All About Anne (Sorry, Jane)

August 20, 2009 @ 6:36 pm | Filed under: Books

I discovered L. M. Montgomery around the age of eleven while visiting my cousins in South Georgia. I still remember kneeling on the floor before a shelf full of books belonging to my much-admired cousin Carla, four years my senior. Aunt Ann said these were books Carla had outgrown and I could have any of them I liked for keeps, and only now does it occur to me that I might have skipped back to Colorado with one of Carla’s treasures in my suitcase—because who ever outgrows Anne of Green Gables? Oh, Carla, I’m so sorry: I owe you a copy!

(But not that copy: I still have it, but it lost its cover about a decade ago. It was the only cover that ever got Anne exactly right. I have searched for the image on Google, to no avail.)

That book, Carla’s book, was the beginning of something big for me. It’s like this: at eleven years old, a girl is like a loom loosely threaded with a pliable warp, waiting for the weft of life to come along and transform those rows of hanging, separate threads into one whole unified and unique piece of fabric. Anne Shirley was a shuttle full of the most wonderful thread, luminous yet strong, resiliant, durable; and she darted back and forth across the warp like something dancing. I read the first three chapters of the book kneeling there before the little cabinet in the quiet, elegant room just off my aunt and uncle’s kitchen, and when I got up, tucking the book under my arm, a few inches of the fabric of my life had been woven, just like that.

Anne spoke of kindred spirits and I understood her at once, and saw quite clearly that she and I were kindred spirits, for all she was a fictional character. And of course that is how every girl who loves those books feels about Anne. We relate to this complicated girl full of quirks that aren’t really quirks at all, because we have them ourselves: her struggle to express big ideas in words that were never quite big enough to hold them despite their numerous syllables; her propensity for making stupid mistakes; her yearning to love and be loved; her attachment to place and her obsession with naming things, especially places, but trees and lakes and houseplants as well; her fierce loyalty, particularly to her own visions—a sometimes dreadful loyalty, clung to past reason, as when she coldly snubs Gilbert Blythe after he rescues her from drowning.

Well, there she was, my bosom friend, Anne Shirley, and when I returned home, I rode my bike all over our corner of Aurora, Colorado, hunting for more Anne stories in the various branches of our public library system. (Oh, those heady days when kids could ride their bikes all over town without even the safety net of a cell phone—or a bike helmet, for that matter. Mom, Dad, how did you manage it without going crazy?) It took me years to track down the entire Anne Shirley series. I was a graduate student before I found Rilla of Ingleside, which may be my favorite Anne book save only Green Gables itself. No, wait, House of Dreams is my favorite. I remember reading The Road to Yesterday long before I located Anne of Ingleside or Rainbow Valley—I think it’s Road to Yesterday, and not one of the Chronicles of Avonlea collections, that contains the short story about the twins whose widowed mother a grown-up-and-happily-married-yet-still-irrepressibly-matchmaking Anne helps reunite with the beau she parted from in anger long before falling in love with the twins’ father. I loved that story not only because it was satisfyingly romantic, but because it gave me a glimpse of Mrs. Blythe, wife and mother but still my Anne. Actually she was much more my Anne than the anxious, fretful creature who appears for a few chapters in Ingleside, convinced beyond reason that Gilbert has a thing for a girl he knew in college. Seriously, Anne? Or rather, Lucy Maud. Surely you weren’t so hard up for plot twists that you had to take an otherwise delightful book in that out-of-character direction. Insecurity was never Anne’s problem.

But I digress. I didn’t come here to talk about Anne at all, believe it or not. It was Jane I was thinking of, Jane of Lantern Hill—the character who gave my oldest daughter her name as an alias when I started this blog four and a half years ago. And now I’ve gone on about Anne so long that Jane will have to wait until tomorrow. To be continued?


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Comments

13 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. I know exactly what you mean! I sometimes wonder what kind of person I would have become if my grandmother hadn’t given me a box of wonderful books — Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, The Girl of the Limberlost, all the old classics. My favorite characters were like friends who ended up influencing my character.

    I can’t wait for the post about Jane. I just reread it after your last post because it’s been too long 🙂

  2. How blessed you were! I took a deep starry breath as I imagined that eleven year old girl kneeling before books she had been gifted for keeps 🙂 Actually, I have been thinking all day about how much I wish someone had introduced me to such beautiful books when I was young. As it was, I didn’t find Anne until I was adult – finally here was someone I was sure would understand me (if only she was real!)

    I am looking forward to your post about Jane of Lantern Hill, which I have never read.

  3. Rilla of Ingleside is my favourite of the Anne books! I cry every time I read it, and my heart just about stops on the last page…

  4. I became acquainted with Anne when the movie came out on Wonderworks on PBS. The first installment lead me drooling for more, so I checked out the book from the library and devoured it before the next installment aired.

    As a redhead, Anne and I were kindred spirits already. We both despised our red hair and spelled our name in a particular manner (A-l-i looks dreadful. Spell it A-l-l-i and it looks distinguished.)

  5. I bought my first copy of Anne myself in 1973…it was a white paperback, very badly bound (the pages kept coming out). I read all the rest from the public library (some by the hall light after I was supposed to be asleep). Tell me more about “Carla’s” cover–maybe I can keep my eyes open for it.

    And yes, from what I’ve read, LMM considered Anne of Ingleside more or less a “potboiler”–it was published only a couple of years before her death.

    But you knew that. 😉

  6. Have you read the prequel, “Before Green Gables?” I was suspicious but ultimately thrilled. I found it to be very respectful of the original series.

    I lust after the library’s copy of the Annotated Anne of Green Gables. Can you imagine how much fun that job must have been??

  7. I wonder how Anne found me? Can’t remember, but I do recall those same feelings you experienced.

    monica, another redhead who wished her mother named her Anne

  8. I’m really not sure how old I was when I read Anne, but I quickly devoured all of them, save for Rainbow Valley because the library didn’t carry it. Utterly inspired, I walked around my farm and named everthing, a honeysuckle bush named Louisa, a row of lilacs my own Lilac Lane . . . And you’re right, you never outgrow Anne. Those books are still delighful, still a breath of fresh air and creativity.

  9. See, I think the chapter about her fretting over Christine is humanizing. No, she was never insecure, but don’t otherwise secure people have midlife crises? At least hers only lasted a night. I’ve never felt jealous, but I haven’t always felt attractive after having a baby, yk? Plus, I thought it was all sort of part of her imagination gone amuck. Too funny that you hated that chapter so much.

  10. I met up with Anne in college when one of my friends who owned the videos showed them as an Anne marathon one weekend. After that I gradually built up my collection of the books until now I am pretty sure I have every single one. She is always my go-to when I am at the end of a pregnancy. Reading Anne always makes me pay no attention to any aches and pains, even contractions. 🙂

  11. the image of the woven life…just beautiful. and perfect. thank you.

  12. It had better be continued …. 🙂

  13. Hazel is only 7–but has fallen in love with the Anne of G.G. series–she’s read the 1st three already. I always wanted to go to PEI–and maybe one day we’ll both go!