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Reading Anne

Here’s something no one knows about me: I’ve never actually read the book Anne of Green Gables. I was born and raised on PEI, and found myself as a teenager and young adult working in the Anne business. I’m a huge fan of the musical. And yet somehow, I’ve never read it; what’s more, I can’t even figure out how I managed to avoid reading it.

As Islanders, we all inevitably grow up with an awareness of Anne, but I grew up more immersed in the Anne world than most. I grew up on Ingleside Drive (cross street Avonlea Drive), and attended L.M. Montgomery elementary school. My father has been on the stage crew at the Confederation Centre for 45(!) years, and I’ve seen the musical at least 200 times (this is not at all an exaggeration: some summers between the ages of 10-15 I went at least 20 times). I know it so well that I have a reoccurring dream where someone is sick and can’t perform and I just go on stage and play Josie Pye or a random lady of Avonlea. I know all the lines and songs backwards and forwards. Even after hundreds of viewings, I still find the show incredibly moving. 

Since I was young I’ve had a reputation for devouring books. I’ve read almost everything else Lucy Maud Montgomery ever wrote, and adored the Emily books especially. So why not the most famous one of all? 

This is a story that has been a running thread through my life, and the whole time I’ve been avoiding the source material, the place where it all began. So is this an act of conscious avoidance in the face of relentless Anne-ness? Was it because it was everywhere and I assumed I knew it all? Why did I avoid taking Lucy Maud Montgomery seriously as a writer before now? The answer to all of this is complicated, and involves some internalized misogyny, a general dislike of Victorian-era literature, a distrust of sentimentality, all of it overlaid with good old-fashioned Island stubbornness.

That resistance ends now. I’m finally going to read the book. I bought it recently: I almost checked it out of the library, but since I lived a nice middle-class childhood directly correlated to the success of Anne of Green Gables, I owed Maud at least this much.

Why now? Last winter I was between jobs, I was a little sad, a little homesick, and I was finding my way back to some semblance of a literary life after a year of raising an adorable but demanding baby and ignoring books and writing. I picked up a biography of L.M. Montgomery and sunk into it, and I was surprised how far away it was from the sanitized tourism brochures of my youth.

After pushing away Anne-the-book for at least twenty-five years of my life, what is finally drawing me back to it? Is it a longing for home? Is it the walloping unexpected newness of motherhood? I’m gradually feeling a stronger connection to Montgomery, and find myself asking her the question: how will we be Islanders in Ontario? She’s showing me it isn’t always going to be easy, being writers here, being mothers here, away from the ocean that’s always trying to draw us back.

Come back next month and follow along as I finally read (and review) this towering classic of Canadian literature.

—Alix MacLean is an Islander now living in Hamilton, Ontario. She's a writer, researcher, and mom of a busy toddler. 

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