Meet Anne Shirley, the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
Publish date:
October 20, 2013
childhood, books

A few years back, my co-worker Amanda and I were talking about the books we loved as kids. The usual suspects came up -- Roald Dahl’s work, "The Giver," "Little House on the Prairie"... and then Amanda busted out "Anne of Green Gables."

“Anne of Green Gables!” I moaned. “That book looked SOOOO BORING.”

The copy that I had been gifted had the title in an overly decorative script font and a beaming little girl with red pigtails in a pinafore clutching a carpetbag. I never read it. I vaguely remember skimming through chapter titles like “Anne Says Her Prayers” and “Vanity and Vexation of Spirit” before tossing it in the pile of Last Resort Books.

Some girls in my class obsessively read Anne of Green Gables but unfortunately, they were the type of girls I didn't always get along with. They wore homemade loopy ribbon clip bows in their hair and drew hearts on top of the letter i, and they never wanted to play freeze tag during recess, they only played less sweaty games like foursquare or jump rope.

These were girls that were somehow also ladies, with their hands folded neatly in their laps, their legs daintily crossed, their ankle socks trimmed with baby pink lace. You just knew by looking at them that they had never eaten 20 marshmallows in a row for no reason. So of course they would read a book with chapter titles like “Anne is Invited Out for Tea.”


Turns out, I was wrong.

Anne of Green Gables is the first of six novels that Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote about our heroine, Anne Shirley. I am sure that the other five books are magical and wonderful and resplendent of misty-eyed memories for everyone, but for these purposes, this review is only covering the first one.

Anne Shirley is kind of like the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She is full of wonder about everything in the land and insists on calling things by names that she makes up. If Anne of Green Gables was set in modern-day times, I have no doubt that Zooey Deschanel would play this wide-eyed character’s heart out.

After I read the book, I found myself looking at everyday objects with Anne’s particular brand of childlike wonder. As I stood waiting for the bus in the rain, I renamed the metal bus stop the Shiny Cave of Guarding. The bus itself, late as always, was the Sluggish Chariot of Kings. My Macbook was the Clickety-Clackety Beholder of Magic.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Here’s what happens in the first Anne of Green Gables book:

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert are siblings who own the farm Green Gables on Prince Edwards Island in Canada. Because Matthew is getting old, they decide to adopt a young strapping lad who can help around the farm. This is essentially the only item I have in the pro column of my “Should I Have Kids?” list: just another pair of hands to do all my vacuuming and dishes.

So Matthew heads to town to pick up his orphan slaveboy, but it turns out there was a mix-up and Anne is there instead. The first time she speaks to Matthew, she says 132 words. Get used to it, bro. Anyway, because he can’t just LEAVE her at the train station, he takes her home to Avonlea.

On the way there, she talks about cherry trees and how much she wants a white dress (Anne talking about clothes is a BIG thing in this book) and alabaster brows and how much she hates her red hair. She renames a stretch of road to the “White Way of Delight” and a pond to the “Lake of Shining Waters.” There are a lot of ridiculous things said, to be honest, but Matthew is charmed. He knows that when he gets home, Marilla is going to be furious and make him send Anne back to the orphanage, but until then, he’s fine with her chatterbox company.

And as predicted, Marilla is all like WTF MATTHEW. I CAN’T LET YOU DO ANYTHING. Anne is very sad because she knows she’ll be sent back into orphan-land. To be fair, that seems pretty sad, to have a new life dangled before you before it’s cruelly ripped away.

Anyway, Matthew and Marilla end up keeping Anne. If they didn’t, this would be a pretty short book. Marilla is less than thrilled about it, but they grow to appreciate and even love each other. Spoiler, I know.

Anne is thrilled to stay, and meets her very best bosom-friend, her neighbor Diana Barry, who has black eyes and hair and rosy cheeks, and is “good and smart, which is better than being pretty,” says Marilla. Oh, that Marilla Cuthbert, booster of the self-esteem of millions of little girls.

The book grows up with Anne Shirley -- from her adoption all the way to going to Queen’s Academy and becoming a teacher. Along the way she dreams about dresses with puffed sleeves, goes to school and makes friends, dyes her hair green, accidentally gets Diana drunk on raspberry cordial (but was actually currant wine), befriends Diana’s wealthy aunt, loses some of her Manic Pixie Dream Girl imagination, and meets her mortal enemy, Gilbert Blythe.

(Note: while doing some internet research, I did a Tumblr search for Anne and Gilbert and was met with a massive repository of love gifs. So. Spoiler alert.)

The end of the book brings about the death of Matthew, and Anne moves back to Avonlea to teach. And there are like 5 more books in the series so I’m assuming shit gets real.

Even though I found Anne Shirley annoying for the first half of the book, it has to be said that annoying or not, she's just an orphan who was forced to work as a nanny for families before being sent to an orphanage. Anne’s never felt that anybody cared for her -- they just used her and then tossed her aside when they were done.

So of course when she’s told that she’s being adopted, she’s determined to make her new family like her so they’ll KEEP her. She’s convinced that nobody will love her, but she attempts to be charming and make the best of her situation by using her fanciful imagination. It’s kind of heartbreaking, actually, these worlds Anne puts herself in to escape from her thoughts that nobody will ever love her, that she’s a burden, that she's unworthy of being cared about.

A close friend of mine just had a little baby girl a few weeks ago. I haven't gotten to see her yet, but when I do, I want to tell her so many things, things like make sure you do things for yourself and not just for boys, and study really hard, and that Dr. Pepper Lipsmackers is a really good lip tint in a pinch.

But most importantly, that she's lucky to have the mom that she does, because I know her mom will shower her with love and never make her feel that she's unworthy of anybody. Anne wasn't so blessed in her earlier years but in the end, she blossomed into a lovely young lady.

It turns out John Lennon was right: Love is all you need.

Top Ten Most Ridiculous Things Anne Shirley Says in Anne of Green Gables:

"Good night, dear Lake of Shining Waters. I always say good night to the things I love, just as I would to people. I think they like it. That water looks as if it was smiling at me."

"I shall always like to remember that there is a brook at Green Gables even if I never see it again. If there wasn't a brook I'd be HAUNTED by the uncomfortable feeling that there ought to be one."

"Gracious heavenly Father, I thank Thee for the White Way of Delight and the Lake of Shining Waters and Bonny and the Snow Queen. I'm really extremely grateful for them. And that's all the blessings I can think of just now to thank Thee for. As for the things I want, they're so numerous that it would take a great deal of time to name them all so I will only mention the two most important. Please let me stay at Green Gables; and please let me be good-looking when I grow up. I remain, yours respectfully, Anne Shirley."

"There were nine other girls in it. They all had puffed sleeves. I tried to imagine mine were puffed, too, but I couldn't. Why couldn't I? It was as easy as could be to imagine they were puffed when I was alone in the east gable, but it was awfully hard there among the others who had really truly puffs."

"I'm afraid I'm going to be a dreadful trial to you. Maybe you'd better send me back to the asylum. That would be terrible; I don't think I could endure it; most likely I would go into consumption; I'm so thin as it is, you see. But that would be better than being a trial to you."

"Will you let me hold the brooch for one minute, Marilla? Do you think amethysts can be the souls of good violets?"

"The last time I made a cake I forgot to put the flour in. I was thinking the loveliest story about you and me, Diana. I thought you were desperately ill with smallpox and everybody deserted you, but I went boldly to your bedside and nursed you back to life; and then I took the smallpox and died and I was buried under those poplar trees in the graveyard and you planted a rosebush by my grave and watered it with your tears; and you never, never forgot the friend of your youth who sacrificed her life for you."

"My heart is broken. The stars in their courses fight against me."

"Ten minutes isn't very long to say an eternal farewell in. Oh, Diana, will you promise faithfully never to forget me, the friend of your youth, no matter what dearer friends may caress thee?"

"Diana gave me a lock of her hair and I'm going to sew it up in a little bag and wear it around my neck all my life. Please see that it is buried with me, for I don't believe I'll live very long. Perhaps when she sees me lying cold and dead before her Mrs. Barry may feel remorse for what she has done and will let Diana come to my funeral."

Anne of Green Gables Summed Up By One Sentence Said By Marilla:

"You talk entirely too much for a little girl."