Anne of Green Gables
Lucy Maud Montgomery
Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive–it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?
Nostalgia. If we are to be entirely honest, that is a prime reason so many of us choose to return to children’s books, to old favorites. To remember that book we read long ago and all the delight we found in it before, hoping that it won’t turn on us to disappoint, and not be the book we remembered.
It was this nostalgia I expected to find when I returned to Anne of Green Gables for what must be the fourth or fifth time. (Or more? I didn’t really keep track of all my many readings and re-readings when I was little.) I did not expect to be transported back, not to a previous reading, but to my childhood itself, to my own days of make-believe play with my best childhood friend. It was, I must admit, a bit bittersweet: it’s been ten years or more since I last heard from this friend, who moved away when we were only in sixth grade (we lost touch when we went to college). I found myself not contemplating Anne’s latest mishap but wondering what had become of my friend and what might have been different had her family not had to move away. This was not what I had expected of Anne! Yet Anne of Green Gables is not changed; it is only me, growing older. I am not too old for Anne–in the end I love her story as much as I ever did. I simply read it differently.
A huge cherry-tree grew outside, so close to that its boughs tapped against the house, and it was so thick-set with blossoms that hardly a leaf was to be seen. On both sides of the house was a big orchard, one of apple trees and one of cherry trees, also showered over with blossoms; and their grass was all sprinkled with dandelions. In the garden below were lilac trees purple with flowers, and their dizzily sweet fragrance drifted up to the window on the morning wind.
January proved perfect timing for returning to Anne of Green Gables, or rather, Anne of Green Gables proved a perfect antidote to the wickedly cold, snowy January we had. I’m not a very good reader of descriptive passages, my mind tending to wander off when I encounter one–typically, I assume this to be a failure of me the reader rather than on the author’s part–but for some reason I do better with Montgomery’s nature scenes. Looking them over, I suspect that this is in part because she tends to use precise nouns and verbs rather than many flowery adjectives, and partly because the scene she is setting is so often one I want to be in. All those spring flowers! I can smell them as well as see them, and in turn I am reassured that spring will return, even if prospects seem dismal at the moment. Interestingly, for a novel set in Canada, winter seems to take a minimal role, with only a few mentions of pulling on a coat or taking a sleigh-ride. Perhaps the reminders of pleasant springs and summers were as beloved for Montgomery as myself?
But here I am, wandering through nostalgia and seasons, and I’ve barely written a word about Anne or the story itself! I strongly suspect that the reason so many fall in love with this book and series is Anne Shirley, a delightful, spunky, imaginative, and mishap-prone girl, that I imagine many of us can relate to as children. But returning to her story as an adult, I find myself taking the point-of-view, not of Anne, but of the adults in her life. I honestly did not recall that this book could at times be laugh-out-loud funny, whether because of Anne’s latest mishap or her earnest little speeches that so often echoed what adults thought but could not say. I think the story must become more humorous as we grow older, for as children we share Anne’s earnestness, and perhaps her mystification that Miss Barry should laugh at her every speech.
I do want to mention a book I read a few years ago, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. At the time I compared it to Anne of Green Gables, for there are many similarities–an orphan sent to live in a new home among strangers, who enchants those around her, gets into many scrapes, and has boundless enthusiasm–but I did not find it to live up to my memory of Anne of Green Gables (while remaining absolutely charming in its own way). Now, having finally revisited Anne of Green Gables, I find that my previous assessment holds. Green Gables is simply more even, and better paces the passage of time. I am never in doubt of how old Anne is or how much time has passed. That said, the last year or two of time covered in Green Gables does seem to rush by rather quickly. Perhaps Montgomery thought that a maturing Anne would find fewer adventures and mishaps and be of less interest to readers. Of course, we know that their demand for a sequel proved otherwise. And even though I found that it took me much longer than I expected to finish Anne of Green Gables this time around, I have no doubt that I shall be returning myself before long.