My childhood friends must grimace and wince when they hear “Anne of Green Gables.” During sleepovers I would make them watch all eight hours of the PBS miniseries that was based on Lucy Montgomery’s very long fiction works.
The first time that I watched it, I was in love. With everything. Anne. Prince Edward Island. The turn of the century fashion. The teaching profession. Female friendships. Changing the world. Idealism.
In private, I would watch the film or read the novels over and again. When I had a boyfriend, he had to watch the film if was he going to understand me.
Really, I wanted to be Anne Shirley.
Anne of Green Gables — and the novels to follow — helped cultivate my passion for Victorian literature. It was my first taste and boy, was it delicious. Something about it appealed to me. She’s just so damn ambitious, temperamental, and capable, isn’t she? I wanted to be that.
Or, more realistically, I related to that because I was like that myself.
Last weekend I made my husband watch it for the first time. For my birthday, I wanted to revisit this classic because I hadn’t seen it in more than TEN YEARS! I wondered: would I still like it?
It was wonderful. As an adult now with years of teaching, reading, publishing, and love behind me I found Anne’s exploits so joyfully over-the-top that I couldn’t help being whisked away. I wondered: what does Montgomery’s portrayal of Green Gables suggest about the turn of the century, particularly about the Victorian period of its past?
Anne is really the embodiment of Romantic sentiment. She exults nature, believes that the mind is the light in the dark, and champions love as the cure to every disease. Poetry is her food. Montgomery suggests that these Romantic notions are necessary to catalyze change in a post-Victorian world, as she — with these weapons in hand — disrupts imminent institutions and redirects ways of thinking among her friends and colleagues.
At the same time, Anne is Victorian. She’s an orphan who is headstrong, violent, verging on the New Woman (but not completely), bound up in fantasies of urbanity, triumphant in her fashion, and obsessed with death. Yet, these attributes, too, empower her to be a symbol of progress and change.
Then again, she is unmistakably modern: a part of the new world.
She herself changes and she also manipulates the world around her as if it’s putty.
In the end, she returns to the country and to woman’s prescribed role. But her method of departure (no matter how temporary) is what has always intrigued me most.
I delight in her marriage to Gil much less than I celebrate her wayward and mischievous nonconformity to the rules of Western civilization. Those moments of protest are what I love about Victorian texts in particular. They are so VIOLENTLY PASSIONATE!
Anne is just as close to my heart now as it ever was. Her PASSION is real revolution. I wish there were a bigger helping of it in the world today.