(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Montgomery’s strength is her ability to create female characters, especially preadolescent females. Generations of readers have recognized themselves and their acquaintances in Anne and her friends: ladylike Diana, flirtatious Jane, malicious Josie, and the loyal Gilbert. Most appealing, though, is Anne, whose concerns are those common to young girls. Anne wants to be pretty but realizes that Diana, with dark hair and dimples, more nearly resembles the ideal beauties in romantic novels. Anne considers her red hair and freckles a liability, though she believes the shape of her nose to be an asset. In Anne of the Island, Anne, now in her twenties, finally learns that there are several types of beauty, and her lively personality and slender figure make people forget that she is not conventionally beautiful.

Anne also resembles Montgomery’s young readers in her desire to be accepted at Avonlea. Initially, Anne cannot remember when she was not a lonely outsider; she has developed a vivid imagination to fill her surroundings with companionship and compensate for her feeling of not belonging. She talks incessantly to fill awkward silences and win friends.

Until the Cuthberts adopt Anne, no one has tried to teach her manners, and she has spent little time in school. Thus, she seems almost a child of nature, acting and speaking impulsively, then apologizing profusely for her mistakes. Because adults and classmates realize that she is good-hearted, she makes friends quickly; her successes become models for Montgomery’s young readers.

Anne’s most modern characteristic is her ambition, especially her drive to gain an education. Determined to be at the head of her class, she works hard to achieve her goals, winning prestigious scholarships and teaching to earn money for her degree. The adult females whom Anne knows are less fully developed characters. Many are somewhat stereotypical or essentially passive until Anne enters their lives. For example, Marilla is a conventional reticent spinster; though her affection for Anne grows quickly, she has difficulty expressing emotion or laughing. Rachel Lynde initially is the typical neighborhood busybody, but acquaintance with Anne helps her develop a sense of humor.

Anne’s schoolmates also generally are less complex personalities than she. In childhood, Diana follows Anne’s lead, but almost immediately Anne realizes their adult lives will take different paths. Diana will always be loyal, but she lacks Anne’s imagination or ambition. In contrast, Philippa, Anne’s college friend, also possesses imagination and intellectual ambition; in fact, she may be the model for the protagonists of other Montgomery series.

Montgomery’s male characters also are relatively conventional. Davy Keith is the typical mischievous small boy, and Paul Irving, the most fully developed of Montgomery’s young boys, seems little more than Anne’s masculine alter ego. Even Gilbert Blythe, Anne’s patient schoolmate and suitor, demonstrates little character complexity. Because Anne does not see him clearly, the reader also does not, and he remains more or less one-dimensional.

Montgomery portrays three father surrogates in some detail. Matthew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables (1908) becomes Anne’s confidant, though he does not always understand her imaginative flights and fancy rhetoric; until his death, he is her most loyal advocate. In Anne of Avonlea (1909), Mr. Harrison occupies a similar paternal role, advising Anne about her writing, teaching, and civic improvement projects. Perhaps the most appealing of these characters, though, is Captain Jim in Anne’s House of Dreams (1917), who not only entertains with tales of maritime adventures but also helps Anne deal with the loss of her first child.

For Montgomery’s preadolescent readers, however, the series’ real appeal is the ongoing romantic theme. Like most young girls, Anne and Diana fantasize about ideal romantic suitors, but Diana is content to marry their childhood chum. Likewise, instead of the rich, handsome husband she envisioned, Philippa marries a poor, ugly clergyman. Even Anne, whose romantic dreams appear to come true, realizes that extravagant romantic gestures are less important than compatibility in personality and goals. Especially throughout the Anne novels, Montgomery implicitly comments on how a young woman should choose an appropriate husband.

If youthful readers see Anne as someone they would like to know or become, adult readers are drawn to Montgomery’s lyrical descriptions of the Avonlea landscape, and each year many readers travel to Prince Edward Island. From Anne’s special apple tree to the echoes at Echo Cottage, Montgomery gives readers mental pictures of the natural environment Anne loves, and Anne’s imaginative language adds to readers’ appreciation of trees, brooks, and even a pond. The more mature Anne no long names each landscape feature, but she still appreciates quaint little cottages and the gardens surrounding them. In Anne’s House of Dreams, Montgomery describes in detail Anne’s view of the seascape at different times of day and in different weather. Anne gains peace viewing the sea, the rocks along the shoreline, and Captain Jim’s lighthouse. In her novels, Montgomery only sketchily describes cities, even towns; like Anne, she seems to find contentment in the physical landscape, perhaps because she shares Anne’s love of nature.

Anne of Green Gables

First published: 1908

Type of work: Novel

Anne of Green Gables chronicles the six years between Anne’s arrival in Avonlea as an outsider and her completion of her first-class teaching license.

Montgomery’s journal for 1904 contains the germ for her first published novel, Anne of Green Gables: An elderly couple intend to adopt a young boy, but the orphanage sends a young girl instead. Spinster Marilla Cuthbert and her brother Matthew decide to adopt an orphan boy to help Matthew with chores. Complications occur when Matthew, a shy bachelor, is completely overwhelmed by the imaginative girl waiting at the train station. Anne talks all the way to Green Gables, explaining how imagination helps her cope with the unpleasantness of life as an orphan; she creates personalities for trees, brooks, ponds,...

(The entire section is 2613 words.)