|Anne of Green Gables of Green Gables|
"Well, now, I'm afraid I can't," said Matthew, who was getting a little dizzy. He felt as he had once felt in his rash youth when another boy had enticed him on the merry-go-round at a picnic.
There's nothing I love more than reading books about the places I go when I travel. When I took a recent spring break trip to Canada (where it was way too cold for right-thinking people take spring break trips) I decided I had to read Anne of Green Gables, the literary pride of Prince Edward Island.
First of all, Prince Edward Island is awesome. It's easy to see why Anne, the novel's impulsive, imaginative hero, would be so captivated by her new home: it's pleasant and bucolic, but the abundance of red clay at the farms and red sand on the beaches gives it an otherworldly kind of feeling. It certainly doesn't look or feel like anywhere else. Green Gables, the house where Anne is taken by accident to the elderly couple Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (who wanted to adopt a boy), is a real place, and you can tour it--or you could, if you were smart enough not to visit it in what is essentially Canadian winter.
Matthew and Marilla are charmed by Anne, who talks a mile a minute about the things she imagines. And to be fair, Anne is pretty charming. Her overactive imagination is the optimism of someone who's had a hard life as an orphan, a way of shaping the world into something more palatable. Green Gables, though she sets about immediately renaming local landmarks to suit her sense of whimsy (a local pond becomes, for instance, the Lake of Shining Waters), is the first place commensurate with Anne's capacity for wonder. The no-nonsense Marilla, while secretly enamored by Anne, endeavors to rein in her impulses, which result in some reliably amusing scrapes. One of my favorites involves the twelve-year old Anne, permitted to throw a tea party, accidentally substitutes wine for cherry cordial and gets her best friend roaringly drunk.
Eventually, Anne becomes a young woman. At sixteen, she graduates from high school and--oh, Canada--immediately becomes a schoolteacher herself. Over the course of the novel, she becomes a part of the Cuthbert household, and ingratiates herself into the society of her small P.E.I. town, and becomes generally loved by everyone. There are few very high stakes--although Montgomery manages to wring a great deal of unexpected pathos out of a bittersweet ending--but the small niceties of domestic Canadian life prove to be surprisingly compelling, because Anne is a compelling character.
Many women--only women, honestly, but only a few of them Canadian--have told me that these books meant a great deal to them as a child. Why is that? I enjoyed the book a lot, but something about Anne, even a hundred years and fifteen hundred miles removed, continues to resound for young girls.