Sunday, November 16, 2008

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery



Some novels are so ubiquitous that they are somehow a turn off. Popularity can breed contempt. Anne of Green Gables I've always presumed, for some reason or other, to be some type of twee pastoral. Yet recently a very canny reader suggested that I give this classic a go.

The story I guess you could describe as a 'coming of age' book. A young orphan, Anne Shirley, is sent to a farm as help. Those who had sought out the help, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, had wanted a boy. Through some mix up a girl was sent. Disappointment is the first response, and a determination to send Anne Shirley back. Yet this orphan girl soon starts an irresistible influence, until both Marilla and Matthew grow completely dependent on her.

Hence the book is basically built around Anne's charming, mischievous and exasperating (at least to Marilla and Matthew) character. Indeed, she's very much a 'life force' character. Or as literary critic Harold Bloom said of Shakespeare's great characters, a 'free agent of herself'. She leaves everyone else in the dust with her brilliant planning, scheming and infectious joy of life. You know she's always bordering on out of control, creating all sorts of hilarious mishaps, but you can't help but forgive her because you know there's something special about her. By the novel's end, we learn that she's very academically gifted, and her moral compass is exceedingly well tuned.

Lucy Maud Montgomery's prose is also a complete joy to read. Montgomery also wrote poetry, and this sensibility comes through (she sometimes weaves Shakespeare into her prose). The author has the good sense to know that her creation, Anne Shirley, is more important than her own vanity as a writer, and so she steps back and let's her character take centre stage. I found Montgomery's prose natural and assured, an organic style that bloomed like fresh spring flowers.
The book has a nice leisurely pace, while Anne gets mixed up in all sort of mischief, then suddenly things are wrapped up and Anne grows up quite quickly into a 16 years old.


What's the theme of the book? Who knows. Montgomery's inspiration for Anne of Green Gables came from a girlhood idea. One thing is sure, after reading about Anne you so much admire her that you want to emulate her optimism and good cheer about life. Perhaps the reason for the book's immense popularity is that it is about the very joys of being alive. (Anne is a firm advocate of imagining things to be better than they are.)

Over 50 million other readers know what a brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable novel Anne of Green Gables is. I'm now another one added to that long list.

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