Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are a middle-aged brother and sister who live together and manage the farm of Green Gables on Prince Edward Island in Canada. They intend to take in a small orphan boy to be of help to them on the farm, but due to a mix-up, little eleven-year-old Anne Shirley is sent to them instead. Matthew, who is extremely shy, especially around women, nonetheless warms to the loquacious and imaginative child and after hearing a bit about the hardships the orphan girl has suffered before she arrived with the Cuthberts, Marilla doesn’t have the heart to send her away either. She makes Matthew promise that he won’t “stick his oar in” when it comes to the raising of the girl and sets about trying to teach the impulsive, talkative, rather flightly girl to be a useful and well-behaved little person.
Anne strives to be good, but at least initially, fails more often than not. She has a unique knack for getting into scrapes. She’s deeply self-conscious about her pale skin, her freckles and her long red hair. She loses her temper with Marilla’s best friend Mrs. Lynde, when that woman has the nerve to call her an “ugly skinny thing” and she breaks her slate over handsome schoolmate Gilberth Blythe’s head when he makes the mistake of pulling one of her braids and calling her “Carrots” to try to get her attention (the poor boy is clearly infatuated with her). While she apologises to Mrs. Lynde and forgives her, she does no such thing with Gilbert and proceeds to consider him an enemy for five long years before finally making up.
Anne comes up with imaginative names for all the geographic features in Avonlea, wanting things to be as romantic as possible. She learns to deal with her red hair and her plain dresses by imagining herself to have raven tresses and puffed sleeves, like the other little girls. She makes a life-long friend in neighbour Diana Barry, but is forbidden to play or speak with her for a long while when she accidentally gets Diana drunk on cordial wine (thinking it was raspberry preserve). She bakes a cake for the minister’s wife flavoured with liniment rather than vanilla when she has a cold and dyes her hair a hideous shade of green, having been tricked into buying hair dye by a travelling peddler.
This first book, the audio book of which I got in an Audible sale last November, covers the first five years of Anne’s time with Marilla and Matthew and was one of my favourite books growing up. I have actually lost count of how many times I read the books about lovely and impetuous Anne Shirley, first in Norwegian and later in English. I was delighted, but not actually all that surprised to discover that the book still holds up and is just as wonderful and eventful as I remembered. I had not remembered that the first book covered such a space of time, and unfortunately I had also managed to repress (most likely) the very sad events towards the end of the book. Not going to lie, I sobbed loudly while finishing the book on the sofa last night and can’t imagine anyone not being moved by the grief that touches Anne’s life after she’s graduated school.
I hope to one day have a girl of my own that I can share this lovely book with. If I don’t, I certainly hope that one of my two nieces appreciates it (they will if they know what’s good for them). I really want to visit Prince Edward Island (like I loved visiting one of the many Laura Ingalls Wilder museums when I was in the US a few years ago) some time and really bask in the surroundings of one of my most beloved fictional characters.
Crossposted on my blog.