Every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists flood Prince Edward Island to get a dose of Anne Shirley and see the place that inspired the book Anne of Green Gables.
Anne is a global phenomenon. There have been hundreds of multilingual plays, musicals, TV and movie adaptions of the book produced worldwide; and, most recently (according to Netflix), their show Anne with an E was the fourth most binge-watched series in 2017.
This comes almost a decade after a first edition of Anne of Green Gables (original cost $1.50) sold on Sotheby’s for $37,500. A few years later, Anne of Green Gables-The Musical™ earned a Guinness World Record for being the longest running annual musical.
What is it about Anne that captures the love and imagination of people around the world? Anne is treasured. Anne is adored. People don’t just love Anne… they obsess over her because she has a timeless way of speaking about the vulnerabilities that make us all human. And in 2018, she is just as poignant and relevant as she was in 1908 when Anne of Green Gables sold 19,000 copies in its first five months in publication.
I won’t profess to be a Green Gables expert. I loved the books. I loved the Megan Follows miniseries. However, there are people who study the books religiously. I’m not one of those people and am far more interested in L.M. Montgomery and what she wrote in her journals than her fiction (maybe it’s the historian in me).
Lucy Maud Montgomery
“They say women shouldn’t write. Some days I almost give up. But I cannot contain my imagination. I made Anne real. I gave her my love of nature, my love of books and my childhood dreams.” ― L.M. Montgomery
Anne Shirley is Lucy Maud Montgomery… or everything that Maud should have been; Anne’s life mirrored Maud’s own with a filter that left out the lost dreams, hopelessness, anger, and frustration. Instead, in Montgomery’s books, she focused on the complexities of people, relationships, community, and the beauty of Prince Edward Island (an island that she always referred to as the Mi’kmaq Abegweit).
These are the things that made Maud happy, according to her diaries, which are captivating and unapologetically frank; and, what’s heartbreaking is Maud wanted her journals published after her death so people could finally hear and understand what she’d hidden from the rest of the world when she was alive.
Her marriage was loveless and filled with depression; and, unlike Anne Shirley (in Anne of the Island) Maud received little to no support for her writing. She carried the lifelong burden of regret after leaving a man she’d had a brief affair with… a man named Herman Leard who died far too young. “My own love for Herman Leard, though so incomplete, is a memory beside which all the rest of life seems gray and dowdy–a memory which I would not barter for anything save the lives of my children and the return of Frede.”
It recently came out that her family believes Montgomery may have committed suicide. A note (or possibly the last page of a manuscript she was writing) found on her bedside the night she died read: “May God forgive me and I hope everyone else will forgive me even if they cannot understand. My position is too awful to endure and nobody realizes it.”
I personally think that Montgomery carried the burden of being a free-spirited, gifted woman trapped in the wrong time; and, because she was a nurturer, she was unable or unwilling to share this burden with those closest to her.
I often wonder about what she’d have to say about the tourist circus that has engulfed PEI because of her books.