‘A completely new novel to me’

By Archie Harris

Here is another of our Sheffield Hallam student guest posts – the first in which a student of today reviews a book or author popular with our original 20th c readers. Archie chose to write about L M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

Anne of Green Gables was a completely new novel to me at the beginning of this process, with me having neither heard of the novel or Lucy Maud Montgomery herself. However, I am incredibly grateful to be involved in this course as I feel lucky to be exposed to such a plethora of new and intriguing tales I may have never discovered throughout my regular day to day life. The first in a series of seven novels chronicling the adventures of titular character Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables is generally considered a classic of their youths for many people born in the 20th century. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the quality of the novel is through its sheer longevity. Originally released in 1908, Anne of Green Gables has withstood the test of time and still remains a classic read for younger generations starting their journeys into a love of fiction. This permanence is not only due to the high quality of the writing and storytelling but also the nostalgic warmth it brews in many parents, compelling them to read it to their children and have them fall in love with it too.

With the high volume and high intensity of university work, I usually do some research and preparation before reading a book, frequently spoiling the plot for myself to make the process of analysing and discussing the novel more streamlined. However, for this I decided to take myself back to my childhood and simply dive headfirst into the pages with no prior knowledge or expectations whatsoever. And what a joyous experience it was, watching young Anne subvert the prejudices of those around her and win their hearts made me feel like a child again, a sensation I have been chasing since I flipped the last page.

From the moment we are first introduced to Anne until the very end of the novel we cannot help but to support her in everything she does and wish her the best. This feeling is paralleled by Matthew Cuthbert who, despite mistakenly adopting Anne when in search of a young man to help with the farm work in his old age, falls in love with her rampant imagination and spirited soul before the pair can even make it back to his home from the train station. Anne even manages, eventually, to win the affections of Marilla Cuthbert despite her stern and traditionalist approach. Watching their relationship develop over the course of the novel was humorous, touching and come the end of the novel, utterly heart-shattering.

The epitome of Anne’s character and the reason she is so endearing and means so much to so many is her complete selflessness and unwillingness to take anything lying down. Her back and forth rivalry-come-friendship with Gilbert Blythe, whom I notice is much revered by those of Reading Sheffield, particularly Val seems to have had a soft spot for this young gentleman, is one of the most satisfying relationships we see blossom over the novel. We see an immensely strong friendship and mutual respect develop over years from the childish teasing of Gilbert calling Anne ‘Carrots’ in reference to her red hair, which led to him getting a slate smashed over his head, to the pure altruistic act of him giving up his job so she can work closer to Marilla and care for her as she is going blind and has lost her brother Matthew. This coupled with Anne giving up her life’s dream and everything she has worked for since moving to Avonlea to make sure her adoptive mother receives proper care demonstrates exactly why both of these characters, and the novel as a whole, are so effortlessly charming and endearing.

It was therefore no surprise to me, upon closing the novel, that when I researched reviews and opinions of others on Anne of Green Gables I was greeted with nothing but a wave of glowing commendations for this book and smiling tales of people’s childhoods spent buried in the pages of this wonderful novel that has touched so many. It was these recommendations accompanied with my own overwhelmingly positive experience that persuaded me to purchase more books in the series to get lost in over the course of, hopefully, a long hot summer of 2021.

L. M. Montgomery’s bright outlook on the world is a welcome contrast to the bleak views of many, especially through recent struggles, Anne’s smile and burning red hair shines through the dark clouds for so many. Montgomery’s writing is spectacular in this novel, incredibly accessible to a modern audience for the time it was written and fluently funny throughout. She tickles your funny bone with one hand and tears your heart out with the other as every emotional beat hits harder than the last. We smile every smile and cry every tear along with Anne as we become totally and completely captivated by her story, willing her to succeed at every venture despite her tendency, particularly early in her adopted life, to accidentally do something she most certainly is not supposed to. My personal favourite being when she accidentally gave her friend Diana wine instead of raspberry cordial, causing her to return home drunk and triggering her mother to be less than pleased, yet Anne of course still wins her over as she most certainly will win you over if you are yet to read this novel. Anne of Green Gables is a defining work of fiction for many childhoods past, present and future as its sheer charisma is undeniable. It is clear to see why, 113 years after its release, it is still being printed across the globe.

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