All About Anne (of Green Gables)
Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maude Montgomery’s first book about Anne, the redheaded orphan of Canada’s Prince Edward Island, and her misadventures. But this year, Anne fans are in for a treat.
This week, the Anne of Green Gables canon (the Anne-on?) is expanding: Publisher Penguin is releasing the complete version of The Blythes Are Quoted, Montgomery’s very last installment in the Anne series. The book, dropped off at her publisher’s on the day of the author’s death in 1942, was published in part in 1974, lacking about 100 pages of stories and poems. This version includes 15 “new” short stories about Anne, as well as poetry ostensibly by the heroine and her son Walter, a soldier who died during World War I. The book is also a bit of a departure from the light-hearted optimism that marked Anne’s other appearances—this one includes references to some seriously dark subjects, such as murder, revenge, death, despair, bitterness, and reflects Montgomery’s own opposition to war.
With that in mind, here are a few facts about everyone’s favorite redheaded orphan (no, the other redheaded orphan) and the woman who created her:
Anne of Green Gables was the first of L.M. Montgomery’s books about Anne Shirley, a lonely redheaded orphan who comes to live with the middle-aged Cuthberts, the stern Marilla and her brother, Matthew, on Prince Edward Island. Anne is clever and supremely imaginative, if melodramatic and disposed to “getting into scrapes”—like the time she accidentally got her best friend Diana drunk on currant wine, or when she broke a slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head. Anne and her “queer ways” would go on to appear in 10 more books, becoming the Island’s brightest student, winning a scholarship and going to college, before coming back to Avonlea to marry Gilbert Blythe and raising six children.
Anne of Green Gables was a massive hit when it was first published in 1908, so much so that publishers issued 10 printings of the book in the first year alone. Even Mark Twain was reportedly a fan, calling Anne “the dearest and most lovable child in fiction” since Lewis Carroll’s Alice. The following year, Anne was introduced to Europe, where she became an instant phenomenon. At least 50 million copies in 36 languages of Anne of Green Gables have been sold worldwide.
Anne is huge in Japan. Like Harry Potter huge. Anne of Green Gables was translated into Japanese by a respected and well-known Japanese author; in 1952, when Japanese officials were looking for translations of enriching, inspirational Western literature to teach in schools, Anne became part of the Japanese curriculum. Japan fell head over heels for Anne, finding her red hair exotic, her hardworking attitude and kind nature endearing, and her story of winning over the town inspirational.
Anne has become an entrenched part of Japanese culture: There is an Anne Academy, a nursing school nicknamed the “Green Gables School of Nursing,” and several national fan clubs. People get married in Anne-themed weddings, thousands of Japanese tourists visit Prince Edward Island each year, and surveys still consistently find that the book is the most favorite of young women across Japan. In 2008, Canada and Japan created anime-style Anne stamps featuring characters from the book. The stamps were so popular in Japan that they sold 10 million of the 15 million run in the first month of their release.
During World War II, Polish soldiers were issued copies of Anne to take with them to the front, while on the home front, the books were a big part of the thriving black market. Feisty Anne was something of a hero who is even now celebrated:
This year, Polish celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the book’s European debut attracted thousands of teenagers and children, many dressed in costume and, reports say, “pumping their fists into the air.” The kids even mobbed the Canadian ambassador for his autograph when he showed up to open the celebration.
(The book was actually translated into Polish in 1912, but had arrived in other languages in 1909.)
In 1934, Anne of Green Gables was made into a film—starring an actress named Anne Shirley in the title role. Shirley, who was at the time only 16 years old, was actually born Dawn Paris, but was so taken with the character Anne that she decided to take her name in real life as well. (More on Shirley here.)
Anne is still big business: On Prince Edward Island, which jointly owns the trademarked term “Anne of Green Gables” with Montgomery’s heirs, Anne-fans can buy Anne tea sets, Anne straw hats, Anne candies, Anne note cards and pencils, Anne dolls, Anne cookbooks, and Anne light switches. Then there are the spin-offs, the movies, the mini-series, the stage musicals and plays; last year, an authorized prequel called Before Green Gables by 81-year-old Canadian author Budge Wilson was published with great success.
Despite the inspirational, even borderline mawkish, stories that she wrote, L.M. Montgomery was not always a happy woman. Montgomery’s mother died when she was very young and her distant father sent her off to live with her severe Presbyterian grandparents. Unlike Anne, however, Montgomery was never able to win over her adoptive family and her childhood was not a happy one. When her father remarried, Montgomery was sent to live with her father’s new family, but less as a daughter and more as a live-in servant, pulled out of school to take care of her stepmother’s new baby.
Things on the home front never really got better for the budding author, even as her literary career began to take off: Three years after the publication of Anne, she married a minister who suffered from what was referred to at the time as “religious melancholia,” but was more likely clinical depression. Montgomery spent much her married life ministering to his increasingly demanding needs; even as she took care of her husband, however, she began suffering from her own depression and fierce mood swings.
Montgomery died in 1942, allegedly of heart failure—but last year, Montgomery’s granddaughter revealed that the 67-year-old author had actually killed herself, overdosing on drugs and leaving a note in which she asked for forgiveness.
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When I was a little girl, my grandfather was a huge Anne fan. So much so that when I went on vacation with my grandparents in their RV (didn’t everyone’s grandparents have one of those in the ‘80s?), we headed straight up the coast to hop the ferry from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island. Along the way, we watched Disney’s film version, featuring Megan Follows as the feisty, melodramatic redhead with a penchant for playacting, and I tried to read the entire series of the Anne books. It was Anne-overload, but I loved it—because who doesn’t love Anne-with-an-‘e’?
Do you have any Anne memories? Do you love the redheaded heroine—or did you hate her?