102 years later, the irrepressible redhead from Avonlea is still a leading heroine of children's literature.
On June 13, 1908, a little-known Canadian author published her first novel, Anne of Green Gables. Lucy Maud Montgomery was an unusual woman for her era: Unmarried at age 37, she supported herself as a writer of articles and short stories. “I am frankly in literature to make a living out of it,” she once wrote to a friend, and that goal was achieved beyond her wildest hopes with her debut novel, which became an instant bestseller.
102 years later, the novel (which is the first in an eight-book series!) seems to have aged hardly at all, and its heroine’s bright spirit and cheerful kindness seem to shine off the page. Here are 6 reasons modern-day parents might turn to irrepressible Anne as a role model for their daughters. (Warning: This does contain spoilers.)
1Anne loves the true, the good, and the beautiful.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote “The things that we love tell us what we are,” and Anne rejoices in great literature, beauty, and art. Memorably, she and her friends re-enact Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott” poem (with hilariously disastrous results!), and later in the book, she is celebrated for her talent for reciting poetry.
Her appreciation for beauty extends to the natural world, and she frequently goes into raptures over ponds, trees, the moon, and other charming natural scenes that others don’t notice. While this tendency of hers is somewhat comical when she’s a child, she grows into a woman with an exquisite and well-formed appreciation for goodness, beauty, and truth, which stands her in good stead throughout her life and makes her a great teacher, wife, and mother.
2Anne is diligently intellectual and academically motivated.
The ongoing academic rivalry between Anne and the series’ hero, Gilbert Blythe, is presented somewhat humorously, but has profound implications. Gilbert is quoted as saying that “being smart was better than being good-looking,” and that Anne is “the smartest girl in school.” He falls in love with Anne as his intellectual and academic equal.
Anne never feels any need to “dumb down” her sharp mind, but always competes to be top in her class. The scene at the end of their high school years, when Anne and Gilbert win Queens Academy’s top two academic prizes, makes clear how well suited they are to each other. Her intellectual curiosity and diligence in her studies is one of her many wonderful traits, and it’s part of the beauty of the series that this is what Gilbert loves most about her. Their deep love and mutual respect, emerging out of a rich and beautiful friendship, is what I hope my daughters will seek in a relationship.
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3Anne supports and encourages her friends.
In a world where parents are warned of girls being “mean” by gossiping about and excluding others, Anne’s approach to friendship is refreshing. Her life was lonely and friendless before she came to Green Gables, so Anne never takes her friends for granted and has a huge soft spot for anyone who doesn’t “fit in.”
She has many, many strong female friendships throughout the book series. In all circumstances of her life, she goes out of her way to build up and support her friends, make others feel included and cared for, and create a warm and welcoming environment. (Readers will remember how she wins over even Katherine Brooks!) Anne’s kindness is a perfect example of St. Edith Stein’s words: “The woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.”
4Anne appreciates the little things.
Perhaps because of the difficult years Anne spent as an orphan before coming to Green Gables, Anne deeply appreciates the small pleasures of home, family, friendship, and daily life. She is boundlessly grateful for something as simple as having ice cream at a picnic or wearing a dress with puffed sleeves. Gratitude is the key to happiness in life, and Anne’s innate sense of thanksgiving for every little gift from God is doubtless the secret to her abiding joy.
5Anne uses her imagination and creativity to solve problems.
Anne is a compassionate and empathetic young woman, but she’s certainly not perfect, and spends most of the first book getting into hilarious and ridiculous scrapes. Luckily her mishaps are no match for her quick sense of humor and endless creativity. Anne’s lively imagination is one of the most memorable things about the book, and while it sometimes get her into trouble, she’s almost always able to use it to find a solution.
6Anne grows up with the reader.
The first book is the best-known in the series, but the seven others are every bit as good; in fact, many readers think the best of the eight books is Rilla of Ingleside, featuring Anne’s youngest daughter. The books take Anne through high school, college, years of teaching at a prestigious prep school, early marriage, and through middle age as a mother to six grown children.
I took my well-worn copy of Anne of the Island to university with me and kept it next to my bed, and was pleasantly surprised at how little had changed over the years between her college experience and my own. In Anne’s House of Dreams, newlywed Anne loses her first baby to stillbirth; in Rilla of Ingleside, one of her beloved sons dies as a Canadian soldier in World War II.
Anne is no stranger to heartbreak and suffering, and she walks with the reader through every stage of life, as a trustworthy friend and mentor. A mother could ask for her daughters to go through life with no better literary companion than Anne Shirley.
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