Werner's Reviews > Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
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's review
Oct 12, 12

bookshelves: classics
Recommended for: Fans of 19th-century literature
Read in January, 1986, read count: 1

Having recently reviewed Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, which was clearly Montgomery's major literary influence in creating Anne, I thought this might be an opportune time to review her masterwork as well. The two novels have a lot of similarities in conception and basic plotting. Both are excellent exemplars of Realist style; both follow an intelligent, sensitive, spirited girl attuned to the beautiful and the artistic (Anne and Rebekah aren't clones of each other, but they're soul sisters down to the bone), entering what's essentially a foster home, as a "tween," in a rural community up in the northeastern corner of North America, and growing to the cusp of young womanhood as we follow her experiences and maturing consciousness; and both are written with a warm and winsome tone that looks at life honestly but optimistically. Both authors exhibit great artistry in character portrayal, including their secondary characters.

There are, of course, differences. (Some of these are discussed in close detail in an excellent recent online article at the website Canadian Icons.) Obviously, the exact nature of the girls' individual escapades, adventures and challenges are unique to each book. (Anne, for instance, unlike Rebecca, is red-haired, and initially very ashamed of her hair color.) The difference between the American and Canadian settings exert subtle influences on the protagonist's attitudes. Of the two authors, Montgomery is the one who most employs literary symbolism, and in a very adept and subtle way. And unlike Wiggins, Montgomery endows her heroine with a romantic interest. (In Rebecca's case, while wealthy businessman Adam Ladd is obviously taken with her, the age difference militates against the likelihood of any romantic interest as such, and there's no direct indication of any.) My own experience of the two books was different as well: I first read the (slightly) older book as a child, with a child's less knowledgeable but more enthusiastic perspective, while I encountered Anne as an adult, more jaded but also gifted with deeper perception. (I'd also previously watched the outstanding Anne of Green Gables miniseries starring Megan Follows, so I had a very definite picture of the characters in my mind!)

There's a reason why this book, and its heroine, continues to capture the affection of readers more than a century after it was written. The story of the growing relationship between Anne and the aging sister and brother, Marilla and Matthew, and what they bring to each other's lives, is universal, touching, and emotionally enriching. Anne herself is one of literature's most special, endearing characters, and her experiences all make for great entertainment. Montgomery followed this novel with a series of sequels, which follow Anne into married life; my wife and I have read the second book of the series, Anne of Avonlea, and liked it. But our enjoyment of it wasn't as great as with the first book; I'd venture the judgment that the series opener is probably in a class by itself.

Not having read much Canadian literature in my life, I'm not in a position to assess Montgomery's place in Canadian letters. (Though it's an objective fact that she's among the Canadian writers with the widest recognition and admiration among readers internationally.) But I would certainly say that the disposition of some would-be arbiters of literary greatness to disparage her achievement, just because she's popular with (gasp, shudder!) the Great Unwashed of ordinary readers, is fundamentally misguided. (And I could add a few less restrained adjectives, but won't. :-) ) Ordinary people who like to read and appreciate reading that's likeable are, in the long run, generally better judges of what constitutes literary merit than ivory-tower critics well-versed in the latest critical fads and dogmas and in nothing else (and usually convinced that their ability to endure literary misery proves their superiority over the vulgar herd). If I'm right, in a couple of hundred years (if the world endures that long), I suspect that this book will still be avidly read, while today's latest critical seven-day wonders are lost to historical oblivion.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Tim "The Enchanter" Good review. Most every Canadian knows Anne of Green Gables and she is iconic in this country. I look forward to my daughters being old enough to read this!

Werner Thanks, Tim. Yes, your daughters will be in for a treat!

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