Anne of Green Gables L. M. Montgomery
(Full name Lucy Maud Montgomery Macdonald) Canadian novelist, poet, short story writer, and autobiographer.
The following entry presents criticism on Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (1908).
Soon after the publication of Anne of Green Gables (1908), the elderly Mark Twain wrote to its author, L. M. Montgomery, that her character Anne was “the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.” Since that time, millions of readers around the world have voiced their agreement. Indeed, almost a century after its first appearance in print, the novel—as well as its many sequels—remains one of the most beloved and critically acclaimed volumes of children's fiction.
Plot and Major Characters
Anne of Green Gables tells the story of Anne Shirley, an orphan on Canada's Prince Edward Island who is adopted by Marilla Cuthbert and her brother Matthew. Needing help on their farm, the middle-aged Cuthbert siblings decide to adopt a child from the orphanage. They request a boy and are shocked to discover that the orphanage has mistakenly sent them the eleven-year-old, red-headed Anne. But the high-spirited young girl soon wins their acceptance despite her strong will, sense of independence, and talkativeness. Proving herself to be intelligent and affectionate, Anne becomes the central fixture of her foster family's life and the social milieu of Green Gables, P.E.I. Narrated in episodic chapters, the novel portrays Anne's adventures in Green Gables, especially her fumbling but endearing attempts to establish herself in the town and forge her personality as a young adult. One character in particular is important to Anne, both in Anne of Green Gables and its sequels: Gilbert Blythe, a classmate whom Anne begins to despise when he mocks the color of her hair. Later in the Anne series, Anne and Gilbert work out their differences and eventually marry.
In Anne of Green Gables, Montgomery created a character who would develop an international following among young girls and women. The most striking feature of Anne is her independence, which may reflect Montgomery's feelings about her own upbringing by her strict Scottish Presbyterian grandparents after her mother died of tuberculosis when Montgomery was two years old. While Montgomery rebelled against the strictures placed upon her during childhood by developing a morbid sense of humor, Anne rebels in a more lighthearted way, usually accepting her own mistakes and learning from them. Some critics have commented on Montgomery's accurate portrayal of the adolescent search for self in Anne, who, as an orphan and an independent spirit, must forge her own way. Because Anne's status as an orphan and her personality traits make her vulnerable to the harsh judgment of the small community in which she lives, Anne's story is sometimes interpreted as a kind of journey tale; Anne must remain separate from the group at first so that she can develop as an individual before she joins the community as a fully functioning member. Once this happens, her attachment to Green Gables, and her place in its society, is confirmed. Although Anne of Green Gables is not an overtly feminist work, and traditionally “female” roles are maintained, the novel does insist on the importance of education, intelligence, and sensitivity for both genders.
Early critics praised Anne of Green Gables as a delightful work for children, especially girls. Subsequent criticism through the first three-quarters of the twentieth century was polite but unenthusiastic, despite the novel's popularity around the world, including in Japan, where young girls became enthralled with the red-headed Anne's adventures. But in the 1970s and beyond, and especially as important contemporary women writers such as Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro began to acknowledge their affection for Anne, the book took on a new critical life, with many feminist commentators noting the care Montgomery took to make Anne a fully developed character. Some critics still maintain that the book is sentimental and overwrought with stereotypical gender depictions, but many regard Anne as a solid role model for girls and young women.