Right after I finished reading Anne of Green Gables I started watching the show Russian Doll on Netflix. It’s about a red-headed, fast-talking New Yorker named Nadia – also orphaned – who gets stuck in a loop where she dies over and over and comes back to life at her 36th birthday party, sort of like a darker version of the movie Groundhog Day.
The book Emily of New Moon pops up in the story in several episodes. “Everybody loves Anne,” Nadia says, “But I like Emily. She’s dark.” I have said almost this exact thing. I laughed out loud when I heard it in the show. In fact, when I pitched this series of articles back in the fall, I said: “I adore the Emily of New Moon books. Emily was a dark weirdo writer kid, which I clearly identified with. Anne always seemed too goddamn chipper.”
So I admit: I have been biased against Anne. And I have often wondered why so many people love her so much. I certainly don’t dislike Anne. She is, without a doubt, delightful – on stage, on screen, in the book. I have cheered for her to stay at Green Gables in every medium I’ve ever watched or read. She is relentless. I can recognize that there is clearly something about her indomitable spirit that draws people in.
I must say, I can’t really relate. I’m suspicious of relentless positivity, and Emily’s quiet, cynical, bleakness resonated so much more with me, as a child, as a teenager and even now as an adult. When I read about Lucy Maud Montgomery’s struggles in her diaries and biography I certainly related much more to that than the idyllic pastoral setting of Green Gables.
It wasn’t until I read Anne of Green Gables that it hit me, a clue to its massive appeal: Anne doesn’t change. More importantly, Anne doesn’t have to change. The close-minded adults and children of Avonlea are the ones in the story who change. This seems incredibly rare. As Marilla says herself, children are to be seen and not heard. Children in the literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries era are often tamed through the course of the book, like Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden.
Anne springs forth with a wild tumult of emotions, unchangeable and unchanging, fully formed in her opinions and temperament, and everyone eventually comes around to her point of view. For the era the book was published (1908), it feels radical, almost revolutionary. “Anne of Green Gables, sweet and strange, stay as you are today,” Matthew sings in the musical. Anne is loved for who she is: the Anne who is fierce, who is smart, who is wild.
So is this why everyone loves Anne? Because we want to be loved as our fiercest, wildest, most emotionally-unhinged selves? From her diaries and biography, it seems like Montgomery never received this kind of love and acceptance in her life, which is tragic. It’s extraordinary that she dreamed this character into being in such a vivid way that people have spent 110 years devoting themselves to loving Anne, to seeing small bits of themselves in her. Montgomery had to lose out on many of the financial rewards of AGG due to her publisher’s shadiness, which is a damn shame. I do hope that she got to spend some time basking in these rewards though: at watching everyone not just accept, but deeply love Anne for her wild, passionate, difference.