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Fictional Writers: Anne Shirley

Thursday, July 10, 2008
    “What’s your name?”

    The child hesitated for a moment. “Will you please call me Cordelia?” she said eagerly.

    Call you Cordelia! Is that your name?”

    “No-o-o, it’s not exactly my name, but I would love to be called Cordelia. It’s such a perfectly elegant name.”

    “I don’t know what on earth you mean. If Cordelia isn’t your name, what is?”

    “Anne Shirley,” reluctantly faltered forth the owner of that name, “but oh, please do call me Cordelia. It can’t matter much to you what you call me if I’m only going to be here a little while, can it? And Anne is such an unromantic name.”

And thus we’re introduced to Anne Shirley. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic novel Anne of Green Gables, the first installment in a series of eight books about the inimitable orphan Anne Shirley. When first published, the book was considered a great success by selling 19,000 copies in the first five months. A century later, more than fifty million copies are in print. It has been adapted into a very successful and popular set of miniseries (though the third one, while wonderful, has absolutely nothing to do with the story originally penned by Montgomery), musicals, stage plays, dolls, and other peripheral items such as dishes and linens.


Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874–1942, called “Maud” by friends and family, known as L.M. Montgomery as an author) was born in Clifton, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Her mother passed away (from tuberculosis) when Maud was very young. Her father moved her to Saskatchewan, and shortly thereafter, she returned to Prince Edward Island, to Cavendish, to be raised by her very strict maternal grandparents. Though she would return to Saskatchewan for a brief time, she spent most of the rest of her life on Prince Edward Island, as well as in Nova Scotia. She attended Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown, where she completed the two-year teachers’ program in a year, then went on to study literature at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. After teaching in a variety of schools around the islands, she returned to Cavendish, PEI, in 1898 to live with her widowed grandmother. In 1901, she returned to Halifax, where she wrote for the two newspapers, but she returned to Cavendish in 1902 to care for her grandmother. During this time, she began writing Anne of Green Gables, which was published in 1908 (at age thirty-four, if anyone’s counting).

In 1911, she married minister Ewan MacDonald, and they moved to Ontario so he could take up the leadership of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Leaskdale. It was from the Leaskdale Manse that Montgomery wrote her next eleven novels.

Montgomery died in 1942, and is buried in the Cavendish cemetery on Prince Edward Island. Twenty of Montgomery’s novels were published, but of those, Anne of Green Gables remains the most popular and well-known.


Anne Shirley (that’s Ann-with-an-E) comes to Avonlea on Prince Edward Island when she is eleven years old. She is adopted by brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who live in a large farmhouse with a multi-gabled, green roof, commonly known as Green Gables. Because of her difficult life before coming to Avonlea, Anne has lived in a world of imagination ever since she can remember. She has an overblown ideal of “the romantic” and seeks it in every aspect of her life—leading to some quite humorous “scrapes” and disasters. Living close-by is Diana Barry, whom Anne claims as her “bosom” friend. Believing her own red hair to be a curse, Anne envies Diana’s dark tresses and teaches the very grounded Diana how to dream and pretend.

Though her arrival causes a stir in the small community, especially with neighbor Rachel Lynde stirring the gossip up, Anne eventually wins the hearts of the residents through her kindness, her generosity, her humor, and her accomplishments. Anne is challenged in those accomplishments by Gilbert Blythe, the boy whom she originally cannot abide for his major mistake of calling her “Carrots,” due to her red hair. Anne works hard to beat Gilbert for the top marks in school.

Anne and Gilbert, and a few of their friends, eventually end up in the teachers’ program at Queens College in Charlottetown, where, once again, Anne finds herself in competition with Gilbert for academic honors. Eventually, they reconcile at the end of the first book and become friends.

Like Jo March from Little Women, Anne’s first forays into writing are by penning fantastical stories. Where Jo’s were of marauders and pirates and highwaymen, Anne’s are of fantastical, romantic worlds, with damsels in distress and knights in shining armor to rescue them.

When assigned to write a story for a school composition assignment (by Anne’s beloved teacher, Miss Stacey), Diana admits to Anne that she cannot possibly come up with a story to write. So Anne starts a story club where she, Diana, and their friends will make up and write down stories. Marilla thinks this is complete and utter nonsense, to which Anne responds:

    “But we’re so careful to put a moral into them all, Marilla,” explained Anne. “I insist upon that. All the good people are rewarded and all the bad ones are suitably punished. I’m sure that must have a wholesome effect. The moral is the great thing. Mr. Allan says so. I read one of my stories to him and Mrs. Allan and they both agreed that the moral was excellent. Only they laughed in the wrong places. I like it better when people cry. Jane and Ruby almost always cry when I come to the pathetic parts. Diana wrote her Aunt Josephine about our club and her Aunt Josephine wrote back that we were to send her some of our stories. So we copied out four of our very best and sent them. Miss Josephine Barry wrote back that she had never read anything so amusing in her life. That kind of puzzled us because the stories were all very pathetic and almost everybody died. But I’m glad Miss Barry liked them. It shows our club is doing some good in the world. . . .”

Though Anne eventually puts her writing aside to focus on raising her children, we can learn a lesson from her fearless approach to life and to writing—the idea of living in the imagination, letting it overcome us until we can do nothing but tell the story, lest we lose it.

Resources and Articles:
100 Candles: Anne of Green Gables Grows Old and Gets Her Due
Virtual Green Gables
Prince Edward Island
The Films
Four of the novels online:
Anne of Green Gables
Anne of Avonlea
Anne of the Island
Anne’s House of Dreams

  1. Thursday, July 10, 2008 11:50 am

    That’s rather funny that you write about this. I just finished rereading Anne of Green Gables yesterday! I always get the urge to come back to it every now and then. I love the book. Love Anne, love Gilbert, love everything about the book.


  2. Emilie permalink
    Thursday, July 10, 2008 12:09 pm

    All Montgomery’s books are entrenched so deeply in my life I can’t remember how life felt before I discovered them. There are times I just want to read a book that spares no description or flowery phrase, and any of the Anne books do the trick. My mom says she wonders if Anne made me want to be a writer or if I already wanted to be a writer and so I patterned myself after Anne, because I can be a little melodramatic around the edges:)

    My favorite thing about Anne as a “fictional writer” is that she never makes it big, just like so many real authors today. Life also gets in the way for her in many ways, and her writing comes in fits and starts a lot of the time. Makes it easier to relate to her on that level.


  3. Thursday, July 10, 2008 12:34 pm

    My kids have golfish named Morilla and Gilbert!

    Just goes to show ya how much I (we) adore Ann-with-an-E!

    I think Anne is truly an inspirational fictional author.

    I love that she didn’t start out writing “perfect” stories. I love that LMM showed us Anne’s character ARC by showing us how she learned to write stories from the soul (same with Jo March) That gives all the wanna-be-authors a clue that you don’t always get it right the first time. You have to grow as an author as you grow as a person.

    Ah, I feel so inspired. I think I’ll go work on my WIP now. Thanks!!!


  4. Thursday, July 10, 2008 12:35 pm

    I can’t here the name Cordelia without imagining the character from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. She wasn’t a very nice person. So much so, that I’m not sure if I could even date a girl named Cordelia.

    Sorry, I read the whole thing, but since I’ve never actually read Anne of Green Gables itself that first part was the only part that really stuck with me.


  5. Thursday, July 10, 2008 12:36 pm

    “hear” not “here”

    I need to work on re-reading more carefully before I click “Submit”


  6. Thursday, July 10, 2008 12:36 pm

    Goldfish, not golfish, of course.


  7. greyfort permalink
    Thursday, July 10, 2008 1:00 pm

    I’ve always adored the Anne books/movies – though I haven’t read them or seen them in awhile. I think its time to break them out again.

    I used to watch BtVS too before I started having issues with such shows, so I had the same gut reaction as Caleb. Cordelia?!? That’s the name Anne wanted. I had forgotten that.


  8. Thursday, July 10, 2008 1:14 pm

    Once again – I am greyfort. Ergh. I don’t like my name showing up here. Dur.


  9. Thursday, July 10, 2008 1:27 pm

    When I was pregnant with our third daughter we vacationed in P.E.I. and went to Cavendish to see the Montgomery house, but just our luck, it was closed due to restorations taking place because of a fire that occurred just a couple weeks earlier. The grounds were beautiful, though.

    The red soil in P.E.I. is unlike any other place I’ve ever been and the roads are lined with lupins. Just beautiful! And, oh, their lobster is amazing, and their huge bibs are such fun. Our two older daughters got a kick out of them.

    I just loved watching Anne of Green Gables when I was growing up. I read several of the books, but not all. I do believe I collected them all for my girls, though, I guess I should read them now, too, especially since the author is one of the few famous Canadian authors that we have over here.


  10. Thursday, July 10, 2008 1:28 pm

    What does greyfort mean, anyway? It sounds like a screenname I would expect someone to have in a WWII video game or one of my little brother’s e-friends from World of Warcraft.


  11. Thursday, July 10, 2008 1:30 pm

    Hahaha, when I started reading your post, I had a miniature panic attack that you were about to say you named your third daughter Cordelia because of this book. Wouldn’t that have made me look silly?


  12. Thursday, July 10, 2008 1:47 pm

    I have yet to see the movie, but it’s one of those books everyone should read. I actually know a Cordelia, which is highly unusual in this day.


  13. Thursday, July 10, 2008 1:56 pm

    For me, the name Cordelia takes me back to Shakespeare and King Lear—she was the “good” daughter, and the role my sister got to read when we read parts of KL in drama class in school.


  14. Thursday, July 10, 2008 3:32 pm

    I loved the Anne of Green Gables series. They make me want to go back and live in that period. I think names are very important also. I have 4 daughters. The oldest twins are Faith and Hope. Then we had Joy and Grace. We couldn’t exactly have started with Faith and Hope and then name the next one a normal name like Kate. This way I figure when they get to be teenagers they can all be mad at me about their names instead of being upset that their siblings got an normal name. The twins can always use their middle names since each of them got one of my names. You would think with so much fruit of the Spirit in the house I would yell a little less. Good thing I got faith, hope, joy, and Grace to get me through 4 girls and their hormones. Ha!


  15. Thursday, July 10, 2008 3:34 pm

    ps. I loved the first 2 movies but didn’t get the third one either.


  16. Thursday, July 10, 2008 3:40 pm

    @Kaye—I’m really glad I’m not the only one who thinks of Shakespeare at the mention of Cordelia!


  17. Thursday, July 10, 2008 3:44 pm

    Shellie wrote: “You would think with so much fruit of the Spirit in the house I would yell a little less. Good thing I got faith, hope, joy, and Grace to get me through 4 girls and their hormones.”

    LOL–you just need to have two more and name them Peace and Patience. 😀


  18. Thursday, July 10, 2008 3:50 pm

    Georgiana, get your tushy to the movie store and rent Anne of Greene Gables, my friend- after you finish your daily word count, of course!
    Unless you’d rather have me quote it for you word for word, which, I bet I could get awfully close! But that’s definitely not as fun as watching Megan Follows (sp?) play “Carrots”.


  19. Emilie permalink
    Thursday, July 10, 2008 4:27 pm

    I second that! I know other girls have played Anne before and since Megan Follows, but seriously–has anyone else come close to what she did? She took the character Montgomery wrote and recreated her onscreen word-perfect. Everyone else I’ve ever seen play this role has been such a poor imitation.


  20. Thursday, July 10, 2008 4:35 pm

    I’ve seen Megan Follows in a couple of Lifetime movies, as well as an episode of Law & Order SVU, and nothing she’s done since Anne has compared.

    Even though the third movie had nothing to do with the story from the books, it was wonderful to see Anne and Gilbert finally get married. And the end of it chokes me up every time I watch it.


  21. Thursday, July 10, 2008 5:35 pm

    I love how Anne always used “pathetic” as a real descriptor, rather than a criticism or indictment.

    I think the reason I shared so few of my stories as a child (maybe even now) is that I would be horrified to have people “laugh at the wrong places.”


  22. Amy permalink
    Thursday, July 10, 2008 5:42 pm

    I have to admit it — I never read either Anne of Green Gables or Little Women. I DID read the Little House on the Prairie books and loved them, but my favorites were The Chronicles of Narnia. Don’t know how many times I read those. Isn’t it funny how childhood books can stay with us for a lifetime?


  23. Thursday, July 10, 2008 7:25 pm

    I wore out my copy of Anne of Green Gables, and I’ve about worn out my tapes of the movies. And I agree, no one played Anne like Megan.


  24. Thursday, July 10, 2008 8:12 pm

    My two daughters and I love the Anne books and movies. I would love to go to PEI someday and see the house and watch the play!


  25. Thursday, July 10, 2008 8:40 pm

    Kaye, As it so happens, last week my blog featured the new Girlebooks offerings – free ebooks of Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea. You can download them in several formats. Vic


  26. Thursday, July 10, 2008 9:35 pm

    I’ve never read this book. It sounds like just the kind of book I would have enjoyed when I was young, something that I’d reminisce over now.

    Many books that are classics were introduced to me either by my mother or our local librarian.

    They failed me!

    I think I’ll find a copy.


  27. Thursday, July 10, 2008 9:39 pm

    One of my all-time favorite stories ever. I remember I was home sick from school and my mom brought the movie home from the video store for me to watch. I was so disappointed because it looked so boring. Three hours later, my sister and I were in tears that it was over.

    The music even gives me goosebumps.

    What a beautiful, magical story. I am in love with Gilbert! 🙂

    Thank you so much for the trip down memory lane!!


  28. Thursday, July 10, 2008 10:15 pm

    Odd, I assumed this book was an unspoken right of passage into womanhood based on all this gushing. You can practically smell the estrogen pumping through this comments section. 😉

    Don’t worry, I still haven’t seen Die Hard , which is probably about the male equivalent (though I plan to rectify this as soon as a real opportunity presents itself). I guess we all get behind from time to time. 😛

    Sorry to say Anne of Green Gables still isn’t even on my to-do list. I can’t imagine how much dude-stuff I would have to do to make up for it if I ever did. It’s bad enough that I love Moulin Rouge and Love Actually.


  29. Thursday, July 10, 2008 10:16 pm

    Those first two paragraphs were in response to Patricia. I missed Courtney’s comment somehow.


  30. Thursday, July 10, 2008 10:18 pm

    While I love the movies, I couldn’t make it past half-way through the second book. So, no, I wouldn’t say it’s a rite-of-passage. Not the way seeing Steel Magnolias is for Southern women. The only book I can think of that should be a mandatory rite-of-passage for every woman to read (and not just watch the miniseries, I mean actually read the book) is Pride & Prejudice.


  31. Friday, July 11, 2008 6:44 am

    I absolutely adored these books growing up. I have the complete set of eight books from my cousins (probably the only gift I’ve kept from them, LOL). I wore those books out. I really ought to re-read them…they are just wonderful. I also loved LMM’s Emily and Patricia books.

    I have DVD’s of the first two Anne films but again, that’s one of those things I haven’t watched in ages. I need to get the third film to “complete” the set. When it first came out I remember being disappointed that it wasn’t as faithful to the books as the first two films were…it sort of had Anne take over her daughter Rilla’s wartime experiences. But Kaye, I agree with you, it was worth it just to finally *see* Anne and Gil married. 🙂

    Great post…brings up some wonderful memories!


  32. Friday, July 11, 2008 7:11 am

    Everything I know about love and romance I learned from Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe. Oh, and Mr. Stewart. 🙂

    “If I asked you the same question today, would you give me a different answer?”

    Anne doesn’t even respond in words, she just looks at him with ‘love shining in her eyes’. I’m sure that was a POV slip on the part of LMM but who cares.; it’s brilliant IMO.

    Yes, I know that passage from memory. Should I admit that? **crickets chirp**


  33. Friday, July 11, 2008 9:38 am

    Caleb – way back when I looked up to see what my name Leslie meant. I was told it meant greyfort and when I needed to create a new email address I didn’t want my name in it, so I used greyfort. Its become my username on many forums, etc.

    And I can’t believe you haven’t seen Die Hard. Shame. Really – I remember seeing it when I was a way little girl. My mom loves movies like that. In fact for Mother’s Day I rented Live Free or Die Hard for her since she hadn’t seen it.


  34. Friday, July 11, 2008 9:40 am

    Kaye – I had to force myself to read Anne of Avonlea beacause I was SO disappointed that it wasn’t the same as the movie (the movie takes bits and pieces of books 2-4) but I ended up enjoying all of the other books. Have not re-read them, but I remember enjoying them greatly.


  35. Friday, July 11, 2008 9:53 am

    For me it wasn’t so much about the stories not being the same between the books and movie, but just that I found the narrative hard to slog through.


  36. Saturday, July 12, 2008 11:13 pm

    I read all the books, though I freely admit to doing a lot of skimming in #4- Anne Of Windy Poplars. At the time her love letters to Gilbert were rather boring. I think I’d have a different opinion now.

    Erica, all 3 are out on DVD! Go buy them!!!!!!! I spent today watching Anne of Green Gables and will most likely put in Avonlea tomorrow.

    Totally agree with you about part 3, Kaye. Nothing like the books at all, but the end is totally worth it.

    My mom’s only sister has one child–a boy. In an antique store once, with her, I found a little book of Tennyson poems that had The Lady of Shallot in it. We were walking through the store reading the poem in our best Anne voices and she had no idea why we were so excited. I have a cross-stitch pattern of the Lady of Shallot that I’m going to have to stitch twice. Once for me and once for my sister.


  37. Nicole (ikkinlala) permalink
    Sunday, July 13, 2008 12:34 pm

    I used to love the books when I was younger, but I definitely wouldn’t consider them a rite of passage into womanhood – I couldn’t have been much over eight when I read them.


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