Anne Shirley from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables has been integrated into Prince Edward Island’s history so completely one would think that she was a real person. When visiting the Island you can spend time at the Anne of Green Gables Museum or go to Avonlea, the Village of Anne of Green Gables. There is also Anne of Green Gables – the Musical often performed in Charlottetown. In fact Anne Shirley is the delightful and endearing fictitious character created by L.M. Montgomery in her series of books beginning with Anne of Green Gables.
In 1904, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s imagination was intrigued by a clipping in one of her notebooks “Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy. By mistake a girl is sent to them.” The author’s intention was to create a serial for the Sunday school paper however; she came to the conclusion that she had enough material for a full-length novel. In the first book, Anne of Green Gables, we meet Anne Shirley as she is sent from an orphanage to an older couple, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, a brother and sister, who run a farm in Cavendish called Green Gables on Prince Edward Island. The couple had requested a boy, however Anne wins them over. The story follows Anne as she grows up with the Cuthbert’s, goes to school, makes friends. As readers we experience Anne’s joys and excitement as well as her sorrows and disappointments. Anne is romantic and adventurous which often leads her into mishaps. She is also intelligent and resourceful and always manages to land back on her feet.
The author wrote a total of seven books about Anne plus one final book Rilla of Ingleside (1921) focusing on Anne’s daughter. In Anne of Green Gables (1908) we are introduced to Anne Shirley and her guardians, the Cuthbert’s. We also meet Diana Barry who becomes Anne’s “bosom friend” and Gilbert Blythe who torments Anne due to her red hair but ultimately becomes an admirer. The second book Anne of Avonlea (1909) continues Anne’s story as a teenager and her relationships with Diana and Gilbert and people in the community. Anne of the Island (1915) follows Anne through college and being away from home for the first time. In this book Anne experiences her first real-life romance and by the end of this volume she becomes engaged to Gilbert. The following book is Anne of Windy Poplars (1936) consisting of letters that Anne writes to Gilbert over the course of three years. Gilbert is away at school studying medicine and Anne is stationed as a principle at Summerside High School. The fifth book is Anne’s House of Dreams (1917) in which Anne and Gilbert marry and begin their lives together as a couple. Gilbert takes over his uncle’s practice in Four Winds Harbour and Anne becomes a mother. In Anne of Ingleside (1939) we meet the Blythes now parents to five children: James Matthew ‘Jem’, the eldest aged eight; Walter Cuthbert, who is almost seven; Anne ‘Nan’ and Diana ‘Di’ twin girls, who are four and nothing alike; and finally Shirley, who is two. In this book Anne gives birth to her youngest child Bertha Marilla Blythe nicknamed ‘Rilla’. In the final book of the Anne series Rainbow Valley (1919) Anne and Gilbert return from a trip to Europe, a gift from Gilbert to Anne to celebrate their wedding anniversary. This book concentrates mainly on the relationship between the Blythe children and John Meredith’s children. He is the new minister in town but is also a widower and has four young children. Although Anne is a character in Rilla of Ingleside (1921) this sequel features her youngest daughter, Rilla, as she matures throughout the First World War.
In 1985 Kevin Sullivan premiered an adaptation of Anne of Green Gables on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The production starred Megan Follows as Anne Shirley, the late Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla Cuthbert, the late Richard Farnsworth as Matthew Cuthbert, Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe and Schuyler Grant as Diana Barry. It has won numerous awards both in Canada and abroad and has been translated and broadcast in over 145 countries. Two other films were created by Kevin Sullivan based on the Anne books The Sequel and The Continuing Story creating a trilogy which is out on DVD.
L.M. Montgomery completed Anne of Green Gables in October of 1905. Over the course of the next three years five different publishers looked at the manuscript and turned it down. In 1908 L.C. Page and Company of Boston accepted the novel. It was published on June 20th, 1908 and became an immediate success. Since then the novels have been translated into over 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. They have been studied in schools, used to teach English in Japan and have delighted readers for generations and will continue to capture the young at heart for many years to come.