I first encountered Anne Shirley the summer I turned 11, and it totally changed my young life. Here was a novel about a chatty, imaginative, free spirited little girl who wanted to be a writer! I don’t think I’d ever encountered a heroine quite like her at that point. There was of course Sara Crewe of A Little Princess, but as good as her imagination was, she didn’t want to be a writer. Jo March always seemed so much older than me; even reading Little Women as an adult, Jo intimidates me!
But Anne was very nearly perfect! She taught me the meaning of different kinds of friendships and introduced me to the concept of Kindred Spirits. She stood up for herself against bullies, and was proud to be smart in school. I loved her competitiveness and her drive to succeed, and it encouraged me to do the same in class. The book taught me people can and do change for the better. Her grief over Matthew was my first encounter with grief.
Of course I went on to read the whole series (what was available at that time in the mid-seventies). I collected everything Anne I could find. I made my very own kindred spirit friend, Marielle, who reconnected with me at the end of 2014. Kindred spirits are friends forever, you see. She and I made Anne storybooks made from pictures we cut out of magazines and mailed each other (that’s snail mail; email hadn’t been invented yet). We had so much fun sharing Anne! I still have the antique copy of Further Chronicles of Avonlea she gave me for one of my birthdays.
In my twenties an Afterschool Special did its adaptation of Anne, and with that the floodgates seemed to open on all of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s work. There was an adaptation of Jane of Lantern Hill, and Canadian television produced The Story Girl, which led to the TV series Avonlea, or sometimes called Tales from Avonlea. The wonderful adaptation by Kevin Sullivan of Anne, starring Megan Follows remains one of my favorites of all time.
I discovered Emily of New Moon then, and fell so totally in love with Emily Starr. She too was imaginative and a writer, but her story is a bit darker (Emily has a creepy older man stalker who wants to marry her so he can tame and control her) and a little less sweet and charming. I don’t know if I’d have understood Emily at 11 the way I did in my 20s.
I started collecting all of L. M. Montgomery’s books: The Jane books, the Pat books, the last two Anne books, Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside. Of course I got The Story Girl Books, and all of the short story books.
I also got my first couple of Anne dolls. In Epcot, in the World Showcase, there was a store that was mostly dedicated to Anne and Green Gables related merchandise. I got an Idlewild bath and body kit there, an Anne hat with long red braids, an Anne figurine and a rag doll. Other dolls came into my life later; a Barbie Anne, a 2′ doll from Toys R Us, and most recently a Pulip doll from South Korea. She’s my favorite!
In my 30’s I discovered her books for adults, A Tangled Web and The Blue Castle. I fell madly in love with the story of Valency, a young woman living with two uptight crotchety relatives who put her down constantly and went out of her way to control her (that part hit home; been there, done that). When Valency believes she has terminal breast cancer, she decides to ditch her home and chase her dreams, which lead her to the doorstep of a reclusive writer.
This is a Romantic novel, not just a love story, but a celebration of nature, of animals and the ideal of living in total simplicity. It might have been sappy in the hands of a less gifted writer but in Montgomery’s hands it’s a work of art. It became my favorite book of hers of all time, and at last count I have 4 paper copies and 1 electronic copy. (I’m not obsessed… no, not me!!)
In my 40s, I discovered her journals and so many biographies. Volume 2 was my favorite- we were of a similar age, her in her journals, me in the here and now. I started writing her letters, commenting on her journal entries and then telling her about myself. I know that has to sound corny as hell, but Maud became even more important to me. Kindred spirits throughout time.
Imagine my distress then, when I learned in 2010 than Maud’s death was not from natural causes, a heart attack as most of us believed. The Gift of Wings by Mary Henley Rubio, a Montgomery scholar, tells us that Maud killed herself with an overdose of opiates. It turns out she may have been an addict, frazzled and depressed by her husband’s schizophrenia and one of her sons’ constant trouble with money and the law. She also injured an arm that made it difficult to write or type.
I was so sad and heartbroken that this amazing woman, who gave us such wonderful heroines and glorious stories, suffered so much and was so depressed that she felt ending her life was the only way out of her pain.
I think my connection to Anne and Maud Montgomery is stronger than ever. Marielle, my childhood kindred spirit, is always finding me Anne related things – from body lotions, soap and nail polish, to Marilla’s brooch to Avonlea wax cubes. I love it all! ( Thank you, Marielle!)
The Montgomery love continues. The Anne With an “e” adaptation hit Netflix last year to some critical acclaim. I found it a bit dark and a little bit anachronistic, and I still haven’t seen all of it. I do have to say Amybeth McNulty makes a terrific Anne. I heard there was supposed to be a season 2, but don’t quote me on that.
There’s a new set of journals out, supposedly complete with nothing excised. I’m looking forward to collecting them, of course.
And of course my dream is to make the pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island, something I’ve wanted to do for four decades.
I think you can tell from my enthusiasm and delight in opening my #coffeeandaclassic box how much Anne means to me.
I believe the rest of you Kindred Spirits will understand.
#AnneofGreenGables #LMMontgomery #TheBlueCastle #The StoryGirl #Tales if Avonlea #JaneofLanternHill #MeganFollows #AnneSpelledWithanE #AmybethMcNulty #MaryHenleyRubio #GreenGables #PrinceEdwardIsland