That’s the wonderful thing about a classic: it’s good at every age. I don’t know whether my girls or I
laughed louder at her outlandish predicaments, or who cried more heart-wrenchingly at the sorrows,
losses and disappointments that came her way, but none of us could help loving romantic and impetuous, redheaded Anne, an orphan mistakenly sent out for adoption to a farm family who needed a boy. Montgomery’s characters in the small town of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island have the same fineness and frailty of all the people that have touched our own lives. The life lessons Anne learns in growing up feel familiar to every girl.
Last week, after coming to the conclusion of The Brothers Karamazov, I felt the need for something
lighthearted and fun to read as a change of pace. It occurred to me that my fun with Anne ended with
the first novel, and that I was probably not too old to return to Avonlea and pick up where I left off.
So I did, first reading Anne of Avonlea, about her first years as a schoolteacher, followed by its sequel, Anne of the Island, in which she goes away to college and has several young men come courting. Then, in true Anne Shirley fashion, but purely by accident, on Valentine’s Day, I read the closing chapter in which her future husband proposes marriage. Anne still provides me with fun.
Earlier that day, I had been reading a chapter in the book Stories and Story-Telling in Moral and Religious Development by Edward Porter St. John, in which he discussed the kind of stories that shape the hearts of adolescents, that long time period when children pass from childhood to become adults. It is a time of increasing independence and responsibility, of self-evaluation, and growing awareness of and involvement with people and the world. This author suggested that excellent books with heroes and heroines of virtue be given to the young person to help them consider the kind of choices they will be making. We are all shaped by the ideas and thoughts of authors we read, and, when caught up in a story, tend to identify with various individuals being described, to try them on for size, so to speak.
Though circumstances differ, most of the struggles and questions young people contemplate are the
same when it comes to concerns of Loyalty, friendship, doubt, courage, generosity, or ambition. How we succeed or fail in matters of love and justice shape our character and mold our hearts.
It occurred to me that Anne Shirley fits this requirement. For one thing, the series covers her life from
childhood through her adult life. She wrestles with uncertainties and doubts, has many weaknesses a and failures, but is a most admirable character in facing them all with grace. To me, one of her most noble character qualities is her exceeding ability to accept others as they are and inspire them to become more than they ever dreamed they would be. She is patient, faithful, forgiving, and has a resilient sense of humor in the most embarrassing and awkward situations. In short, she is someone everyone wishes to have for a friend.
Girls today need excellent examples of love and friendship and to learn about them through stories that penetrate to the soul. May I commend my friend, Anne Shirley, to them all.
For the joy of reading,