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.