Special thanks to Sarina Byron, a BSR contributor who wrote this great review! Sarina is a British Author and Contributing Writer living in California. Sarina enjoys bringing forth a different perspective and encouraging a different way of thinking through her writing. Visit her blog to read her reviews, and check the end of the review for a link to her Instagram.
I think of classics as the books that present life as real as it was at the time. They present real fears, disappointments, humiliations, and regret. We try to protect children from all sorts of uncomfortable emotions nowadays, and I have to say I admire the classics for not doing that. They offer a safe, fictional space where children meet characters who appear to be a lot like them but have experiences unimaginable to them. Classics like Anne of Green Gables provide a safe environment to explore drastically different lives lived by those the likes of whom we may never come across.
If you don’t subscribe to the above, that’s okay. You may be more comfortable with the idea that books like Green Gables project a world where children are not patronized. They are taught good values and manners, but when they offer some valuable insight, it is not only accepted but appreciated. Green Gables is full of morals not only for children but for adults, too. As the author masterfully weaves into the story, “All great things are wound up with all little things.”
Green Gables is largely autobiographical, and that may well be the reason for its raging success. Anyone can take a shot at writing a children’s story, but to be able to show life from a child’s point of view is aspirational. At various points in the book, you may find yourself reminiscing how you had similar views of matters and marveling at Lucy Montgomery’s ability to channel her inner child so well. Perhaps she kept detailed diaries of her thoughts and experiences as she did of her adulthood. Perhaps she kept the child in her alive for much longer than most of us can.
The innocence of Anne Shirley is palpable as is the wisdom. Simple things like wanting a different name for oneself, hoping to have a bosom friend dearer than life itself, and deriving genuine satisfaction from finding kindred spirits in adults as well. Anne wanted to be called Cordelia instead, and I might struggle to find at least one adult who didn’t wish they had a different name when they were children. That much desired name just popped into your head as you read this, didn’t it?
Anne’s yearning for a bosom friend was so strong nothing could match her joy of having found Diana. As someone who had her fair share of moving around as a child, I could relate to the anticipation of meeting a new friend who would become a constant companion. But this anticipation holds higher stakes when one has never had a family. Anne had only ever known the life of an orphan, and at the time this book was written, that tag didn’t carry much respect. For no fault of yours, you were seen as undesirable, and people were more unforgiving of your faults than of other little children’s.
The chapters themselves may not strike you as unusual, but everything changes when you consider how many complex emotions Montgomery handles within them. Everything must have the simplicity of a child yet the extreme anxiety of a child who has never known love. Montgomery was without parents—but not without family—but her touching portrayal of Anne and Diana’s friendship begs the question of how similar Anne’s experience was to her own.
The portion of the story I identified with the most was finding kindred spirits in adults. My parents mercifully did not treat me like a child—more like an adult-in-the-making—so this was the most relatable aspect of Anne’s life for me. If you had parents who were focused on raising an adult and not a child, you might find a ‘kindred spirit,’ as Anne calls them, in this idea itself.
Green Gables is childhood encapsulated in 38 chapters. It’s filled with dreams of growing up, errors to learn from, and experiments in who one wants to be. Regret and ego loom large in Anne’s relationship with Gilbert Blythe, mirroring many times in all of our lives when we shunned friendships pretending to be offended when we actually wanted to burst and loudly declare what we wanted instead. This delicate balance of confidence and mortification dominates childhood, after all this is a time when we fall, stumble, grow unevenly, and don’t know what to do with our perpetually flourishing proportions.
This book is an excellent reminder of the love of simple things. More than once, Anne feels glad to be alive in a world where there are so many things to like, lucky to be alive in a world that has autumns and white frosts. I have yet to read the rest of Montgomery’s books, but just the mention of these simple joys indicates Montgomery had not yet succumbed to the debilitating depression that ran alongside her life like a stream. Maybe her mirth ran out when she finished the Anne series, or maybe it was halfway through the other books instead. I suppose I’ll have to read them to try to guess when Montgomery’s supply of joy began to run short. What we do know is it wasn’t during Anne of Green Gables. How could it be really, when being inside Anne’s head is like living in perpetual sunshine?
As Montgomery herself wrote, “Excitement hung around Anne like garments.”
Let us know what you think about this review of Anne of Green Gables and Sarina’s great review in the comments! No spoilers on this page, please!
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