Re-reading Anne of Green Gables: Mentored by Anne

I want to be like Anne when I grow up.

My occasional Mighty posts are about this kind of dynamic: encountering characters in literature that actually change you for the better. Laura Ingalls is one, and so far I’ve also written about Cassie Logan, Alex Archer, Jean Valjean and the Tillerman children. There are plenty more on my bookshelves and yours (who are they for you?).

Mentored by Anne: Re-reading Anne of Green Gables | | Anna Leese photographed by James Aitken

Anne Shirley is the pinnacle of this for me. For all her klutziness and dreamy absent-mindedness, she is – fairly miraculously, given her neglected childhood – a person of principle and character from the beginning of the books. She attracts friendship everywhere she goes because she is both delightful and substantial. What’s not to like?

Her sense of justice gets her into trouble with her rude neighbour Mrs Lynde and her useless teacher, Mr Phillips, and her slightly ludicrous sense of ‘honour’ gets her a broken ankle, so it’s not all saccharine moral lessons. And her vanity gets the better of her more than once (remember the ill-fated purchase from the German pedlar?). But even then, watch how she reacts to a beauty experiment gone terribly wrong:

The result was not becoming, to state the case as mildly as may be. Anne promptly turned her glass to the wall.

“I’ll never, never look at myself again until [spoiler removed],” she exclaimed passionately.

Then she suddenly righted the glass.

“Yes, I will, too. I’d do penance for being wicked that way. I’ll look at myself every time I come to my room and see how ugly I am. And I won’t try to imagine it away, either. I never thought I was vain about my hair, of all things, but now I know I was, in spite of its being red, because it was so long and thick and curly. I expect something will happen to my nose next.”

Even in her early teens, Anne is conscious of improving her character, and developing her conscience (however patchily and comically):

“…And Miss Barry took us up to the grandstand to see the horse races. Mrs Lynde wouldn’t go; she said horse racing was an abomination and, she being a church member, thought it her bounden duty to set a good example by staying away. But there were so many there I don’t believe Mrs Lynde’s absence would ever be noticed. I don’t think, though, that I ought to go very often to horse races, because they ARE awfully fascinating. Diana got so excited that she offered to bet me ten cents that the red horse would win. I didn’t believe he would, but I refused to bet, because I wanted to tell Mrs Allan all about everything, and I felt sure it wouldn’t do to tell her that. It’s always wrong to do anything you can’t tell the minister’s wife. It’s as good as an extra conscience to have a minister’s wife for your friend. And I was very glad I didn’t bet, because the red horse DID win, and I would have lost ten cents. So you see that virtue was its own reward…”

By sixteen, Anne is an adult (this next bit is a mild plot spoiler, so don’t read on if you’re new to Anne and want to read the books).

It seems hard to imagine in the 21st century Western world, where you aren’t finished your education until your twenties and many of us aren’t financially independent for even longer. But 16-year-old Anne earns both a schoolteacher’s licence and a university scholarship, and when family troubles become pressing, she makes a very adult decision to sacrifice her plans:

When Marilla had eaten her lunch Anne persuaded her to go to bed. Then Anne went herself to the east gable and sat down by her window in the darkness alone with her tears and her heaviness of heart. How sadly things had changed since she had sat there the night after coming home! Then she had been full of hope and joy and the future had looked rosy with promise. Anne felt as if she had lived years since then, but before she went to bed there was a smile on her lips and peace in her heart. She had looked her duty courageously in the face and found it a friend—as duty ever is when we meet it frankly.

The first Anne book closes with Anne at sixteen, already a credit to humanity. She brims over with imagination, enthusiasm and fun, and also has a solid core of mature character. She learns and grows more as the series continues and becomes even more inspiring and loveable. But just looking at the teenage Anne – I’m writing this having re-read only the first two books this time round – while I’m twice her age, I can say right now that I still want to be like Anne when I grow up.

So, tell us: what fictional mentors do you have? Who do you want to be like when you grow up? And which parts of Anne are on your character-formation wish-list?

This is part of a series on re-reading Anne as an adult. You can find the series list here.

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7 comments on “Re-reading Anne of Green Gables: Mentored by Anne”

  1. Stacey Reply

    I read and enjoyed some of the Anne books when I was a child, but not the ones where she has her own children. They just didn’t interest me as a kid, and I didn’t read the whole series until Uni, when I read my flatmate’s copies. I read the Little Women series far more often, and even decided against calling my 2nd daughter ‘Beth’ because she felt too active and lively to share a name with such a passive, consumptive person.

    One of my main fictional mentors is Elnora Comstock in A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter. She’s another heroine who faces adversity, is strongly independently minded, achieves well in school and finds true love, though the path is not smooth. GSP wrote it partly with the intention of inspiring a love of nature, so there are beautiful descriptions of moths and butterflies etc. It is set against a backdrop of massive forest clearance and oil drilling, so there are glimpses of the beginnings of the conservation movement in the novel, albeit of the Victorian egg-collecting, moth-collecting, taxidermy variety. I read it a few years ago and from memory it held up well, although it’s hard to judge how much of my enjoyment was nostalgia.

  2. Rochelle Reply

    Thanks for the prompt – I’m enjoying reacquainting myself with Anne-with-an-E. I’m onto Anne of Avonlea and have found that these days, I’m much more interested in Anne’s relationships than her adventures. I love the wee moments where Marilla reflects on her feelings towards Anne and I had totally forgotten some of the nuances of how her relationship with Gilbert develops – it’s far more complex than I remembered.

    Like you, I was astonished to remember that she was 16 and a half when she went teaching at Avonlea school!

  3. Pingback: Re-reading Anne of Green Gables and Re-watching Annie | Sacraparental

  4. Caroline Reply

    I never read Anne as a child, but thanks for the recommendation – I’m enjoying reading them on the train. I’m too cynical to really buy in to the character of Anne – I find her more of a caricature, but she always brightens up my morning and reminds me to really appreciate what I see in the world. Looking forward to finding out how her character develops as she grows up.

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