By Natalie Haigh
Here is another blog post by Natalie Haigh from Sheffield Hallam University through their Ideas into Action project.
Anne of Green Gables, written by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery and published in 1908, is a wonderful and heartwarming novel that is full of adventure and beautiful landscapes. Moreover, it is a novel that has firmly secured a place in the hearts of millions of readers around the world. The novel’s popularity speaks for itself. Anne of Green Gables has been translated into 36 different languages and has sold over 50 million copies worldwide, making it an undisputed best seller and piece of popular fiction. Although the novel was originally written for readers of all ages, it proved to be exceptionally popular with younger audiences. Subsequently, the novel was established as a children’s classic in the world of literature. The novel follows the story of Anne Shirley, a 12 year old red-haired orphan girl who is adopted by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. Matthew and Marilla are siblings who live on a farm called Green Gables in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Anne is sent to the two siblings accidentally as they originally requested a boy. Despite the mix-up, Anne is an extremely curious, high-spirited and imaginative child who brings unexpected adventure into Matthew and Marilla’s lives. With that, Matthew and Marilla decide to keep her.
Upon reflection, one of the reasons why I personally enjoyed the novel so much is because of the many beautiful and inspiring themes within it. From hope and perseverance, to forgiveness, hard work and true happiness, the novel sheds light on how making mistakes and learning from them is what allows Anne to develop and blossom into a better person. Therefore, I could not help but feel touched and inspired by Anne’s fictional character and her remarkable outlook on life at such a young age.
Anne of Green Gables is the first novel in an anthology series. Due to the immense popularity of her first novel, Montgomery went on to write a series of sequels to continue the story of Anne Shirley. She wrote five more novels, in which Anne grows older in each. The overriding response to the novel is that it is a beautiful and heartwarming story. It is the character of Anne and her ability to remain in high spirits, regardless of what life throws at her, along with the beautiful themes in this novel that make it such a popular piece of fiction. And one that holds a special place in the hearts of millions of readers all over the world.
Although the novel was very popular all over the world, it was extremely well received in Japan where it is known as Red-haired Anne. According to journalist Levinson-King, one of the main reasons for the novel’s appeal and popularity in Japan is ‘because the world of Green Gables is filled with kawaii, which means the quality of being cute, romantic and beautiful in Japanese.’ He goes on to write that the Japanese ‘love the story because it is full of beautiful scenery and puff sleeves and cute things, like tea parties’ (Levinson-King, 2017, BBC News Article). Therefore, the immense popularity of the novel in Japan can be attributed to the beautiful imagery it includes which aligns with Japanese interests and beliefs. As a result of the novel’s popularity,
Japan has developed the commercialisation and commodification of Anne as a popular cultural and media image, so that an “Anne industry” has developed (Ochi, 2006, p. 361).
The ‘Anne empire’ that has emerged off the back of Montgomery’s heroine protagonist spans merchandise, books, plays, television series, museums and musicals to name a few.
Why has this commercialisation occurred in both Japan and Canada, particularly in the leisure and tourism industry?
One extremely significant and profitable part of the commercialisation of the novel, is the tourist attractions that have been created in Prince Edward Island, Canada. The Green Gables Farmhouse where the novel is set is situated in Cavendish in Prince Edward Island, and is an extremely popular tourist attraction, particularly with Japanese tourists. Scholar Baldwin interestingly writes:
Perhaps the most surprising indication of the continued popularity of Anne is the growing number of Japanese who flock to Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, to visit the recreated home of a Canadian girl who never existed, and to examine objects she might have used had she been a real girl’ (Baldwin, 1993, p. 2).
Baldwin acknowledges how astonishing and bizarre, yet how remarkable it is that thousands of people are so invested in Anne’s fictional character, that they are prepared to fly across the world to Canada to see the recreated home that Anne’s fictional character grew up in, and pay a lot of money to do so. Baldwin goes on to shed light on an interesting question:
Why do so many Japanese people, especially young women, worship Anne Shirley, a red-haired wisp who comes from a very different culture and time period, and who makes allusions to authors, events, and people with whom the Japanese reader is unfamiliar?
Baldwin compiles the opinions of different scholars in response to this question. He writes:
There are several theories about why the Japanese are so fond of Anne. According to American writer Donald Ritchie, a leading expert on Japanese popular culture, the people’s passion for Anne can be explained by the cult of innocence, which is highly prized in Japan.
Emiko Mori, by contrast, attributes the Japanese admiration for Anne to her frankness and spontaneity, which ‘are things Japanese perhaps find hard to be. We are afraid to be that way’ (Baldwin, 1993, p.2). Therefore, it can be suggested that there are many reasons as to why Anne is such a popular figure in Japanese culture, and this cannot be pinned down to one specifically.
But is this excessive level of commercialisation of Anne of Green Gables problematic in any way? It can be suggested that large corporations are taking advantage of Anne’s popularity through the creation of tourist attractions, and are subsequently knowingly profiting from a piece of popular fiction that they did not write or create. Therefore, this raises an interesting question as to whether it is moral and ethical to profit from someone else’s work, especially when the creator of that work is now deceased. These corporations are continuing to profit from Montgomery’s legacy and her work after her death, which could be considered to be problematic and a sensitive subject. In contrast, the commercialisation and commodification of Anne of Green Gables could be viewed as positive and beneficial. Arguably, these corporations are helping to keep the legacy of Anne’s fictional character alive. Moreover, they are providing the loyal and avid readers, who cherish the novels dearly, the opportunity to visit the story world in real life. This experience will undoubtedly evoke feelings of joy, nostalgia and excitement in those people. Not to mention all of the jobs that the ‘Anne empire’ has created, and the boost it has given to the Canadian economy in particular. As Baldwin notes,
the number of Japanese tourists to Canada grew from 2.9 million in 1976 to 5.5 million in 1986, and Japan became Canada’s second-largest source of overseas tourists’ (Baldwin, 1993, p.2).
Baldwin, D. (1993). L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables: The Japanese Connection. Journal of Canadian Studies, 28(3), 123-133.
Drain, S. (1986). Community and the Individual in Anne of Green Gables The Meaning of Belonging. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 11(1), 15-19. doi:10.1353/chq.0.0082.
Gray, P. (2014). “Bloom in the Moonshine”: Imagination as Liberation in Anne of Green Gables. Children’s Literature 42, 169-196. doi:10.1353/chl.2014.0009.
Ledwell, J & Mitchell, J. (Eds.). (2013). Anne around the World: L.M. Montgomery and Her Classic. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24hnsz
Levinson-King, R. (2017). Anne of Green Gables: The most popular redhead in Japan. BBC News, Toronto.
Ochi, H. (2006). What Did She Read?: The Cultural Occupation of Post-War Japan and Translated Girls’ Literature. Retrieved from: http://hermes-ir.lib.hit-u.ac.jp/hermes/ir/re/14565/0100706501.pdf
Shelagh J. Squire (1996) Literary Tourism and Sustainable Tourism: Promoting ‘Anne of Green Gables’ in Prince Edward Island, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 4:3, 119-134, DOI: 10.1080/09669589608667263