It’s quite possible that Anne of Green Gables is just a book to you, a lovely book, I’m sure. A book to you like Pride and Prejudice is to me: Almost absolute perfection but still properly shelved in the realm of stories and binding and glue. Its people are extremely pleasant and entertaining, almost truly real. Its plot is as enthralling the ninety-ninth time as it was the first. But Anne of Green Gables and its sequels are even more than that to me. They’re like a piece of my soul that somehow didn’t come alive until I’d read them. They shaped me. They live inside me like all the other conversations and prayers and kindnesses that made me who I am today. I can return to them again and again for renewed perspective, the best of love and friendship, and a way of living life aesthetically, touching and embracing its goodness like maybe I hadn’t thought to do before. In the words of Little Elizabeth from Anne of Windy Poplars when referring to kittens and babies, I like the Anne books almost better than the bible. Yeah, I said that. If you made me take only one book to an island, I’d choose the bible, but I would fill its margins with everything I could remember about Anne.
I’ve just finished the biography of Anne’s author, Looking for Anne of Green Gables: The Story of L. M. Montgomery and Her Literary Classic. And I was mesmerized. Because while its author, Irene Gammel, looked for the Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, stories and the magazine articles and the personal experiences that led L.M. Montgomery to the idea that eventually led to the book Anne of Green Gables, I was desperately looking for the woman who wrote my soul. For much of the book, I couldn’t find her. I couldn’t imagine how a book that shaped my life with its intense happiness and solid, unshakeable perspective – filled with humility and self-sacrifice and the ability to see some good in almost every person – where was that book in the woman who had very few lasting friendships, who wrote mean things about people in her journal and then married without any sign of a Gilbert-and-Anne-like devotion? The woman who created a world I return to when I need to shake myself from a blue and tired stupor from life’s monotony, she somehow wasn’t really able to rise above it herself. And my heart is completely broken because of it.
Did I like this book? Wholeheartedly. It took Anne very seriously and dissected it quite a bit but not so much that it hurt, and it read things into Montgomery’s life that I sort of found absurd but without taking it so far that I was repulsed. It showed me pictures of the woman and of her world. It introduced me to poor, sad Evelyn Nesbitt, the model whose face Montgomery chose as her inspiration for Anne and whose life had become so tainted by the time the book came out that she never would have been chosen as a model for such an innocent child-character. It showed me a woman not nearly as perfect as Anne. But somehow, by the end, that made Anne all the more magical for me.
(This photo by Willderbeast on Flickr is an imitation of what Anne’s room might have looked like if she had been real as I’m pretty sure in my mind she always will be.)