Anne of Green Gables, the Canadian classic written by L.M. Montgomery, is the literary tale of an orphan girl finally taken in where she discovers the meaning of love and family. However, for me and many others out there, our love for Anne of Green Gables started a different way…
I wasn’t born when Kevin Sullivan’s Anne of Green Gables adaptation reached TV screens in 1985, but I’ll never forget the first time I watched it. I instantly fell in love with these characters. They embody a humanity so moving that my only option was to record it on my VHS tapes (needing multiple to catch its length) and watch it over and over again until the lines and the story etched themselves into my memory.
Anne of Green Gables became an instant Canadian treasure and eventually captured the hearts of many around the world, including large fan bases in both the US and Japan. It became a part of many peoples’ childhood. However, it wasn’t just young 12-year-old girls falling in love with the series. Many were becoming captivated by this young girl’s journey into adulthood and the true values of life.
Prime For Adaptation
Since Kevin Sullivan’s iconic mini series, there have been several more Anne adaptations, including another by Sullivan and an animated series on PBS. This is not including the several that came before, with both a silent film and a live-action made in 1934.
Just recently, two more adaptations have been in the works, one starring Martin Sheen as Matthew and young Canadian actress Ella Ballentine as Anne airing on PBS on Thanksgiving Day. However, Anne will also get a more modern adaptation with an eight-part series titled Anne, to be released on Netflix in 2017. It is set to be directed by Whale Rider‘s Niki Caro, someone familiar with what it means to have a strong female lead.
It seems a difficult task to follow Sullivan’s series’ with fans who fell in love with Jonathan Crombie as Anne’s nemesis, then husband and the wonderful, Megan Follows (Reign) who beautifully portrays our heroine, Anne. Both Colleen Dewhurst (Marilla) and Richard Farnsworth (Matthew) also left a mark so unforgettable, it seems too intimidating to fill these shoes.
Originally published in 1908, Anne’s story is one that translates through the times. It may be especially relevant now, when so many of the hardships Anne faced are popular issues in today’s society. In the CBC press release for the new series, its writer Moira Walley-Beckett commented: “Anne’s issues are contemporary issues: feminism, prejudice, bullying and a desire to belong.”
These issues are so prevalent today that Anne Shirley may just be the medicine of hope to a current world rotten in hate and discrimination. Anne came to Green Gables and became a light in the lives and the Cuthberts and for many others in her community including the nosey Rachel Lynde, and Anne’s “bosom” friend Diana. Through her perseverance and inability to accept the norm, she strived and conquered those challenges and became the strong, witty, fantastic character we all know and love.
Anne of Green Gables: The Plot
Set at the turn of the twentieth century on the visually-stunning Prince Edward Island, Anne Shirley came to the Green Gables by accident. When Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert realized they needed help on the farm, they decided to adopt a boy. However, when Matthew made his way to the train station to pick him up, there in front of him was only a young, enthusiastic girl eagerly awaiting his arrival. Almost instantly, Anne forms a bond with Matthew, despite his quietness. Marilla, however, is not as quickly taken with the idea of keeping her. Slowly and surely, Anne wins both their hearts over and became a gift to not only the Cuthberts, but to the town of Avonlea.
Anne Shirley is considered rather eccentric and not your typical heroine. After slamming her slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head when teased with the name “Carrots,” it quickly becomes clear that it’s not a smart move to say something disapproving to Anne. She shuns Gilbert for years after that, convinced he is her enemy. Little did she know that he would one day become the love of her life (along with many other fans of the series).
However, Gilbert threatens the things she imagined for her life. Anne is constantly dreaming and letting her imagination run wild about the life she thought she should live, a life she considers to be overwhelmingly romantic and grand. This includes having high marks in class, a dress with puffed sleeves, and anything but red hair. She tries so hard to to fit the mold society has created for young women, but she is constantly so far from it.
Anne: A Perfect Fit For The Modern World
One may put Anne of Green Gables in the period drama category alongside Pride and Prejudice or other Austen adaptations with a perhaps too idealistic image of the world. I agree. From the outside, Anne of Green Gables has a “traditional” feel because of the setting and time period. However, Anne is a lot more modern than even her character may realize. She doesn’t conform to many of society’s standards of the time: She is an atheist who goes to teaching school while other girls left school to become homemakers and find a husband. She is… different.
Gilbert is one of the first people to not only embrace Anne’s eccentricities, but encourages her not to change for anyone. In an interview with Sullivan Entertainment done during the third Anne installment, Anne: The Continuing Story, Megan Follows talks about how Anne is “eccentric because she is absolutely open” and that’s why a lot of the people she meets are kind of taken aback by her. However, she is the kind of person we all want to be: totally open and unafraid to be who we are.
We see her in the latter half of the movie, questioning Diana why she doesn’t want to stay for the extra class to practice for entrance exams to Queen’s Academy, a teaching school. Diana then reiterates her mother’s words, saying she needs to “learn how to take care of a household” and basically not focus on silly things like school. Anne finds this devastating, that Diana feels like she has no option other than to be what is expected of her.
In Anne of Avonlea, the sequel to Anne of Green Gables, Gil and Anne take a walk where he tells her she needs to stop writing these silly “school girl romances” and write real stories about the people in Avonlea.
Even though Anne would love to be the damsel distress in her own life, she is not one to wait and be saved by someone else.
In that same interview with Megan Follows, she makes note of how Anne never plays the victim and that is what really sets her apart from other female protagonists. Jane Eyre is a victim of her circumstance. Elizabeth Bennet is a victim of a woman’s place in society in 19th century England. And while Anne has similar things going against her, she never acts as though they are. She may want to have that proper upbringing and elegant lifestyle, but those things don’t hold her back.
Anne constantly battles with trying to fit this idea of perfection she has concocted for her life. She actually spends a lot of her time trying to conform. However, her ideas of perfection aren’t really what make her who she is or what makes her happy. It’s her non-traditional home life, it’s her best friend Diana, it’s her small town in PEI, and it’s Gilbert who help her become the best version of herself.
She eventually realizes that it’s not having a grand, idealistic life that is the most important, but it’s living a life surrounded by good people who make her become such a strong person and the iconic figure that she is. She is the embodiment of someone who has everything going against her, who comes out of it with grace and a better life than she could have ever dreamed of (even with her huge imagination). Something that we all want.
Anne’s constant struggle to do what people expect of her versus what is best for her life is definitely an overall theme for both the first and second movies. Even though she is constantly trying to fit in, she is constantly breaking the mold — and not just with her bold, red hair.
Anne is one of the smartest people at her school and wins the Avery through her academics at university, an incredibly difficult scholarship to attain. While she teaches at the Avonlea school, she also maintains her writing and eventually publishes a novel of short stories. While her peers are off getting married, Anne travels away to become a teacher at an all girls school. Her independence and strong will is astounding and inspiring. She makes anything seem possible with a little courage and willingness to put in some hard work.
Why Anne on Netflix Will Find A New Audience
Millennials will be drawn to the new Anne series coming to Netflix for this exact reason. Twenty and 30-somethings feel the constant pressure to graduate college and instantly fall into a job centered around their degree. There is this expectation after college that one needs to move out on their own, have a good job with decent pay, and soon enough be married and settled down. Safe to say, it doesn’t always work out like that.
Anne is constantly working against the expectations of where she “should be” in her life, however it never deters her. She is determined to go against these ideas and forge her own path in the world. What is best for her isn’t getting out of school, getting married, and raising a family. It is to work hard to go to school, find a teaching job, and become a writer. She doesn’t get married right away. In fact, we don’t see Anne get married until the third installment, which takes place over five years after her and Gilbert decided to finally be together. None of these things are what her female peers are doing. However, it isn’t a negative for her. It is a positive thing, and demonstrates the courage to do what many have done before.
The Legacy of The Continuing Story
Anne proves her capability even more in Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story, released 11 years after Anne of Avonlea. This Anne story takes a very different turn. We are no longer in the stunning, pastoral beauty of PEI, but on the frontlines of WWI. When Gilbert goes MIA, Anne can’t rest until she knows what has happened to her husband. So, she does what all women dream of having the courage to do, and goes out to find him.
Sure, maybe this image of Anne crossing the ocean to find her most likely dead husband during the most devastating war of our time is idealistic, but that is the point of it. She never succombs to the pressure to do what is expected of her if it means not being true to herself. For Anne, sitting around and waiting to hear if her husband is dead like the rest of the women in Avonlea is more torturous than going and finding the answers herself in a terrifying warzone.
Today, many of the films where we see a heroine brave a war, it is either in some fantasy or action film: a fictional world. They generally go in somehow already possessing some combative skills. Here, we have an everyday women thrusting herself into the middle of an actual war from our history, with no fighting skills whatsoever. Anyone can relate to that fear and determination she feels and to see her succeed is not cinema cop-out, but creates an image of hope that is good to be reminded of every once in a while.
Anne’s Importance In Our Modern-Day World
As Anne made her way through the years, she comes to realize that the most important things in life aren’t the fantastical lives of the characters she reads about in books. It is the people in her real life that make her own life so fulfilling.
People watch Anne’s life and say: “I want that.” Who doesn’t tear up when Matthew, after a rather difficult time in the store, buys Anne the ridiculous dress with very large puffed sleeves she had been dreaming of? Or when Anne runs into Marilla’s arms after returning from being away in Halifax teaching? Who doesn’t want a bosom friend like Diana or a partner in life like Gilbert Blythe? The story created characters meaningful not only to Anne, but to so many viewers who consider them the epitome of unity and home.
This story is really about the appreciation of human connection— something that is arguably lacking in today’s society, but something we still all yearn for. It’s hopeful and inspirational and, in times like these when things feel a bit hopeless, this story will touch new audiences and inspire them that connecting with people, that kindness, can go a long way in this world. That to be different can be just the thing we need to bind us all, just as Anne bound her new family, friends, and town. Society today can feel like we’re going back in time, like we don’t want people to be different. That different is bad. Well Anne Shirley is the perfect symbol to contradict this idea.
At the end of the Anne of Avonlea, Anne tells Gilbert: “It’s not what the world holds for you, but what you bring to it.” That line always strikes a cord with me. Why keep things as is when they could be better? Anne doesn’t want to do what is expected, she wants to to do the unexpected. She wants to do something different.
I am so happy that Anne is coming back so we can all be reminded that differences are vital. That we all have the capability to change and that change can indeed be for the better. Anne has always inspired me that the impossible is possible if you are willing to give something a shot. In a downhearted time in the world right now, we need that bit of light as she was that bit of light in the Cuthbert’s lives.
With what seems like a crew of females creating the new Netflix series, Anne will definitely translate well with new audiences and even help it to transcend into something new. Having it on Netflix already gives it a step up by giving the new series a modern viewing platform. Perhaps some people will see Anne as too hopeful or too joyous for our times. But, who cares? We need that right now.