassell with a line of text underneath each on. On the inside cover is inscribed, “To Kerry Lea, From Grandma and Grandpa, Xmas 1986”. Note that from my grandparents, I would go on to receive hardback copies of Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island for my birthday and Christmas 1987. In 1988, the whole rest of the series arrives from them, albeit in paperback. Perhaps the most long-lasting gifts I’ll ever receive. What treasures now…

Kate Sutherland
has been rereading Anne, celebrating her centennial (for indeed she turned 100 years in June). She’s been part of the group Blogging Anne of Green Gables, sharing rereadings and providing some fascinating insights.

Certainly Anne is a fine book for revisiting. Rereading is an absolute joy, and like any book worth a trip back to, it’s amazing how much the perspective changes. The mark of any good book, such richness, and multiple layers readers can reveal for themselves as time goes on. As most young readers do, I identified with Anne, in all earnestness I wanted to be her. Because of her triumphs, I think, in the face of all adversity. I think all awkward little girls (which is most little girls) want to believe that triumph is possible. They’re sold on Anne’s version of romance, of her poetry, of the wilds of her imagination, just as her schoolmates are at the Avonlea school. How she casts a spell on the whole world.

Now I see though, rereading, that though Anne is the impetus, her story is about how that very spell changes Marilla Cuthbert. How Marilla realizes her true self through this bewitching orphan girl. “It almost seemed to her that [her] secret, unmuttered, critical thoughts had suddenly taken visible and accusing shape and form in the person of this outspoken morsel of neglected humanity.” How from the moment she encounters Anne, she is biting back smiles, swallowing her “reprehensible desire to laugh”. Until the end of the novel, when we find her in explosive fits of laughter, or when Matthew discovers her having a good cry. She learns to feel, to be, and to love. She is a wonderful, rich character, more than I’d ever thought to give her credit for.

I was also struck by the bookishness of Anne. Literary references scattered throughout the text, Anne’s quoting poetry, but it’s not just Anne. I’d always thought Diana Berry was a bit bland in comparison to her bosom friend, and so I was surprised to first encounter her as follows: “Diana was sitting on the sofa, reading a book which she dropped when the callers entered.” Her mother instructs her, “Diana, you might take Anne out into the garden and show her your flowers. It will be better for you than straining your eyes over that book. She reads entirely too much… and I can’t prevent her… She’s always poring over a book. I’m glad she has the prospect of a playmate– perhaps it will take her more out of doors.”

The little girls of Avonlea read with fervour, exchange novels like I did stickers at their age. They’re all variable types, none of them quite like Anne, but the bookishness is a common denominator I found fascinating.

One thought on “Rereading Anne of Green Gables”

  1. Leah says:

    L.M. Montgomery is one of those few authors whom I can reread over and over and over again. The Blue Castle first and foremost, but Anne and Emily! oh, they are wonderful to reread and to re-appreciate. Like any books you first read when you’re young, with every rereading, they gain more meaning and you don’t take certain things (i.e. Anne’s earnestness) quite so much at face value.

    Although it is still difficult for me to take italics and Methodists at face value, courtesy of Mr. Carpenter and Miss Cornelia, respectively.

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