“You don’t want me? You don’t want me because I’m not a boy?” With these two lines, it’s clear that the novel Anne of Green Gables is ripe with themes. But I wasn’t thinking of themes as a young girl.
There isn’t a character in literature whose influence was so strong on me as Anne Shirley’s. I loved Anne for the same reasons everyone (both real and fictional) loves Anne. She’s spunky, adventurous, creative, imaginative, bold, inventive, honest. Anne doesn’t color inside the lines: she makes her own rules. Anne doesn’t take life for granted. She sees beauty in the ordinary and appreciates everything. By doing so, she enriches the lives of others and inspires those around her to see the world with fresh eyes. Anne makes an impact on everyone: you can’t see the world the same way after you meet her. She isn’t a heroine who needs to be saved: she does the saving by bringing color and light into everything she touches. And Anne won’t sacrifice her dreams for any boy. In fact, Gilbert has to chase her just to keep up. Even after they’re finally engaged, they spend four years apart while Gilbert is in medical school and Anne is away pursuing her career in teaching and writing. Anne is her own woman, not a woman to be owned.
I didn’t realize what I was aspiring to when I aspired to be like her—I only knew that she touched my life the same way she touched countless others. I could never be the same. Her story is so much ingrained in me that I’m not sure where Anne ends and I begin. I sought to embody her the way one might seek to emulate a saint or a goddess. Her story is sacred to the point of myth.
To remake this story is a bold undertaking, and must be approached with the utmost care.
Anne with an ‘E’ honors the heart of Anne of Green Gables while also taking liberties with the story. The original story is rich with opportunity—especially in our current times. While the show stays true to the heart of the novel, it also takes the opportunity to go deeper, to really dig into the flesh of these characters. The show goes where the novel doesn’t: it explores the hard things. In some ways, it’s more real, and it’s definitely darker. The show dives beneath the surface to expose the raw heart.
For example, it touches on the harsh realities of Anne’s past. In the novel, Marilla asks eleven-year-old Anne if she was treated well by the families she lived with in the past. Anne replies, “I know they meant to be just as good and kind as possible. And when people mean to be good to you, you don’t mind very much when they’re not quite—always. They had a good deal to worry them, you know. It’s very trying to have a drunken husband, you see; and it must be very trying to have twins three times in succession, don’t you think? But I feel sure they meant to be good to me.” Marilla doesn’t reply, and simply thinks “What a starved, unloved life she had had—a life of drudgery and poverty and neglect; for Marilla was shrewd enough to read between the lines of Anne’s history and divine the truth.” And this is exactly what the show does: it reads between the lines to explore Anne’s history of abuse and neglect. Where the novel stays in the light, the show dives into the shadows. This makes Anne’s positive and hopeful disposition all the more remarkable.
The show also delves into the past of the periphery characters—imagining and exploring the challenging, murky pasts of both Matthew and Marilla to endow them with even more substance than in the novel.
The most powerful aspect of the show, however, is its exploration in greater depth of Anne’s role as an “accidental feminist.” She aspires to be her own woman: to have a career, to do anything a boy can do, to be smarter than Gilbert in school, to do what she desires with her life. She doesn’t dream of being a housewife, as the other girls do. She dreams of what she might accomplish—and if she does find love, she wants it to be on her own terms.
So—no, the show isn’t an exact retelling of the novel. It explores the rich offering of themes and honors the heart of the novel. More than that, though: it cuts deep into that heart and makes it bleed.
This Anne isn’t just for little girls anymore. This Anne is for little girls who grew up; little girls who grew up to ask hard questions. Little girls who grew up to be women, who dream of a better world for their own little girls.
This story is timeless, and as with all timeless stories, it is more relevant today than it ever was. I encourage all Anne fans to watch Anne with an ‘E’ with an open mind and an open heart. After all, what have we learned from our beloved, bold heroine, if not to take chances?