Friday, July 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Anne With an E

Have you all noticed the recent slew of articles about Anne of Green Gables? Yes, our favorite little red-haired orphan is turning 100 and someone in the Anne machine has done some great pr to mark the milestone. I've seen articles in Newsweek and on Slate and I'm sure there are others.

Let me first say how much I adored the Anne series. I read each of the books several times. As Anne progressed from the youthful exuberance of Green Gables, to the more contemplative Avonlea, to the good times of college on the Island and then to her teaching career, I was right there with her. Likewise, I read and wept as she and Gilbert as newlyweds lost their first baby while living in their House of Dreams and then again as she lost another son during WWI in the last novel of the series.

So Anne and I go way back, which is why I look at these recent media pieces with interest. Both seem to suggest (aside from noting the popularity of Prince Edward Island among Japanese tourists) that Anne is getting the short shaft in terms of her place in literary history. Anne isn't taught in schools and evidently she's hard to find in bookstores (Mom, don't throw out my old books just yet). Is it because the Anne books smack of feminism? After all, Lucy Maude Montgomery had to publish her novels as LM to gain the respect of her peers in a time when not many women were successful authors. All of the Anne books, especially the early ones, have the girls are just as good, as witty, as strong, and as fun as boys message. Reading the books all those years ago, I didn't notice this as a central theme. At the time, I was too interested in Anne's antics and relationships with the townspeople of Avonlea to spend much time thinking how strange it was that these books written 80 years ago feature a heroine. Besides, I was a girl and didn't need much convincing that girls were capable and fun. Reflecting back now, though, there is the girl power theme and the books are full of strong female characters who shape Anne into a strong woman herself.

Or are the Anne books not literary stars because they don't deal with heavy issues? Are these books with their pristine island settings just a little too wholesome to make critics pay attention? I don't think this is the case, because the books don't shy away from tough situations. Anne is an orphan and some people in Avonlea don't like her because of that. Also, these books show the realities of life and death (who can forget Matthew having a heart attack in the barn and Anne feeling guilty about it). And let's not forget the time Anne accidentally gets Diane drunk on strawberry wine. No, the Anne books aren't a Pollyanna romp through the a Canadian island, they're a bit more real than that.

I'm not sure what has kept the Anne books off the literary radar, but I'm so glad the books were part of my childhood. I'm also heartened to know girls now are still discovering the books, even if they are hard to find among the Gossip Girls series.

1 comment:

Filtering life said...

I LOVEEEE this series. It is my absolute favorite. The movies were so good too. Everytime I got sick I would watch all 8 hours in a row on the couch. I can't wait till Chloe is old enough to be introduced to Anne!