From the favourer: "The Anne novels cheer me up when I'm feeling generally depressed about life. Nothing bizarre happens in Anne's life: she grows up, marries a doctor, has SEVEN children, she grows old, she has a garden bed, and a home she loves. All her happiness comes from inside her. I think maybe it reminds me that ordinary life is full of adventures and things to be happy about."
I think I first read the Anne books at around the same time as the favourer, as I recall much discussion of Daisy and Dora (from the later books). Were we about 12? Something like that. We then sallied forth to hunt down every book by Lucy Montgomery that the Corangamite Regional Library Service could provide. What a joyous few months! We must have come out the other end having experienced the word 'purple' far more often than your average reader.
But I'm pretty sure I hadn't read it again since then, though I've re-read the Emily books many times. I think with Montgomery's novels you end up being an Anne Person or an Emily Person (it's possible there's a Pat of Silver Bush Person out there, but they'd be a rarity). It's a bit like being a Dog Person or a Cat Person. So I'd quite forgotten a lot of the detail of Anne of Green Gables. But I can honestly say I re-read it with unabashed, whole-hearted, unembarrassed delight.
While it's probably unnecessary, I should give a bit of a synopsis. I suppose there may be 1 person left in the world who hasn't either read the book, seen a movie adaptation, or had someone tell them what the book is about. But I suspect most people are born knowing the basic plot - the knowledge passes from mother to child with the amniotic fluid.
Siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert decide to adopt an orphan child - a boy - to help with the farm work at Green Gables. Their neighbour, Mrs Rachel Lynde (who knows everybody's business and is happy to give advice about it), cautions against it:
"'Only don't say I didn't warn you if he burns Green Gables down or puts strychnine in the well -I heard of a case over in New Brunswick where an orphan asylum child did that, and the whole family died in fearful agonies. Only, it was a girl in that instance.'
'Well, we're not getting a girl,' said Marilla, as if poisoning wells were a purely feminine accomplishment and not to be dreaded in the case of a boy."
But when Matthew goes to collect their orphan boy, he discovers that they have been sent a very talkative, very red-headed, very female girl:
"A child of about eleven, garbed in a very short, very tight, very ugly dress of yellowish white wincey. She wore a faded brown sailor hat and beneath the hat, extending down her back, were two braids of very thick, decidedly red hair. Her face was small, white and thin, also much freckled; her mouth was large and so were her eyes, that looked green in some lights and moods and grey in others. So far, the ordinary observer; an extraordinary observer might have seen that the chin was very pointed and pronounced; that the big eyes were full of spirit and vivacity; that the mouth was sweet-lipped and expressive; that the forehead was broad and full; in short, our discerning extraordinary observer might have concluded that no commonplace soul inhabited the body of this stray woman-child..."
He can't exactly leave her there at the train station, so Matthew takes her home to Green Gables. Marilla is horrified, and resolves to rectify the situation as soon as possible. But on learning of Anne's probable fate she has a change of heart, and the girl is allowed to stay at Green Gables.
Marilla intends to bring her up properly, but Anne is not like any other child she's met before: Anne has an imagination. She talks a mile a minute, uses big words, and forgets to do her chores because she was making friends with the fir trees. Marilla can't understand her, and Anne is equally bamboozled by Marilla's attitude to life:
"'Do you never imagine things different from what they really are?' asked Anne wide-eyed.
'Oh!' Anne drew a long breath. 'Oh, Miss - Marilla, how much you miss!'"
What follows is Anne's youth at Green Gables - mostly full of scrapes: accidentally dying her hair green, flavouring a cake for the new minister with liniment, and the notorious breaking of a slate over the head of Gilbert Blythe (it's at about the 1min40sec mark for the watchers). But it's also full of joys: finding 'scope for the imagination' in the small town of Avonlea, and 'bosom friends'. Anne and her friends even have their own version of NaNoWriMo called "The Story Club", where each member has to produce one story a week. They are thrilling tales, of course, with lots of murders and romance: "Aunt Josephine wrote back that we were to send her some of our stories. So we copied out four of our very best and sent them. Aunt Josephine wrote back that she had never read anything so amusing in her life. That kind of puzzled us because the stories were all very pathetic and nearly everybody died."
It's funny, touching, beautiful and just a delightful read - Montgomery's descriptive prose is quite purple (often literally so - sometimes even 'empurpled'), but it's in the spirit of how the romantic Anne sees the world. Reading this book also seems to have had an effect on my dress sense - I've found myself wearing many more frilly things than usual. And don't talk to me about puffed sleeves.
I think you can learn a lot from Anne. When forced to do something humiliating (such as apologise to Mrs Lynde as punishment for a justifiably angry outburst), Anne turns the humiliation into something pleasurable by performing the most dramatic, sincere and flowery apology she can muster. The "Good Mrs Lynde, not being overburdened with perception", is quite touched and accepts her apology immediately, but Marilla is left with the faint sense that Anne hasn't been punished at all. Moral of the story: If you can't avoid having to do something unpleasant (or 'tragical', as Anne would say), you can at least enjoy the very drama of the unpleasantness. Mrs Lynde would whole-heartedly disapprove of this 'lesson', which makes it all the more appealing.
But despite her swings between delight and despair, Anne has a general talent for happiness. It comes, as the favourer notes, from inside her. She takes enormous joy in small moments (flowers, weather, gifts), and is full to the brim with dreams and ideas. She's irrepressible, and her joy rubs off on others. She's no Pollyanna though: "There's such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I'm such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn't be half so interesting." Indeed. I can think of nothing more boring than a perfect Anne.
I finished reading Anne of Green Gables while Luka slept and the long, hot week of 30+ degree November days broke into a drench of steady rain. I sat on the shared balcony above our flat with a mug of tea and watched the lovely downpour cool the trees, while Anne watched the sun set in Avonlea:
" 'Dear old world,' she murmured, 'you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.' "