Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Classics Club: Anne of Green Gables

Sometimes I wonder how I went through childhood without any of the "classic" children's books.  True, I had Verne's fantasy novels and Charlotte's web, but I think I jumped too soon on to "adult" literature and am left wondering whether I've missed on something.  Making up for this, then, is to read such novels now and try to imagine whether I could have appreciated them at a younger age...

Ebookclassics organised a readalong for the month of April of Anne of Green Gables, and while I could not participate in the weekly discussions, I really appreciated the opportunity to visit one of the prolific authors of children's literature, Lucy Maud Montgomery and read the first novel of the Anne series.

Anne is an orphan.  As an adult, I could not really see the purpose why all lessons have to be taught through the eyes of a "marginalised" person - no one lives on cloud no. 9 anymore.  I realised, however, that as a child, living under relatively "pampered" circumstances, I would have paid more attention to the experience of another child who did not have my luxuries, whose living conditions would have been new to me.  It's also a very good introduction to the notion of "social exclusion" and the great gift the majority of us have to actually belong to a family, a community, an organised society.

Through a misunderstanding, Anne is delivered to siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who were actually looking for a boy to help out with their farm.  After an initial mistrust towards her, she is welcomed in their little family as well as in the village of Green Gables.   She is the typical dreamy girl, ready to escape in her fantasy world within seconds, not understanding why adults cannot use this ability as well.  Having just seen "Peter and Alice" in theatre, which asks the question of when one stops being a child and becomes an adult, I had to rewind and get all the scenes in my mind again.  

The beautiful trait of children is that they have healthy imagination and are able to escape real life, into a world where all is wonderful, safe and warm.  There are no societal constraints yet.  This age is such a great lesson in still believing things can change for the better, that tomorrow is another great day, that we all need to lighten up a little - I myself don't think that often.  Now, don't get me wrong - I don't mean that we should all disregard reality and start living in fantasy worlds.  But this safety mechanism can actually prove a much-needed pillow that can ease the burden.  Just like grown-up Anne, we can find a compromise between our perfect world and the real world.  I would just like children to retain this ability the longest possible.  They'll have to deal with society and harsh reality for plenty more years...

Anne also breaks an unwritten rule:  she's not blonde, she's redhead.  What a scandal this must have brought about at the time of publication!  Of course she hates her hair in the beginning, just like all children hate something about themselves (some even into adulthood...).  After some hilarious incidents, where the colour goes to green instead of black, Anne grows older and accepts the colour of hair and comes to actually like it.  Just as I finally came to like my nose...

The book explores Anne's everyday life - her friends, her studies, her challenges (as ebookclassics points out, this is really a Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age-tale).  There is never a dull moment and we get to enjoy every little  mishap that can happen. 

"Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing"

(what a great sentiment, also disregarded in our present time...)

But Anne also quickly realises her potential:  she receives the Avery Scholarship in English, which will enable her to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree.  In 1908?  A child's tale that promotes equality?  (That got me thinking and I soon discovered that many more of such children's tales are in reality full of ideas such as equality, compassion, support, tolerance...  Why are such grand schemes only to be found in tales and not reality...)

But life is not always spread with roses.  Anne will in the end decide to return to Green Gables to care for Marilla, who is now alone remaining in the house.  She will agree to tone down her ambitions because she wants to care for the person who cared for her.  Instead of reaching out for the stars, she is looking forward for 

"the bend in (the road). I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend"

And this is the gracious landing into the world of adulthood.  Where we can no longer avoid a nasty situation by slipping into fantasy world.  Rather, we accept our responsibilities, but remain optimistic.  We make decisions based on our convictions and on what we believe is best for us and our loved ones -- and we look forward to the whole great trip called life...


  1. Anonymous4/5/13

    Wonderful, thoughtful post. I think I tried to grow up too fast as well and moved onto adult fiction completely bypassing some great books. Thanks for reading along with me!




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