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Before Green Gables

Budge Wilson’s new book about Anne Shirley’s earlier life

by Nina Linton

A century after Anne of Green Gables was released a new chapter has been added to the classic series with the delivery of a prequel written by noted children’s author and native Maritimer, Budge Wilson. The heir-authorized book entitled Before Green Gables has been flying off shelves in Island bookstores. Publication of this new novel coincides with the Anne 2008 festivities celebrating the original books’ centennial success.

Longer than the L. M. Montgomery work, the book contains 443 pages of Anne before she arrived at her beloved Green Gables, which, until now, individual readers pieced together using the few clues given in the 1908 work. The details, as Anne might say, were left to the scope of one’s imagination. However, this fresh narrative gives a credible account for those 11 years previously open to interpretation, and offers us a glimpse into the shaping of such an extraordinarily spirited character.

Before the iconic orphan mistakenly turned up at the Bright River Station to meet a bewildered Matthew Cuthbert, she endured years of hardship in a succession of foster homes, and eventually found herself in a Nova Scotia orphanage. By the new account, Anne’s early years were spent as a menial servant to the families that put a roof over her head.

The back-story traces Anne, before her birth, through her loving parents. From there, Wilson wastes no time unraveling Anne’s life. The first harrowing moments coming only pages in with the scripted deaths of her mother and father. As a scrawny, carrot topped orphan Anne was taken in by the Thomas’, a household that was less than ideal for an infant as the family was already burdened with three teenage daughters and an alcoholic father.

Although Anne was an exceptional child, walking unaided at eight months and talking at nine months, she was thought of as troublesome and often unfairly received the brunt of her ‘adoptive’ parents’ frustrations. With the older girls eventually leaving home, five-year-old Anne easily slipped into the role of nursemaid when Mrs. Thomas birthed four more children.

Besides the youngest Thomas boy, whom she raised as her own, Anne’s dearest friends were fictional ones created in reflections and hillsides. Her childhood consisted of hauling water, preparing meals, scrubbing dirty floors and diapers while minding screaming babies and terrible toddlers.

With a catastrophe befalling the Thomas home, nine year old Anne gets shuffled into the Hammond family, where she slips into a similar role looking after their eight children. With misfortune stalking her through out the narrative, Anne finds that upset soon lands in the Hammond household and the odd looking Anne is once again shipped off, this time to a place she’d been avoiding her whole life, the dreaded orphan asylum.

Through out the novel Wilson portrays “Anne with an ‘e’ ” as a literarily gifted child who, although she did not attend school for any length of time, has a passion for words and huge appetite for learning. She is a hard working day dreamer who finds happiness in simple things and beauty in the most unexpected people.

Before Green Gables has more twists than an old Avonlea road with tragedy punctuating Anne Shirley’s sad yet triumphant story of survival and hope. Wilson’s descriptive narrative is an entertaining and addictive read that will break your heart and leave you cheering on this unlikely heroine. Wilson creates a new dimension in this larger than life character, revealing that before there was Green Gables, before there was Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, there was a skinny, little, red haired baby waiting a hundred years for her story to be written.

100 years of Anne

L. M. Montgomery classic first published in 1908

Anne 2008
by Nina Linton

Co-executive directors of Anne 2008 celebrations David Malahoff (left) and Campbell Webster review plans for the upcoming year“There was no boy…there was only her.” When Lucy Maud Montgomery first wrote those now-famous words, could she ever have imagined the heights her book, and its character “Anne,” would reach? “Only her,” as it turned out, a fiery-haired, freckle faced, feisty spirited orphan, has for a century captured the minds and hearts of millions of people. Translated into more than 36 languages, Montgomery’s work has introduced our little island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the world and this year, on the book’s 100th anniversary, Prince Edward Island will pay homage to its greatest ambassador.

In 1874 New London welcomed it’s newest addition when Lucy Maud Montgomery was born. With the death of her mother shortly before her 2nd birthday, Montgomery remained on the Island in the care of her grandparents in Cavendish. Living with an elderly couple, a young Montgomery spent many a childhood day with her closest friends—her books, her imagination, her writing, and the outdoors. As she grew, so did her love of writing, and once an adult, she was able to earn a comfortable living from the proceeds of her publications. Her premiere novel written in 1905, entitled Anne of Green Gables, sat in a hat box for 3 years before it was published. An instant hit with readers, the story chronicles the Avonlea (mis) adventures of an orphaned 11 year old girl who, in a mix up, gets sent to live with an elderly couple instead of a boy that they had requested. This endearing tale went on to become the best selling Canadian book of all time, bringing both fame and fortune to PEI and leaving a literary legacy that has yet to be outgrown.

“The novel Anne of Green Gables is an incredibly significant part of our Island history and culture,” says Pam Vienneau, Anne 2008 operations manager, “each year, tens of thousands of visitors make the pilgrimage to visit Green Gables and the other sites dedicated to celebrating the author and her works.” This newly founded Anne committee is working to co-ordinate the specially themed festivals taking place this anniversary year. With dozens of events already on the books, there will be something for both visitors and Islanders alike.

“All over Prince Edward Island, and all year long, we’ll be celebrating Anne 2008!“ said Vienneau, “ you’ll find everything from an architectural lecture series already in progress, to a strawberry social at the Bideford Parsonage Museum on July 20, to a textiles showcase entitled Kindred Spaces 2008.”

One high note in a year of great Anne inspired events will be the 8th annual Lucy Maud Montgomery Conference, aptly titled this year as “Anne of Green Gables and the Idea of Classic.” Spanning 4 days in June, the conference is hosted by the L.M. Montgomery Institute. Organizers have a variety of presenters scheduled from around the globe addressing a wide array of topics from teaching Anne in Islamic Iran, to Anne in the next 100 years. Another celebration is the Anne of Green Gables Country Fair running from July 3­6 in Cavendish. The fair, reminiscent of one from turn of the century, includes period costume dress-up as well as such popular era activities as a picnic with sack races, horse and wagon rides, magic show and garden party with raspberry cordial in high supply!

For more information on events, or to get your event listed with the committee please visit The festivities will wind down with one final celebration taking place to mark Montgomery’s birth on November 30.

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