Friday, November 21, 2014

Dealing with Anne Shirley, And Other Quick Takes


First, a digression: Recently I blogged about Jules Verne, Ursula Le Guin, dragons, and giant octopi. I've significantly expanded that into an article about the subtle, hidden, cultural rules of storytelling. You can read it at The Federalist.


L.M. Montgomery's Anne Shirley is so very, very beloved by many readers that I hesitate to confess my ambiguous feelings about her. Each time I return to the novels (which I read several times throughout childhood, and very much enjoyed at the time), I find myself resenting her for being airbrushed and perfect. That might sound like a weird statement, since Anne is presented as a decidedly flawed individual who is always getting into "scrapes." However, every single one of her flaws are of the sort that readers are most willing to forgive. Inclined to daydream? Good, it makes the story better-- besides, our culture admires and encourages dreams, imagination, and originality. Generous to a fault? How sweet. Passionate tempered? Adds drama, and fits our desire for feisty heroines. Anne has flaws, but they are all romantic flaws. That is rather different from having the unattractive, wart-like flaws that tend to beset us real humans.

More significantly, the antidote to Anne's faults is always found in her own virtues. She almost always gets out of her scrapes by displaying her charming personality until everyone forgives her and joins the neighborhood Anne-cult. She offends Mrs. Lynde (by "flying into a passion" and calling her fat), then wins that good lady over with a dramatic apology. She offends Mrs. Barry (by impulsively jumping on her bed in the middle of the night), then wins that rich lady over with a dramatic apology. She offends Mr. Harrison (by flying into another passion and insulting him when he insults her hair), then wins him over with an apology. That apology scene is totally different from the other apology scenes, because she brings a cake. Ahem.

When I read the Anne books, I can't help sometimes feeling as if the message of the story is that a dramatic, extroverted, charming personality is superior to any other, and that personal charm and beauty are the most important virtues for popularity and success. Perhaps that merely displays my own insecurities. Perhaps, because I am probably at the opposite end of the personality spectrum from Anne, I tend to feel pressured to be a bit more like her and to fail to sympathize with the sufferings attendant on her traits.

To be honest, I think I would be happier about her if every other page didn't include some reference to her physical attractiveness. The author wrote before the modern "skinny-craze," but it's still a little irritating to constantly hear about Anne's slender, upright, graceful figure.

Probably I am being unfair by desiring realism from a book that relies on romanticism for its charm. I'm afraid that it I have a tendency to do this.

Despite my own ambiguity about L. M. Montgomery's writing, there is no denying that something about her tales continues to inspire joy and loyalty in successive generations of readers. I think I would compare her work to that of J.K. Rowling: their literary abilities are decidedly imperfect, but both know how to tell the kind of story that sticks in the reader's imagination.


It was only recently that I realized Megan Follows (who played Anne Shirley in the classic 1985 television show so beloved to many of my generation) follows in the footsteps of other, earlier actresses who have portrayed the red-headed orphan.

In 1919, a now-lost silent movie was based on the novel Anne of Green Gables. Here are two scenes from the film:

Look at everyone's curls! Look at the costumes! We aren't the first generation to put our own visual spin on an older story.


Another movie was made in 1934. After taking part in the successful production, the actress who played Anne changed her own stage name to Anne Shirley. When a sequel was made in 1940, she was listed as Anne Shirley... playing Anne Shirley.


A 1970's television series was also based on the Anne story. Here is a snippet from youtube (note Anne's "dreamy expression" in the beginning!):


Anne has also appeared in Anime:

And in an animated PBS version:

How do all of these "Anne's" compare to the author's mental vision? According to Wikipedia, L.M. Montgomery saw a picture of a girl in the newspaper that inspired her famous character. Although she did not know it, that girl was the (eventually infamous) model who inspired the Gibson Girl.


The Anne books revolve, to a large degree, around friendship between people who are very different from each other. In case you're interested, I wrote recently about relating to friends who are better at doing stuff than one is oneself.

Linking-up for 7 Quick Takes at This Ain't the Lyceum.


  1. Anime Anne! I love this post - how fun to see all the different depictions! I only read the Anne books for the first time this year, and definitely found myself rolling my eyes at the constant descriptions of the ethereal clouds drifting over rows of pale white birch trees :P But I enjoyed Anne, and the way she matured through the years out of her "silly young thing" stage and into an adult who actually experienced true sorrow.

    1. Yes, I really enjoyed discovering these different depictions.


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