Anne of Green Gables is a 1908 coming-of-age novel about a free-spirited orphan girl. The book and its sequels have remained in print for over a hundred years, and the stories have been adapted for several film and stage productions.
At the beginning of Anne of Green Gables, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert have decided to adopt an eleven-year-old orphan boy. Matthew is getting old and needs help around the farm, and they think a boy could both work for them and benefit from their home and care. Their friend Rachel Lynde, an outspoken gossip, thinks this is a terrible idea. Matthew and Marilla are brother and sister, an old bachelor and spinster, and they have no knowledge about raising children. Besides, the new child could be a bad seed.
However, Matthew and Marilla make their decision against Rachel's advice, and Matthew goes to the train station to get the boy. When he arrives, he finds a girl instead: a freckled redhead who sits waiting outside on a pile of shingles. She has chosen this spot instead of in the ladies’ waiting room because she finds “more scope for the imagination” outdoors. Matthew is terribly shy and soft-spoken, and he has trouble talking in the presence of any sort of girl. This imaginative, chattering child is more than he can handle on his own. He decides it is best if Marilla explains the situation, and he takes her home. On the way, she exclaims at the beauty of the sights they pass, and she gives fanciful new names to local streets and ponds.
When they reach Green Gables, the Cuthberts’ home, Anne is devastated to learn she is not wanted. She proclaims that she is in “the depths of despair." She cannot eat, so Marilla puts her to bed. Later, Marilla is shocked to learn that Matthew wants Anne to stay. Marilla demands to know what good the girl would be to them, and Matthew says, “We might be some good to her.” Marilla says Anne has “bewitched” him and insists that the girl has to go back to the orphanage.
The next morning, Marilla takes Anne to see Mrs. Spencer, the woman who mistakenly brought Anne to them. On the way, Marilla interrupts Anne’s fanciful chatter (“Wouldn’t it be nice if roses could talk?”) with questions about the girl’s life. Marilla insists that Anne tell the truth without adding in any imagined details. Anne explains that her parents died of fever when she was a baby. They had no relatives, and she was unwanted. Until the age of ten, she lived with two local families who required her to care for their young children. Both of the fathers in those families were drunks, and both ended up dying. After the second such experience, Anne ended up at an orphanage. Marilla asks if the families Anne lived with were good to her, and Anne says:
Oh, they meant to be…And when people mean to be good to you, you don’t mind very much when they’re not quite—always.
Marilla begins to feel sorry for Anne, realizing the girl has led a hard life of poverty and neglect.
When Mrs. Spencer learns that the Cuthberts do not want Anne, she suggests that the girl go to live with Mrs. Blewett, a local woman with a large family who finds it hard to hire help. Mrs. Blewett is known for being stingy and having a bad temper, and she obviously relishes the idea of gaining an unpaid servant in Anne. Marilla’s conscience objects to this arrangement, so she says she may keep the girl after all. When they get back, Matthew and Marilla talk alone, and they agree that they cannot let Mrs. Blewett take the girl. Marilla says:
I’ve never brought up a child, especially a girl, and I dare say I’ll make a terrible mess of it. But I’ll do my best.
She makes Matthew promise not to meddle, and he agrees, as long as Marilla treats the child kindly. “I think she’s one of the sort you can do anything with if you only get her to love you,” he says.
Marilla does not give Anne the good news right away. She puts Anne to bed, at which point she is shocked to find out that the girl does not know how to pray. Anne makes a prayer up on the spot, asking God to let her stay at Green Gables and be good-looking when she grows up. Marilla is shocked, but she understands that Anne is not being irreverent on purpose. She tells Matthew afterward that it is a good thing they have taken Anne in, but she also says her own next few years are going to be difficult.
The next day, Anne cries with joy when she learns she will be allowed to stay at Green Gables. Marilla sets the girl to work learning the Lord’s prayer right away, but Anne keeps getting sidetracked with daydreams and conversation. She tells Marilla how desperately she wants a “bosom friend,” her phrase for a best friend, and Marilla says that a pretty girl named Diana lives nearby. Anne is especially glad at the prospect of making a pretty friend because she knows that she, with her awful red hair, will never be beautiful herself.
Rachel Lynde is even more disapproving of the Cuthberts’ choice to keep Anne than she was of their original plan to adopt a boy. When Rachel sees Anne, she exclaims that the girl is “skinny and homely” with “hair as red as carrots.” Anne flies into a rage, declaring that she hates Rachel and saying:
How would you like to be told that you are fat...