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The Enduring Appeal of Anne of Green Gables

The beloved, red-headed orphan, Anne Shirley, first appeared over 100 years ago in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel and was brought to modern audiences through Kevin Sullivan’s movies.  What is the secret to her enduring appeal?

The story of Anne of Green Gables began as a single line written in one of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s notebooks. Forgotten for several years, Montgomery stumbled across the notebook in 1904 while looking for a story to submit to a Sunday school paper. The brief entry simply said, “An elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy but a girl is sent them.” It was this humble beginning that inspired L.M. Montgomery to breathe life into Anne Shirley… but it wasn’t easy.

Montgomery finished her manuscript for Anne of Green Gables in 1905, but it was promptly turned down by five different publishers. Frustrated and discouraged by the poor response, she packed the manuscript away in a hatbox and put it in a closet. A couple of years later, Montgomery once again stumbled across Anne and was determined to give it another try. This time the manuscript was accepted and finally, in June of 1908, Anne of Green Gables was published. It’s been enchanting readers ever since.

Surprisingly, nearly 77 years after Anne of Green Gables was first published, Kevin Sullivan also stumbled across the story. He knew about the novel because it is a Canadian classic but he had never actually read it himself. It wasn’t until a colleague suggested that it would make an excellent film that Kevin sat down and read the book. Anne Shirley’s story inspired Sullivan to write a screenplay but much like L.M. Montgomery’s manuscript, getting it produced would prove to be challenging.

Getting Anne of Green Gables to the screen required navigating through a complex web of legal, financial and creative issues that were all complicated by the fact that it is one of the best-loved Canadian novels ever written. Sullivan worked tirelessly for nearly three years to bring all of the logistical pieces together and assemble the stellar cast and crew that created what would become the most watched television mini-series in Canadian history. Sullivan had succeeded in bringing to life in vivid detail the characters, settings and scenery that previously existed only in the imagination of all those who had read Montgomery’s novel.

The tremendous success of the first Anne of Green Gables then compelled Sullivan to create the wonderful series of Anne films that continue to captivate and entertain audiences to this day. Sullivan also applied his signature detailed and cinematic style to the Anne of Green Gables spin off series Road to Avonlea and to numerous other period productions such as Wind at my Back, Lantern Hill and the latest chapter of the Anne saga, Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning.

In many ways, the story of how Anne came to be a literary and film icon reflects the character of Anne herself. Committed to an orphanage as a young girl with nothing but a life of servitude and despair ahead of her, Anne was as forgotten and abandoned as the faded entry in L.M. Montgomery’s notebook. However, in spite of Anne’s meager existence, her vivid imagination enabled her to find beauty in the often cruel and ugly world around her. Anne never succumbs to the many forces trying to put her down and she never loses faith that a better life awaits her. Even when she’s in “the depths of despair” Anne manages to persevere and stay true to herself in order to achieve her goals.

Quite simply, Anne never gives up nor does she change for the sake of fitting in. To the contrary, Anne maintains her unique individuality and invites those around her to see the world through her eyes. Once they do, they are changed forever. Yes, Anne endures because she represents the unwanted orphan that exists in all of us from time to time. Anne Shirley is one of those almost mystical characters that make us believe in ourselves and compels us to follow our dreams regardless of the obstacles that lie ahead. Life isn’t always easy, and it’s certainly not always fair. However, like she did with L.M. Montgomery and Kevin Sullivan, Anne Shirley shows us that anything is possible with enough confidence, tenacity and “scope for the imagination.”

This is why we believe Anne continues to appeal to viewers across generations, but we want to hear from you. Why does this timeless story continue to draw you in? 

danmatthews_100x100 Dan Matthews – Anne of Green Gables Blogger


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