The newlywed royals–Duchess of Cambridge Catherine and Prince William–visited Canada this summer. On the itinerary was Prince Edward Island, home of the fictional Anne Shirley (“Anne of Green Gables.”) Long before her fairy-tale wedding to the future King of England, young Kate Middleton was a big fan of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books. When presented with a new edition of the series as a welcoming gift, the Duchess replied that she’d like to read them again.
That inspired me (the ‘Zanne in this story) to do the same.
Actually, I’d read “Anne of Green Gables” as a dreamy third grader. That was the year we moved three times during the school year, so I never got around to the rest of the series. In the 1980s, the television mini-series with Megan Followes as Anne rekindled my interest. When my daughter was born in 1988, I bought the set for her. Too old fashioned for her tastes, I presumed, since the stories took place in the early 1900s. She later confessed that she’d given the books away.
So it was up to me to return to picturesque Avonlea on my own, downloading what I could to my Kindle and filling in the gaps with a couple of used paperbacks. I resolved to spend the summer with Anne, age 11 to her mid-50s, which is how old I am now.
Reading all eight of the “Anne” books as a middle-aged woman revealed so much more than my first reading as a girl. Anne’s appeal is timeless. I’ve always identified with strong female characters, but Montgomery created a girl-woman for all seasons. Resourceful Anne set goals and achieved them: college, work, marriage, family. She found joy in nature, in learning and in the people she loved.
No matter what the century, some things remain the same–busybodies, best friends, bullies, burying a child. People called Anne’s son a “sissy” because he wrote poetry and thought deep thoughts; he died on a World War I battlefield. Small-town society can be small minded, even today. But Anne remained strong and hopeful.
As I rediscovered Anne, I admired her grace under pressure, compassion and imagination. Back in England, I’m sure a certain royal reader agrees.