In 1908, L. M. Montgomery published her classic novel “Anne of Green Gables.” Today, her characters and settings spill off the page just as full of life as the moment they were written. This coming-of-age novel follows the misadventures of Anne Shirley, an 11-year-old orphan with a tragic past, rambunctious nature and romantic mind, as she and her new guardians, contrasting siblings Marilla and Mathew Cuthbert, take on the struggles of nosy neighbors, snide schoolmates, and desired friendships, during the early 20th century on Prince Edward Island in Canada.
While a story enthusiast since birth and an avid reader, “Anne of Green Gables” was one of those books I wanted to read but never finished. At ten, I struggled through the first few pages, desperately wanting to enjoy it yet giving up after the first chapter, unable to decipher the archaic language. I wanted to read books by Jules Verne and Charles Dickens that I found on my parent’s shelves. By ten I could read and enjoy some of the books that I had struggled with, but “Anne of Green Gables” was not one of them.
Nine years later, I picked up the same book on a whim and found an immediate friend. The language no longer felt sticky and difficult to get through but idyllic and light. Experiencing this novel at nineteen, gave me the insight to fully relate to the characters and reflect on the story’s messages.
“Anne of Green Gables” isn’t only a fanciful slew of entertainingly fallible scenarios, but a three-dimensional one with strikingly human characteristics. Anne’s struggles are relatable for children who often feel misunderstood and for adults reminiscing on the frustrations of childhood. Montgomery’s skillful use of multiple perspectives from her characters, gives depth to the telling.
The 2017 Netflix television series, “Anne With an E” (created, written, and produced by Moira Walley-Beckett, writer and producer of the television series “Breaking Bad”), recently premiered its first season. Adverse reaction from some critics is understandable. As someone who is usually disappointed with film adaptations of a loved book, I was pleasantly surprised at how accurately this series fit my personal vision, despite liberties taken with the plot.
While the “Anne of Green Gables” books are mainly geared for children, “Anne with an E” seems to be intended more for teens and adults. This maturity allows them to show the darker sides—domestic violence, bullying and teacher-pupil “flirtation”—of Anne’s story (clearly discussed in the book, but not as family-friendly when portrayed on screen).
The dramatization of some scenes clearly explained the characters and their relationships to one another and provided a look at the hardships of 20th century poverty, particularly for orphans, and gives depth to Anne’s story. While fresh, no changes felt completely out of character. Walley-Beckett brought a grimier take, but she didn’t change the heart of the original and the spirit of the characters were kept in its creation.
This series was exceptionally well cast, particularly with Anne’s guardians (played by Geraldine James and R.H. Thomson), as well as their outspoken neighbor, Rachel Lynde (Corrine Koslo).
Amybeth McNulty portrayed the endearingly unusual Anne Shirley’s imagination and loquacious nature, while bringing an assertive and troubled perspective that goes farther into the character’s backstory with details that brought out who she is and why she is that way.
In the title sequence on each episode, whimsical artwork (by Brad Kunkle, directed by Alan Williams) flow by in 40 seconds, accompanied by a folk-rock song (“Ahead by A Century” by The Tragically Hip), a relatively modern, yet fitting choice that seems to express the timeless aspects of this show. The titles are just one of many examples of the evident thought and effort that went into creating “Anne With an E.”
Portraying the compassion and strength of Anne’s nature alongside the eloquence of her outlook, they’ve set up a perfect introduction to her character, placing Anne in fairy-tale environments, yet grounding her at the same time. The period rural costumes (designed by Anne Dixon) are another noteworthy example.
No matter a reader’s or viewer’s age, Anne Shirley will continue to reflect the unusual, unconventional and forward-thinkers. She speaks to those who are called silly for their positivity, and laughed at for using flamboyant vocabulary or finding beauty in life’s seemingly insignificant aspects. Determined, opinionated, independent, and bold, Anne is a wonderful role model (an obvious one to kids, and a subtle reminder to adults), sharing a relevant tale of courage, creativity, and compassion.
By Gwendolyn Billings