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On Anne of Green Gables’ Trail on Prince Edward Island

Anne of Green Gables HouseAnne Shirley is one of literature’s more appealing and resilient heroines.  Orphaned as a baby, she endures a life of poverty and deprivation in a series of dismal foster homes and even more dismal orphan asylums.  At age 11, she travels to Prince Edward Island to be adopted by an elderly brother and sister who live in the small village of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island.  Soon after her arrival at their farm, Green Gables, Anne learns to her despair that shy Matthew and stern Marilla Cuthbert actually wanted a boy to help on their farm.  For the subsequent four chapters, we hold our collective breath to find out if Marilla will let Anne stay at Green Gables, which of course she does. 

The rest of the book follows Anne mature from an awkward girl with an over-active imagination and a temper to match her bright red hair, into a thoughtful and intelligent young woman.  It isn’t the smoothest of journeys; Anne’s active imagination gets her into seemingly endless scrapes: she dyes her hair green, almost drowns reenacting The Lady of Shalott, insults Marilla’s best friend who is also the town gossip, and manages to get her bosom friend, Diana Barry drunk on currant wine.  But Anne’s indomitable spirit and well-calibrated moral compass see her triumph in the end. 

Along the way, Marilla’s strict regime and rather Puritan discipline is tempered by the softer influences of mentors such as the kind and sympathetic Miss Stacey, Anne’s secondary school teacher who encourages her to academic success and the unforgettable Matthew, who quietly helps Anne navigate the ins and outs of life at home and reduces everyone to tears when he secretly buys Anne her first nice dress with puffed sleeves.  Anne’s classmate and academic rival Gilbert Blythe, who blots his copybook with Anne on Day 1 by calling her “carrots,” gradually and very satisfactorily emerges as Anne’s ultimate destiny. 

Anne is the creation of Lucy Maude Montgomery - and that’s Maude with an “e.”  Spotting an item in an old journal about an elderly couple that had sent to an orphan asylum for a boy only to have a girl appear instead, Montgomery began her most famous novel.  Anne gradually took shape as Montgomery drew on her own experiences growing up in Cavendish on the north shore of Prince Edward Island.  Montgomery was only half an orphan: her mother died when she was only 21-months old, but her father left her in the care of her maternal grandparents on their farm, which is the model for Green Gables.  Montgomery, like Anne, spent much of her childhood loosing herself in books and her own imagination.

Montgomery kept her writing a secret from her family, who were not supportive of her ambition, but she quietly honed her craft with essays and short stories before penning Anne of Green Gables in 1905.  Initial outreach to publishers yielded only rejection and Montgomery put the novel away for two years.  After a polish, it was snapped up in 1908 and became a huge success.  This locked Montgomery into continuing Anne’s story, which she did in subsequent novels: Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars etc., charting Anne’s happy life as Gilbert’s wife and mother of his many children. 

Ironically, while Anne was happy and fulfilled, Montgomery’s later life was plagued with mental illness - both her own that of her minister husband.  She tried desperately to conceal both, but took her own life at 67, a fact her family revealed in 2008 in an effort to help open up a discussion about the unnecessary stigma of mental illness. 

Anne of Green Gables remains the best known and most successful of Montgomery’s prolific 20 novels and 500 short stories.  It has sold over 50 million copies and been translated into 25 languages of which, Japanese is one of the more popular.  Anne, known as “Akage No Anne” or “Anne of the Red Hair” is HUGE in Japan.  The book was published in the 1950s, and plucky Anne’s arc of triumphing over adversity seemed to strike a chord in post-war Japan.  Japanese visitors make up a healthy percentage of the 125,000 visitors to Prince Edward Island’s north shore, better known to the natives as “Anne’s Land.”

Anne Shirley - like Sherlock Holmes and perhaps Harry Potter - is that rare fictional character on whom we bestow real life status.  Somehow we forget that they are fictional: we yearn to visit the places they lived, to see the things they did.  Happily for Anne fans, Avonlea is much easier to get to than Hogwarts: it’s possible to visit the Lake of Shining Waters, The White Way of Delight, the Haunted Woods, and of course, Green Gables, and to experience them as Anne first does, traveling home to from the train station Matthew through the quiet spring dusk:

“…To the west a dark church spire rose up against a marigold sky.
Below was a little valley and beyond a long, gently-rising
slope with snug farmsteads scattered along it.  From one to
another the child's eyes darted, eager and wistful.  At last
they lingered on one away to the left, far back from the
road, dimly white with blossoming trees in the twilight of
the surrounding woods.  Over it, in the stainless southwest
sky, a great crystal-white star was shining like a lamp of
guidance and promise.”

Visit Green Gables and other locations described in Anne of Green Gables on Alexander + Roberts’s 11-day cruise of the St. Lawrence Seaway, designed for maximum “scope for the imagination.”  Speak with one of our kindred spirits in reservations about this and other great itineraries.

Posted: 2/9/2018 2:07:48 PM by Alexander + Roberts