A Charming Classic
What begins as an altruistic desire for child labor turns into an a life-altering venture into parenting for an aging brother/sister duo.
Set on Prince Edward Island somewhere in the very late 1800's or very early 1900's, the story is told in a third-person omniscient point of view that shifts about seamlessly between major characters--primarily offering deep internal insights into an orphan named Anne Shirley, and the domestic siblings Marilla and Matthew--who adopt her in spite of an apparent requested gender mix-up.
This is most certainly a classic masterpiece of middle grade literature. Even the sardonic Mark Twain spoke well of it, and its not hard to see why. L.M. Montgomery writes like a painter, in broad and minute strokes--sparing no word count expense on the vivaciousness of descriptions, nor the richness of characterization. As a result, both the setting and characters are pleasantly unforgettable.
In some sense, I'm glad I read this book as an adult. Had I been introduced to Anne as the angsty, introverted child I once was, I'm not sure how well I would have tolerated her fanciful precociousness or self-deprecating vanity. As it was, I vacillated widely between intense irritation, thoughtful empathy, and genuine delight with the title character. Sometimes all in the same scene. A provoking accomplishment that speaks volumes about the author's talent.
“People laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them, haven't you?”
I suspect how one feels about Anne will depend largely on one's inherent personality type, and/or one's familiarity and tolerance for someone as characteristically imaginative as she happens to be.
Those with an extroverted and/or easygoing personality may want to describe Anne using adjectives like: passionate, determined, quirky, spontaneous, dedicated, effervescent...
Meanwhile, more introverted and/or practical personality types are more likely to describe her as: dramatic, stubborn, off-beat, impulsive, grudge-holding, flighty...
“There's such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I'm such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn't be half so interesting.”
In the end... I have to begrudgingly admit that I most identified with the staunchly pragmatic and emotionally constipated character of Marilla. >.>
It's been a humbling realization.
My favorite part of this book was the chapter where Matthew goes WAY outside of his comfort zone trying to buy a fashionable dress for Anne. The love there is so real in that painfully shy man, I actually hurt for him. I've known people like that, and can recognize the extravagance such a gesture translates to for them. The growth it indicated in that man was so subtle-yet-poignant, it's stayed irrevocably with me.
“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I'd do. I'd go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I'd look up into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I'd just feel a prayer.”
(I may not have always understood Anne's personality, but in that quote, I understood her humanity perfectly.)