Thursday, 10 January 2013

Anne Shirley: my continuing obsession

Since I first read Anne of Green Gables I have wanted to visit Prince Edward Island, home of both L M Montgomery and her much-loved characters. Last summer, I wrote here about achieving that ambition. I said then that I wanted to re-read all the books in the series - and now I have! There are 8 books directly about Anne and her family, plus two Chronicles which are essentially short stories about other people in which Anne occasionally appears. In order, they are:

Anne of Green Gables
Anne of Avonlea
Chronicles of Avonlea
Anne of the Island
Further Chronicles of Avonlea
Anne of Windy Willows (sometimes called Windy Poplars)
Anne's House of Dreams
Anne of Ingleside
Rainbow Valley
Rilla of Ingleside 

Some I borrowed from the library, most were available as free ebooks and a few I had to pay a small amount to download. So what did I think? I was a little disappointed. I love Anne of Green Gables. It's a strong story, the three main characters are believable and lovable and the relationships between them beautifully drawn. If you're reading this, you probably know the story already, so I won't go over it here, but I will say the other books can't match it. Anne grows up, goes to college, becomes a teacher, marries Gilbert Blythe, her sort-of-childhood-sweetheart, and has a large family. It's all a bit ordinary. After Anne's House of Dreams, the books are really about her children anyway, and Anne retreats into the background as an idealised mother figure.

This is not to say I didn't enjoy the books - I did, but there was an element of perseverance to reading them, each one striking me as dull to start with so that I had to struggle to get into them. I could always have told you the plot of Green Gables, but the sequels had left very little impression. Some examples: I had totally forgotten how pious the language was - perhaps, as a daughter of the manse myself, this hadn't struck me quite so forcibly as a child as it does now. However, as the manse I grew up in was Methodist, I'm amazed I didn't remember the strong anti-Methodist prejudice of Miss Cornelia who appears in the later books. I was fairly sure during Anne's first pregnancy that it ended badly, and the sadness of little Joyce's death confirmed this. In the same book, House of Dreams, there was a sub-plot which I vaguely remembered about a young woman whose husband had come home from sea brain-damaged, but I wasn't at all prepared for the dramatic denouement. The things I did remember vividly were often small ones such as the phrase "crossing the bar" for the death of an old sea-captain and Anne's preference for the word "dusk" rather than "twilight"', which I didn't agree with at the time but do now.

I though the best sequel was the last one. In Rilla of Ingleside, which concentrates on Anne's youngest daughter, we again have a single protagonist with real personality. Rilla is also more dramatic because it's set against the background of World War 1 with unbearable tension as all the young men volunteer to fight for the mother-country. I just knew they couldn't all come back, but didn't know which one/s would be lost. Another strong point of the book is that Susan - housekeeper for most of Anne's marriage - comes into her own. Always a faintly comic figure, she adds to this both fierce patriotism and an unsuspected talent as a military tactician. If only the generals could have listened to her!

I'm glad I undertook this project, but feel I've exhausted the obsession for the meantime and Anne can go back on her shelf until I need her again. However, it has started me thinking about other places I have visited because of a character in a book. My first trip to the US included a visit to Provincetown, original home of Dicey Tillerman, another spirited heroine from a series by Cynthia Voigt. I have the first book (Homecoming) on my shelves and might just start there!


  1. I reread Anne of Green Gables when it was the centenary, thought about reading the rest but didn't get round to it. I had totally forgotten about Homecoming, I loved that book, didn't realise it was a series, might have to revisit that one too!

    1. Yes, there are probably as many Dicey Tillerman books as there are Anne Shirley books - long time since I read them all, but I remember a similar decline as the series went on but still enjoyable. I'm guessing you might not have that much time to devote to reading these days though.......

  2. RoI is my favourite besides the first book. But to be honest, I prefer her short stories. I loved her Akin to Anne, in which Anne doesn't actually show up but many like her searching for a family of their own. Many of them are available for free on

    1. Thanks, Perogyo, I haven't heard of those so will definitely look them up.

  3. I am a big Anne fan also, and hope to visit PEI for the first time in June. But you don't mention the Emily books by L. M. Montgomery - I hope you also love those. If not, please add them to your list even if you wait a while. I also love Rilla.

    I don't remember Dicey Tillerman going to Provincetown (which is not far from where I live in Boston). I thought those books were set in the south. However, I have never visited Nantucket, where one of my favorite Joan Aikens is set.

    1. Thanks for this - I loved your blogpost, though I'm still not wholly convinced by Gilbert. I'm not sure that the Emily books were published here when I was a child - I'm certain I would have read them if they had been available. I hope you make it to PEI and enjoy it.

      The Tillermans lived in Provincetown, but by the time the book opens they are in a parking lot in Connecticut where their mother has abandoned them on the way to find their aunt in Bridgeport. They end up with their grandmother somewhere in (I think) Maryland. So Provincetown doesn't appear in the book other than as a memory but it made me want to go. And all this is definitely making me want to read Homecoming again!