Anne Shirley was one of my closest companions growing up, and probably the first book series I ever got my hands on. I started reading L.M. Montgomery’s books when I was about seven or eight and formed an instant connection with young Anne, who was imaginative and whimsical and had her own personal way of seeing the world. In a sort of way, I wanted to be her, considering that she was far more extroverted than I was (am, rather.) Compared to Anne, I was a lot quieter, a bit shy, with not as many friends, but she and I had the same eyes with which we saw the world, similar minds that conjured things and liked to find something beautiful in the everyday, though she was more dramatic than I was.
Set predominantly in the fictional town of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Anne was a sprightly, redheaded orphan with a wild imagination adopted by a middle-aged pair of siblings who wanted a boy. The story goes about how she won over them as well as the rest of the town with the sheer force of her personality, without ever changing herself if not for the better. She forms close friendships, strong rivalries, and eventually finds love and family.
Anne was one of those turn-of-the-century feminist characters in popular literature, and was wonderfully well-written. Not only was she strong, outspoken, individualistic, ambitious, intelligent, and educated, she was also dramatic, a bit vain, and occasionally lived more in her fantasy than her reality. (Gilbert Blythe got the wrong end of that stick for a long time.) In other words, she wasn’t perfect. She had flaws and failings, and through the series, we get to watch her grow the same way we would ourselves. She formed a number of beautiful, nuanced friendships with other girls, the best of them being with Diana Barry, who is standing next to Anne here. Her romance with Gilbert Blythe (who was possibly the first great fictional love of my life) grew from a rivalry between two intelligent, stubborn people, to a strong friendship with mutual respect, to love.
In a time when women are often being written as flawless unrelatable goddesses who are more cardboard cutouts than nuanced people, all for the sake of the ‘strong female character’, Anne Shirley is an example to remember.
A good number of my childhood friends were of the fictional sort, and I’m forever glad that she was among them. And that is why I stoutly refuse to watch the new Netflix series. I saw some clips from that, and they have ruined everything about this book and this character, and have completely missed the point of her. Dishonor, I say! Dishonor on you, dishonor on your family, dishonor on your cow!
A few fun facts:
- Yes, the clothes are all based off the costumes from the 1985 miniseries.
- Behold the carrots pigtails, before the green hair incident that turned it a “true auburn”.
- The faces, however, are a bit more based on how I personally visualized the characters. I mean, I glanced at Megan Follows, Jonathon Crombie, Schuyler Grant, Amybeth McNulty, and Dalila Bela, but I didn’t really depend on them too much.
- How obvious is my adoration for Gilbert Blythe in this?
- The reference image for the Green Gables house in the background (with tiny Marilla and Matthew) is the actual 19th Century farm in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. In 1985, it was declared a National Historic Site.