(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.

Major Themes

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.

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

*Anne of Green Gables (novel) 1908

*Anne of Avonlea (novel) 1909

Kilmeny of the Orchard (novel) 1910

Rainbow Valley (novel) 1920

The Story Girl (novel) 1911

Chronicles of Avonlea: In Which Anne Shirley of Green Gables and Avonlea Plays Some Part (novel) 1912

*Anne of the Island (novel) 1915

The Watchman and Other Poems (poetry) 1916

*Anne's House of Dreams (novel) 1917

Rainbow Valley (novel) 1919

Further Chronicles of Avonlea: Which Have to Do with Many Personalities and Events in and about Avonlea (novel) 1920

*Rilla of Ingleside (novel) 1921

Emily of New Moon (novel) 1923

Emily Climbs (novel) 1924

The Blue Castle (novel) 1926

Emily's Quest (novel) 1927

A Tangled Web (novel) 1931; published as Aunt Becky Began It, 1932

Pat of Silver Bush (novel) 1933

Courageous Women [with Marian Keith and Mabel Bums] (nonfiction) 1934

Mistress Pat: A Novel of Silver Bush (novel) 1935

*Anne of Windy Poplars (novel) 1936; also published as Anne of Windy Willows, 1936

Jane of Lantern Hill (novel) 1937

Anne of Ingleside (novel) 1939

The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career (autobiography) 1974

The Doctor's Sweetheart and Other Stories [edited by Catherine McLay] (short stories) 1979

My Dear Mr. M: Letters to G. B. MacMillan [edited by Francis W. P. Bolger and Elizabeth R. Epperly] (letters) 1980

The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery 2 vols. [edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston] (journals) 1985

The Poetry of Lucy Maud Montgomery (poetry) 1987

*These volumes are generally considered to comprise Montgomery's Avonlea series.

New York Times Book Review (review date 18 July 1908)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

“A Heroine from an Asylum.” New York Times Book Review (18 July 1908): 404.

[In the following review, the critic asserts that the character of Anne is unbelievable and spoils the novel.]

A farmer in Prince Edward's Island ordered a boy from a Nova Scotia asylum, but the order got twisted and the result was that a girl was sent the farmer instead of a boy. That girl is the heroine of L. M. Montgomery's story, Anne of Green Gables, (L. C. Page & Co.,) and it is no exaggeration to say that she is one of the most extraordinary girls that she is one of the most extraordinary girls that ever came out of an ink pot.

The author undoubtedly meant her to be queer, but she is altogether too queer. She was only 11 years old when she reached the house in Prince Edward's Island that was to be her home, but, in spite of her tender years, and in spite of the fact that, excepting for four months spent in the asylum, she had passed all her life with illiterate folks, and had had almost no schooling, she talked to the farmer and his sister as though she had borrowed Bernard Shaw's vocabulary, Alfred Austin's sentimentality, and the reasoning powers of a Justice of the Supreme Court. She knew so much that she spoiled the author's plan at the very outset and greatly marred a story that had in it quaint and charming possibilities.

The author's probable intention was to exhibit a unique development in this little asylum waif, but there is not real difference between the girl at the end of the story and the one at the beginning of it. All the other characters in the book are human enough.

Carol Gay (essay date spring 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gay, Carol. “‘Kindred Spirits’ All: Green Gables Revisited.” Children's Literature Association Quarterly 11, no. 1 (spring 1986): 9-12.

[In the following essay, Gay examines the reasons literary critics have tended to ignore Anne of Green Gables despite its status as one of the most beloved books for young people in the past hundred years.]

Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series represents a common problem in children's literature, the problem of the enduring classic that retains its popularity through the years without much evidence of what is usually defined as literary merit. Almost as much as Little Women,...

(The entire section is 2716 words.)

Janet Weiss-Town (essay date spring 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Weiss-Town, Janet. “Sexism Down on the Farm? Anne of Green Gables.Children's Literature Association Quarterly 11, no. 1 (spring 1986): 12-15.

[In the following essay, Weiss-Town argues against the classification of Anne of Green Gables as a sexist book meant to teach girls how to be proper women.]

A municipal draftsperson by trade, an interior designer by education, and a student of children's literature by interest and inclination, I am quite honestly impressed by the essays and ideas of writers such as Alan Garner and Virginia Hamilton, or educators and literary scholars such as Perry Nodelman and Carol Gay, that appear in the...

(The entire section is 3492 words.)

Temma F. Berg (essay date fall 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Berg, Temma F. “Anne of Green Gables: A Girl's Reading.” Children's Literature Association Quarterly 13, no. 3 (fall 1988): 124-28.

[In the following essay, Berg revisits Anne of Green Gables as a grown woman remembering what the novel meant to her as a girl.]

While it is impossible to verify the following statement, I do believe it is true: Anne of Green Gables was the book that most profoundly influenced me as a child and young adolescent. What I remember most about my childhood reading experience of Anne is my sense of total immersion in the story. I was Anne Shirley. I, like Anne, was an orphan. Not literally of course. I had...

(The entire section is 4722 words.)

Mary Rubio (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Rubio, Mary. “Anne of Green Gables: The Architect of Adolescence.” In Such a Simple Little Tale: Critical Responses to L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, edited by Mavis Reimer, pp. 65-82. Metuchen, N.J.: Children's Literature Association and Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1992.

[In the following essay, Rubio discusses Montgomery's attention to Anne's process of psychological maturation and the complexity of her portrayal of adolescence.]

When Anne of Green Gables was first published in 1908, the terms “teenage” and “adolescent” were not in common use. Yet Anne caught—and continues to catch—the salient elements in teenage...

(The entire section is 7049 words.)

Susan Drain (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Drain, Susan. “Community and the Individual in Anne of Green Gables: The Meaning of Belonging.” In Such a Simple Little Tale: Critical Responses to L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, edited by Mavis Reimer, pp. 119-30. Metuchen, N.J.: Children's Literature Association and Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1992.

[In the following essay, Drain discusses the pattern in Anne of Green Gables of a person becoming part of a community in order to successfully individuate and withdraw from it when necessary.]

Finding one's rightful place in the social fabric is part of the challenge of growing up, and as such, it is an important focus of many books for and...

(The entire section is 4196 words.)

Genevieve Wiggins (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wiggins, Genevieve. “‘Born of True Love’: Anne of Green Gables.” In L. M. Montgomery, pp. 19-42. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992.

[In the following excerpt, Wiggins discusses major themes in Anne of Green Gables and Montgomery's personal affection for the book.]

After eight years of growing success in writing for periodicals, Montgomery, in her own words, “went to work and wrote a book” (Weber, 51). In the spring of 1904, she began her account of a red-haired orphan girl adopted by an elderly couple, intending to use the story as a short serial for a Sunday-school periodical. Her central character soon became so real to her...

(The entire section is 9194 words.)

Patricia Kelly Santelmann (essay date 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Santelmann, Patricia Kelly. “Written as Women Write: Anne of Green Gables within the Female Literary Tradition.” In Harvesting Thistles: The Textual Garden of L. M. Montgomery. Essays on Her Novels and Journals, edited by Mary Henley Rubio, pp. 64-73. Guelph, Ontario: Canadian Children's Press, 1994.

[In the following essay, Santelmann explores the details of women's lives that are portrayed in Anne of Green Gables and the ways in which the novel advances the female literary tradition.]

In A Literature of Their Own, Elaine Showalter discusses the lack of a female literary tradition, and she begins by quoting a male critic—G. H. Lewes....

(The entire section is 4953 words.)

Shirley Foster and Judy Simons (essay date 1995)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Foster, Shirley, and Judy Simons. “L. M. Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables.” In What Katy Read: Feminist Re-Readings of ‘Classic’ Stories for Girls, pp. 149-71. London: Macmillan, 1995.

[In the following excerpt, Foster and Simons consider the ways in which Anne of Green Gables circumvents archetypical girls’ literature.]

In August 1907, a few months after Anne of Green Gables had been accepted for publication, Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote joyfully in her Journal:

Well, I've written my book. The dream dreamed years ago in that old brown desk in school has come true at last after years of toil and...

(The entire section is 8711 words.)

Wendy E. Barry (essay date 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Barry, Wendy E. “The Settler of P.E.I.: The Celtic Influence in Anne.” In The Annotated Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery, edited by Wendy E. Barry, Margaret Anne Doody, and Mary E. Doody Jones, pp. 418-21. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

[In the following essay, Barry explores the Celtic history of Prince Edward Island, the setting of Anne of Green Gables, and the ways this history is woven into the text.]

Anne's beloved Prince Edward Island was once called “Abegweit,” or “land cradled on the waves,” by the Micmac people who lived there. They told stories of how after creating the universe and the Micmac people the...

(The entire section is 2167 words.)

Mary E. Doody Jones (essay date 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Jones, Mary E. Doody. “The Exceptional Orphan Anne: Child Care, Orphan Asylums, Farming Out, Indenturing, and Adoption.” In The Annotated Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery, edited by Wendy E. Barry, Margaret Anne Doody, and Mary E. Doody Jones, pp. 422-29. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

[In the following essay, Jones examines the care and treatment of orphans in the late nineteenth century and the ways this is reflected in Anne of Green Gables.]

R.M.D., Route 3

Scotsburn Sta.,

Pictou Co.,


Aug. 21st/17 [1917]

To Mayor Martin
Halifax City
Halifax Co.,...

(The entire section is 4484 words.)

Frank Davey (essay date 1999)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Davey, Frank. “The Hard-Won Power of Canadian Womanhood: Reading Anne of Green Gables Today.” In L. M. Montgomery and Canadian Culture, edited and with an introduction by Irene Gammel and Elizabeth Epperly, pp. 163-82. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999.

[In the following essay, Davey addresses the ways in which Montgomery's Anne continues to reflect women's feelings of social estrangement and prefigured contemporary Canadian literary explorations of the subject.]

L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables played an ambiguously progressive role in various turn-of-the century ideological conflicts concerning religion, child rearing, and...

(The entire section is 8317 words.)

Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


Garner, Barbara Carman, and Mary Harker. “Anne of Green Gables: An Annotated Bibliography.” Canadian Children's Literature, no. 55 (1989): 18-41.

Comprehensive listing of books, monographs, and articles on Anne of Green Gables up to 1989.


Baldwin, Douglas. “L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables: The Japanese Connection.” Journal of Canadian Studies 28, no. 3 (fall 1993): 123-33.

Discusses several reasons for the immense popularity of Anne of Green Gables in Japan, notably similarities between the values and cultures of Prince Edward...

(The entire section is 401 words.)