In Which We Are Surprised by Anne with an E
The question is not “to be or not to be.” The question is would you rather be “divinely beautiful, dazzlingly clever, or angelically good”? It’s the surprising question Anne with an E asks Matthew Cuthbert, her new guardian, in chapter two of L.M. Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables.
Matthew responds in typical Matthew-fashion. “”Well now, I—I don’t know exactly.”
Anne asks because she can’t decide from among the three choices. But do you know who could decide? Instantly? The three hosts of the Close Reads podcast, which tends to read classics. When the Close Reads gang asked themselves Anne’s question, each person knew immediately which answer was correct, and each person chose differently. It’s become a podcast joke, referring to each other by which Anne-attribute they most aspire to.
But what if you could be all three? What if you could be clever and beautiful and good and bring out cleverness and beauty and goodness in others? Anne is a little like the person described in Robert Browning’s poem, Evelyn Hope:
“The good stars met in your horoscope,
Made you of spirit and fire and dew.”
Anne is all three — spirit and fire and dew — and everyone in her orbit has their horoscope improved. She renames the Avenue (such a boring name!) the White Way of Delight and rechristens Barry’s Pond as the Lake of Shining Waters. And in seeing them that way, she makes everyone else see them that way too. There is a small pond I pass on one of my bike routes that I refer to as the Sacred Lake because Anne taught me to see it with clever-beautiful-good eyes.
Anne of Green Gables is the first and best-known of the books about Prince Edward Island’s favorite orphan, Anne Shirley, as told in the seven book series. Although the first book has been popular since it was published in 1908, there are people who don’t think it’s their cup of raspberry cordial. One my best-read friends, age 50, recently read it for the first time. About halfway through she texted, “I cannot get over how wonderful this book is. I don’t want it to end.”
Here is the plot: Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a pair of unmarried, aging siblings, want to adopt a boy to help around their farm. Instead, they get Anne with an E, a girl with red hair who believes it’s ever so much easier to be good if your clothes are fashionable, especially if you are fortunate enough to wear a dress with puffed sleeves. She surprises Matthew. She surprises Marilla. She surprises their neighbor, Mrs. Rachel Lynde. And she surprises us, making us see life as ever so much more poetical and tragical and laughable and, as my friend wrote, “wonderful.” Wonder-full.
In her new home at Green Gables, Anne makes people better, just by being herself. She becomes the bosom friend of Diana Barry (her kindred spirit) and the friend/rival/future love interest of Gilbert Blythe (for the whole story, you’ll have to read deeper into the series).
And yes, Anne has a temper, and no, she never stops talking, and whatever you do, don’t let her serve you tea without an adult chaperone. But life with Anne is lived under good stars. Even if you never call her Cordelia.
Let’s travel to adventure with the last camel in Texas, a mountain lion, and a family of kestrels. Join us Friday, February 11, for Once Upon a Camel, a middle-grade story by an Kathi Appelt, an award-winning novelist, with illustrations by Eric Rohmann, an award-winning illustrator.
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I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro
- Children’s Book Club: Anne With an E in ‘Anne of Green Gables’ - January 14, 2022
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- By Heart: ‘The Good Life’ + New Wallace Stevens Challenge - December 16, 2021