Thursday, April 13, 2017

On Re-Reading Anne of Green Gables as an Adult

Anne of Green Gables

I first met, and fell in love, with Anne of Green Gables when I was twelve. My sister received the whole series of eight books a few years earlier as a birthday present or something, so after devouring the first book I was able to race through the rest of the series in one go.

They made a huge impact on me. I loved, loved, loved those books. I related to Anne like no other. I used the term "kindred spirit" in an essay I wrote about friendship for my English class. I tried to sunburn my face to get freckles like Anne (not joking). I even considered dying my hair red. But, I'm not a huge re-reader, so while I watched the classic TV series a few times over the years, I never re-read the books.

Until now.

Any of you paying any attention to my round-up posts know that for the past seven months or so I've been working my way through the Anne series again. I picked up the first one as inspiration for my on-going writing project, but after reading the first one I knew I was going to have to reread the whole series. I just finished the last book, Rilla of Ingleside, this week, and I've been reflecting on what it's meant to me to revisit these books.

First, I was just amazed at how many scenes from these books were burned into my mind. Montgomery's gift is painting pictures with words in ways they cannot be forgotten. Reading about Anne's escapades was like meeting up with old friends. I hadn't read these books in almost twenty years, yet I still remembered these characters and stories as if I'd read them yesterday. I couldn't always remember the details, but I knew what characters and what little scenes to look forward to, and then when I would get to that story it would be like Oh yes! I remember now! That's how it happened! It was so completely delightful.

Perhaps because of the TV shows, the early books stayed more fresh in my mind than the later ones, but it was an interesting experience to read the later books, as Anne marries, moves to a new home, has children, and grows older, as a married mother myself. The joys and sorrows of this period-- her house of dreams, the loss of her first baby, the subsequent joy of later children-- resonated more deeply with me. But I was also disappointed in a way I don't remember being as a younger girl about how Anne becomes a much less central character in the last three books. It's like once she married, it was time to move on to other stories and she moved to the periphery. Anne of Ingleside, like Anne's House of Dreams, is still mostly told from her perspective, but gives lots of story-time to each of her children. Rainbow Valley moves even further away, as the main characters actually become the new minister's children, the Merediths. Rilla is about her youngest daughter, but as an interesting character Rilla can't hold a candle to her mother.

And so I've been wondering about that. Why did the series move away from Anne? Why did she become just a peripheral character? Why did we no longer get her internal thoughts? She was still there, wasn't she? Maybe L.M. Montgomery just got bored with Anne, and figured it was time to move on. Maybe she created these new characters and just got excited about them and that's where the story ended up going. But it bothers me some, because it feels like Anne's story "ended" once her children got to a certain age, and it became all about the children.

I suppose this bothers me now (more so than as a young girl) because I can feel so invisible as a mother sometimes. I feel like everything is about my children, or even my husband, and nobody is interested in me as a person. And to a large extent this is true. My story now is inextricably linked with my husband and my children, my days are undeniably filled with their care-taking.

But I still have thoughts! I still have ideas and emotions and the desire to be the center of my own story! Is anybody interested in it? Does anybody see me as a person anymore? Or am I "just" the wife and mom of the newly interesting people, just the peripheral character in someone else's story? Is my only purpose now, like Anne's becomes in the series, to laugh when my children get into scrapes and cry when they get sent off to war?

Obviously this has stirred up some deep thoughts in me, but I truly did come to miss Anne's voice and inner thoughts. I wanted so much to be inside her mind as a mother, but those glimpses were rare and fleeting. I don't know, maybe it was time for the series to move on and for new characters to take the spot-light. Maybe I'm making too much of this.

One final thought on the series. As a young girl, I remember that the last book, Rilla of Ingleside, was one of my favorites. I thought it was so romantic and wonderful. When I first started re-reading it, I was super disappointed. Rilla is such a silly, spoiled, shallow character, and I really didn't like her at all. Of course, over the course of the book she grows up and becomes much more likable, but like I said earlier, she just can't hold a candle to Anne. And that romance I found so charming as a young girl? They spend two evenings together, and then they're practically engaged! What?!?!? But in the end, I still came away love, love, loving this book because of how brilliantly it illustrates life on the home front during World War I. Especially through the character of Susan, Montgomery captured the impact of the war, the way people followed the news and learned the names of foreign generals and charted the progress of the lines on maps, the way they dealt with rations and volunteered and viewed themselves as part of a glorious cause... it was just so fascinating. This book is so different from any other in the Anne series, and I don't love it in quite the same way, but it is masterful piece of fiction about life during the Great War.

Anyway, this whole process of re-reading has been wonderfully nostalgic. I've enjoyed it immensely, and now I'm thinking about how soon it will be before I reread them all again. Will my opinions change even later in life? And honestly, why don't I own all these books? Now I'm trying to decide which other wonderful books from childhood and adolescence I should revisit (Harry Potter is probably top on this list, it's been far too long).

What's you're opinion on re-reading in general. Do you enjoy it? Or does it depend on the book? How has your view on some books changed as you've grown older?

(P.S. Who's super excited about the new Netflix series on Anne being released next month? Watch it with me?)


  1. I have re-read the Anne books several times over the years, and I feel the same disappointment about the later ones. It's almost like Montgomery didn't know how to write Anne as a grownup, or something.

    I often re-read books, though. My husband very rarely re-reads anything and he doesn't quite get the appeal. Some books are like old friends--the Anne books certainly qualify here!--and immersing myself back in that world is such a delight. I already know what to expect and that I'm going to like it. Win win!

    Of course, I'm one that has a hard time paying full price for a book that I haven't read yet. If I'm going to own it, I want to already know that I like it (and will probably re-read it at some point.) Maybe it's my librarian side coming through?

    1. Exactly my sentiments. I only want to pay for books I've already read and know I'll read again. Which begs the question, why don't I own all the Anne books yet?

  2. I cried for a week as a child when I read Rainbow Valley when the boys didn't come home from the war. I've several children's series I re-read every few years and the Anne books are one of them. Do you know the last books did disappoint me but I hadn't realised why till now. And yes I still use the word Kindred Spirit, alot.
    As for your question, I just finished re-reading all the Pollyanna books I own, Swiss Family Robinson is another regular re-read (strong feelings of like and dislike about that book but I keep re-reading it) The Abbey Girls series are another(British) and Jo's Boys - LM Alcott, not Little Women can't stand that book.

    1. Okay, I need to add all those books to my to-read list! I've been meaning to read the Little Men books for a while now, I've heard they're so good (although, curious as to why you can't stand Little Women...).