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Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables Books Remain Classics

By Edited May 21, 2015 0 0

Two years ago marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of Anne of Green Gables, L. M. Montgomery's ever-popular book about a loquacious orphan whose personality is as fiery as her hair. The book went on to spark numerous adaptations for stage and screen, most notably Kevin Sullivan's miniseries for Canadian television in the 1980s, and Montgomery herself wrote seven sequels. Below is an overview of the eight Anne books, which continue to hold up well to this day.

Anne of Green Gables - Anne Shirley is a scrawny, freckly, red-headed dreamer. Though she has spent her life in and out of orphanages and chaotic foster homes, her creative spirit has sustained her through many trials. Nonetheless, she longs for a true home, especially one with some "scope for the imagination". When shy Matthew Cuthbert comes for her at the train station, expecting a boy to help with the farm work, he is taken aback, but her chatty exuberance charms him, and he convinces Marilla, the spinster sister with whom he lives, to let the child stay even though she has an uncanny knack for getting into trouble.

This is by far the most iconic of the books in the series, and its incidents are the most memorable, both in terms of humor and emotional impact. Montgomery's flowery prose makes a big impression, but it's irrepressible Anne herself who really draws readers in, whether she's feuding with town gossip Rachel, accidentally getting her prim "bosom friend" Diana drunk, dying her hair green or taking a tumble while performing a dangerous balancing act on a roof. While these and other incidents add humor, what I really love is the development of her relationship with schoolmate Gilbert, who makes the deadly mistake of joking about her hair on their first day of school together, and her adoptive parents. A true classic.

Anne of Avonlea - Not a terribly eventful novel in comparison with others in the series, since Anne is comfortably settled as a teacher in the town of Avonlea, where she still lives with Marilla. We spend most of this book getting to know her students and a few neighbors we didn't meet in the first installment. Anne has matured considerably, so she doesn't get into as many ridiculous scrapes, though there is still room for that; an incident involving the selling of a cow is particularly memorable. Most of the hijinks, however, come from young Davy, Marilla's distant cousin, who comes to live at Green Gables along with his sister Dora. Meanwhile, Anne enjoys a comfortable relationship with Gilbert and hopes that their friendship will never change.

Anne of the Island - Anne goes off to college in this installment, giving the book quite a different flavor. This would be a good book for someone just headed out of high school to read as it explores many of the emotions involved in that transition as well as the experiences that come with college life. Of course, some of the specifics are a bit dated, but the general thrust of it is very applicable to modern life. Romance becomes a prime concern here as Anne, much like Lizzy in Pride and Prejudice, receives a series of marriage proposals. Anne thinks she knows exactly what she wants in a husband, but when she meets a man who seems to meet all of her fairy tale qualifications, she somehow finds herself thinking of her old chum Gilbert...

Anne of Windy Poplars - After years of patient waiting, Gilbert has finally managed to win Anne over, but now there is more waiting to be done, since he is off to medical school and she has accepted a position at a prestigious girls' school. The book begins as a series of letters from Anne to Gilbert, which makes it slow going at first, especially with all of Anne's extravagant expressions of love for him mingled in. Eventually, this format subsides and the book becomes more interesting, with the most engaging portion detailing how she manages to win over a classroom full of snobs hostile to her presence. Later adventures have more to do with her various attempts to improve the lives of her friends and neighbors, but while this is all very altruistic, most of it doesn't make much of a lasting impression.

Anne's House of Dreams - The book begins with Anne and Gilbert's wedding, followed by their departure for a life by the seaside. It's just the two of them in a cozy home, which is lovely when Gilbert is at home, but his life as a doctor keeps him busy, and he's often away from the house. Thus, Anne is anxious to make friends, and although this is a more isolated area than Avonlea, she does manage to find a few kindred spirits, including a young woman whose dark history keeps her from getting too close to Anne. Late in the novel, she is at the heart of one of the best plot twists in the series. The most colorful of the new characters is Captain Jim, a crusty old seafarer full of wonderful stories to tell. In many ways, this humble, open-hearted fellow reminds me of characters like J. R. R. Tolkien's Sam Gamgee and J. K. Rowling's Rubeus Hagrid. Though he only appears in this book, his legacy lives on through Anne and Gilbert's oldest son, who is born in this book.

After the first five books, the attention of the series shifts from Anne to her children. Hence, although she is a central character in Anne of Ingleside and has a few key conflicts of her own, especially involving an ongoing struggle with Gilbert's cantankerous Aunt Mary Martha and her feelings of insecurity when Gilbert comes into contact with an old girlfriend, the primary focus is on her three sons and three daughters. By the time we get around to Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside - which ends the series on a somber note as we see how the home front in Canada faces World War I - Anne is merely a peripheral character. I heartily recommend Anne of Green Gables to all, and those who love it as much as I do should certainly follow her further adventures and those of her children. However, nothing that followed could ever quite match the charm of that first iconic introduction to one of the most famous orphans in literature.

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