Writers of children’s literature often create characters who are orphaned. It allows them to enjoy adventures that parents would never permit, it frees them from the need to return home and takes part in the day-to-day routines, and of course it immediately elicits sympathy.
But L M Montgomery does something rather different, and very special, with Anne (with an e) Shirley.
First she sets the stage. Matthew Cuthbert drives to the station to collect an orpan boy to work on the farm he shares with his sister Marilla and in just a few paragraphs you sense the beauty of their environment and the bonds of their community.
But at the station there is no boy, just a skinny girl with red hair, overjoyed at the prospect of a new home. Matthew takes her home and the shy bachelor is soon charmed by Anne’s constant chatter, her vivid imagination, her enthusiasm, her joy in the world around her.
It is quite impossible not to be charmed.
Any ideas of sending Anne back are quickly dismissed and she settles happily into her new world, finding a “bosom friend” in Diana Barry, and a rival in schoolmate Gilbert Blythe.
The story is packed with incident: Anne’s outburst at Rachel Lynde; finding a mouse in the sugar bowl; breaking a slate over her arch-enemy’s head, inadvertently getting Diana drunk on current wine; saving a baby’s life; mistaking liniment oil for vanilla essence when baking a cake for the new minister’s wife; falling off a roof, dying her hair green.
Anne experiences joy and despair and, steadily over the course of the book, she grows into bright and hard-working young woman, winning academic honours and a prestigious scholarship, and developing a wonderful understanding of what is really important in life.
Anne, Matthew and Marilla form a family in the truest sense of the word and the evolution of their relationships is simple and perfect.
Indeed the whole book is a joy. The writing is lovely, the setting is beautifully evoked, the story never falters, there are wonderful details everywhere, and the values espoused are simple and fine.
And what could be better than the story of an orphan who finds her place in the world?