Soon after the publication of Anne of Green Gables
, Mark Twain wrote to L. M. Montgomery that she had created "the dearest, and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice." Anne’s sheer delight in life, despite the hard knocks it handed her before her arrival at Green Gables, is infectious; the reader, as well as Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, catches the fever. Anne’s gift is for happy anticipation, whether she is looking forward to a Sunday school picnic or to sleeping in a spare-room bed. Though the adults around her find this tendency worrying, they join in her enthusiasm, wondering what she will say or do next.
Anne of Green Gables
chronicles the life of an imaginative orphan from age eleven, when she comes to live at Green Gables, to age sixteen, when she postpones her chance at a university to teach in Avonlea and keep Marilla company. Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a middle-aged brother and sister, send by word of mouth to a Nova Scotia orphanage for a boy old enough to help Matthew on the farm. When Matthew arrives at the station, instead of the expected boy, he finds a freckled waif of a girl, all angles and bones and eyes, of whom the shy Matthew is at first terrified. Without telling her of the mistake, he drives her home to Green Gables, taking a liking to the girl on the way.
Marilla, however, whose precise, orderly, and painfully clean yard reflects her temperament, is harder to persuade. She must perceive the adoption of Anne as her duty before she allows her compassion to sway her. Anne begins her life at Green Gables inauspiciously when she flies out at Mrs. Rachel Lynde for commenting on her red hair, always a sensitive point for Anne. After a suitable punishment, Anne agrees to apologize to Mrs. Lynde, and her imagination then takes over to produce a wonderfully abject and flowery apology.
Many of the subsequent episodes in Anne’s life revolve around her imagination or her hair: Her five-year enmity for Gilbert Blythe begins when he calls her "carrots"; Anne responds by cracking her slate over his head. An assault on her vanity occurs when she buys a hair dye guaranteed to turn her tresses raven black. The coppery green color her locks become will not wash out. Anne constantly enters into scrapes like these: She accidentally gets her best friend drunk on what she thinks is raspberry cordial; she puts liniment instead of vanilla into a cake; she falls when trying to walk a ridgepole on a dare. Despite these mishaps, Anne grows to be a capable, intelligent young woman. She passes her entry examinations to Queen’s College tied for first place with Gilbert, and she earns a first-class teaching license in one year and wins a scholarship besides. After Matthew’s death, she faces her duty to Marilla gladly and stays on at Green Gables to help keep the farm going and to teach at Avonlea.
Anne’s imagination and impulsiveness may lead her astray, but her good nature and intelligence bring her back. She stoutly admires Miss Stacy, her teacher, and Mrs. Allan, the minister’s wife. For Anne, they are "kindred spirits," people who see life in the same joyous way that she does, people who want to put into life as much as they take out. All Anne’s scrapes, her fancies, her efforts at school and friendship, result from her love of life and her desire to share that joy.