The Anne of Green Gables Series
by Lucy Maude Montgomery
L.C. Page & Co., 1908 (1st edition)
I’ve been mulling over this post since I first started this blog.
I knew from day one that I’d eventually have to review Anne of Green Gables, but every time I thought of writing the post, I couldn’t quite bring myself to it. The book is so enmeshed in my sense of self that it was very, very hard to figure out an entry point. How do you begin to write about the most personal book you’ve ever read?
Then, back in May, I hit on the idea of “gift of inspiration” posts: reviews of inspiring books I’ve been given over the years. It may be a short list, since I’ve bought most of my inspiring books myself, or checked them out of the library. But regardless, I had my doorway to Anne.
I first tried to read Anne of Green Gables when I was in third grade. I say “tried” because I didn’t even finish the second chapter. I had never before read a novel of manners, and for my eight-year-old sensibilities, it was just too slow to start.
Fast forward two years, and my best friend gave me a boxed set of the first three Anne books for Christmas. I smiled and thanked her, but inwardly I groaned. These books were boring. But my best friend had given them to me, and very enthusiastically so. They were her favorites, she said emphatically, and she was sure I would love them, too.
Out of a sense of obligation, I steeled myself to read the first book–just the first book, I told myself, and then I could set them aside with a clear conscience if I still didn’t like them.
I was hooked immediately. I don’t know what had changed. Maybe it was the fact that I’d read a few Dickens novels by that point, so my sensibilities were more tuned to Victorian language and character-driven stories. Or maybe it was the fact that I was now about the same age as Anne.
Whatever the case, I found in Anne a kindred spirit, beyond any kindred spirit I’ve ever found in a book before or since. I had always been a focused, organized child, but otherwise Anne and were like twins. We were wordy, brainy bookworms, often out of place and mocked or scolded for being and doing as girls weren’t supposed to be and do.
I wrote poetry and made up stories and devoured books like Anne, I was at the head of my class in school, I had trouble connecting with dolls and domesticity. I had many classmates and authority figures who called me odd, told me I used words that were too big and spoke my mind too often, and tried to push me into conventional girlhood molds that simply didn’t fit.
By that fifth-grade Christmas, enough of these messages had come my way that I was in a tailspin of self-doubt and even self-loathing. Looking back, I can see that tailspin as the lightning strikes on the edge of the storm, the leading edge of many years of struggling with depression and anxiety.
During that period, Anne was an anchor of hope. After flying through Anne of Green Gables, I moved on to books two and three. Then I saved up my pocket money so I could buy the second boxed set, the final two books in the series, and the related Chronicles of Avonlea books. By the time the next Christmas rolled around, I was in the middle of re-reading the series.
As I read Anne over and over again all the way through high school–I dipped in and out of it, in between other books–I felt better about myself and gathered confidence for the future. Here was a girl like me, on the outskirts and constantly invalidated, who nonetheless found dedicated friends who loved her deeply for who she was. More than that, she found a satisfying life in her own mind and fulfillment in work and study.
And then there was Gilbert: proof that smart girls don’t settle. I knew from an early age that I wanted to get married, but I didn’t just want a husband. I wanted a partner. But partners for headstrong, smart girls are hard to come by, especially in the South. Gilbert was my reminder not to cave, my pull against the temptation to cater to conventional boys who wanted conventional girls.
Even now, 25 years later, Anne is always in the background of my mind. I’m a much more confident person because of her. I feel good about who I am and what I do. And, thanks to her example, I have my own Gilbert who encourages both me and my daughter to be our best and truest selves.
On a personal, daily-decision kind of level, Anne is the most life-altering book I’ve read, apart from my Bible. I’m no longer in touch with that best friend from elementary school, but I still have the paperbacks she gave me, wrapped in contact paper to keep them from falling apart. I’m so thankful she gave me the gift of inspiration all those years ago.