For Love of Puffed Sleeves

“The dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.” – Mark Twain

In honor of my trip to the northern country of Canada (Calgary, Banff, and Vancouver), I’ve decided to share with you my favorite Canadian children’s series: Anne of Green Gables! Unfortunately, this trip starts in about five hours (a la 6:00 am) so I won’t be able to gush as much as I would like to. But fear not, seeing as how this series has been a beloved treasure of mine since the 7th grade, I’m sure I’ll continue to reference and write about it in the future.

Before Hannah Montana, the Babysitter’s Club, or even the Little House on the Prairie, there was red-headed Anne. Anne Shirley was fiery and stubborn, imaginative and brave. She was mischievous and got into loads of trouble (from dyeing her hair green to getting her best chum Diana drunk off of raspberry cordial), but she also sincerely wanted to be good. From the day I became acquainted with Anne, she became my role model and best (literary) friend. I admired her audacity and dreamed of having her flaming red hair. I loved the fact that she understood that sometimes seemingly trivial things (like having puffy sleeves or owning a set of pretty highlighters) can make the bigger problems in life more bearable. Most of all, she saw the world as better than it really was and in doing so, allowed people to prove themselves worthy of such expectations. 

In a modern era of cynicism, its refreshing to visit a bygone age of innocence and optimism. Some people write off Anne as a form of sentimental escapism, and it may well be, but its themes of placing imagination above the banal constraints of reality are wonderfully reminescent of the best of children’s literature.

Situated on Prince Edward Island, the world that L.M. Montgomery created celebrates its 100th birthday this year. Its always been a dream of mine to visit good ol’ PEI and visit some of Anne’s haunts, but I was surprised to learn just how big Anne is in Canada; Anne of Green Gables – the Musical is now in its 42nd season, people get married each year in L.M. Montgomery’s childhood home, and PEI even has an Avonlea Village that features key locations depicted in the novel as well as an assortment of Anne-based events. Apparently, due to Anne of Green Gables, PEI receives the largest amount of literary tourism in Canada. (Hopefully this means people won’t look at me funny when I tell them that my dream vacation of the moment is staying for a week on the island and satisfying my Anne-fanaticism by going to tea parties and buying a very cute Anne tote.)

For a glimpse of the big celebration, visit anne2008.com.

Commemorative essays by both Newsweek and Slate point out the merits of a series that is often overlooked for more male-centric novels by literary scholars (highly recommend reading the full version of both). Ramin Setoodeh writes in “It’s Still Not Easy Being Green“:

That “Anne” has survived so long—and, with 50 million copies sold, so strong—is a small miracle considering the state of young-adult literature. It’s rare to find a best seller with a strong heroine anymore, in large part because, although girls will read books about boys, boys won’t go near a girl’s book, no matter how cool she is. Even in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, the strong, grounded Bella is willing to chuck it all for the love of her vampire boyfriend. “The literary smart girl is still showing up in literature, but she’s often the sidekick,” says Trinna Frever, an “Anne of Green Gables” scholar. “It is a reflection of a culture that’s placing less value on intelligence, and also treating intelligence as a stigmatized quality.”

In “100 Candles“, Meghan O’Rourke makes the argument that Anne Shirley is a feminist character of her own right despite the character’s choice to forsake her writing career in order to raise her children:

Unlike many other children’s heroines—Jo of Little Women, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, even Nancy Drew—Anne is not just a sensibility incarnate; she has an irreducible human soul. Her inner spiritual life exists utterly apart from the domains of domesticity and romance. She may be capable of telling her best friend, Diana, “I’d rather be pretty than clever,” but she is also organically indifferent to the courtship tactics of the popular Gilbert, whose smooth brown eyes wholly disarm the other girls. The immunity of the questing self to the distracting temptations of the flesh is most often an attribute of heroic men, from the hardboiled detectives who pass up luscious blondes to Greek warriors who heed not the sirens. Anne, with her endless wealth of subjectivity, is nobody’s object but her own.

I realize Anne of Green Gables is not a particularly edgy choice for someone who claims to be serious about literature, but it is my pet project to prove to the world that this kindred spirit is worthy of consideration. So here’s to all the girls who take poetic license with renaming local haunts, like to quote Tennyson in normal conversation, and aren’t afraid of hitting a boy on the head with a slate if he deserves it.

Happy birthday, Anne! May you never grow old.

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