Friday, April 03, 2009

Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables (by Lucy Maud Montgomery) was first published around 1908. It is the story of an orphan girl who comes to live with a middle-aged brother and sister in rural Prince Edward Island. Anne is 11 at the beginning of the book, and 16 at the end of it, and there are several sequels that follow her through the various stages of life.

I'd read the first book before, but lately I've been reading the whole series on my Kindle, and reflecting on how remarkable it is.

The books are kind of simple - this isn't Dickens, but more like children's literature. Anne is feisty and quite imaginative, but she's a very good girl despite all of the scrapes she gets into. The books assume and promote a very basic Protestant morality. To the extent that there is moral conflict in the books, it's between a sort of fuddy-duddy outlook and a more free-spirited one.

But I find two things fairly remarkable. One is that the setting and the way the books progress is kind of historically amazing. There are no slaves, no serfs, and very little in the way of class differences, and Anne is free to pursue her education, vocation, and romantic aspirations as best she can in a friendly world full of opportunities. Oh, people still die of consumption, and ride in horse buggies, but otherwise it's kind of amazingly modern in some sense.

It's also rather astonishing how feminist the books are on a kind of basic level. The patriarchal features of the day are assumed, of course, but so is the idea that women can be intellectuals and academics. When Anne seeks her B.A., some of the adult women of her town disapprove of women going to college, but the surrounding culture is supportive of her doing so, and her years at college are filled with the kind of witty intellectual repartee that I remember from, well, my years at college.

The way that Anne's romantic life is worked out is also pretty cool. If you have any experience reading older novels at all, you'll have a guess within the first 50 pages of the first book about who Anne might end up with, but the way that it works out - the motivations and learning processes of the characters - is a bit interesting and, well, somewhat modern.

Watching Anne mature through the books is really fun. She starts off as a sort of comically exaggerated version of a girl you might imagine reading the book, but becomes really recognizably a person, a young woman, and an adult, as she ages.

All in all, if you're in the mood for some rather wholesome light reading, I can recommend these books heartily.


Sally said...

This is one of a large number of famous, popular "girly" books I've never read. I should read it. I just finished reading a book in which two young girls vacationing on the eastern shore became instant friends when one girl saw the other reading "Anne of Green Gables" and wanted to talk all about it.

Tam said...

I have also (at a different time) really enjoyed Rebecca of Sunybrook Farm, which is similar though with a different author. I actually have a copy of that with my grandmother's name written in it, presumably from her own childhood.