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As March is Anne Shirley’s birthday month, I thought it was a perfect time to share a few of the lessons she has taught me through the years. If you’re unfamiliar with the charming Ms. Shirley, she is the heroine of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ten book series about a red-headed orphan girl. As a child, I was obsessed with the 1985 Canadian miniseries Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea starring Megan Follows as Anne. My sister and I wore out those old VHS tapes. The recent release of the Netflix series Anne with an E reunited me with my old kindred spirit. Amybeth McNulty’s Anne Shirley, although definitely different than the original, is wonderful. Anne is the perfect heroine. She has her insecurities, but she doesn’t allow anyone to make her feel bad about them. Perhaps a little “odd,” she’s completely secure in her oddity. Possessed with an incredible imagination, it enables her to see the good in everything. The world is completely charmed into falling in love with her. She loves fiercely, fights injustices savagely, and keeps her head up and her eyes on the future despite her hardships. If we could all live according to the code of Anne Shirley, the world would be a better place. These are just few of my favorite lessons I learned from Anne of Green Gables.
1. Take time to appreciate the beauty of nature.
Anne is completely enraptured with the splendor of the Prince Edward Island countryside. When Matthew Cuthbert comes to fetch the little orphan girl from the train station and take her to Green Gables, he may be shocked to find a girl waiting instead of the boy he expected, but she is far too distracted to notice. She is utterly enthralled by the beauty that surrounds her.
“Pretty? Oh, pretty doesn’t seem the right word to use. Nor beautiful, either. They don’t go far enough. Oh, it was wonderful–wonderful. It’s the first thing I ever saw that couldn’t be improved upon by imagination.”
She always takes care to treat the natural world with reverence and she delights in it’s beauty.
2. Mistakes are an opportunity to grow.
“I’ve done my best, and I begin to understand what is meant by ‘the joy of strife’. Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing.”
Anne is infamous for making silly mistakes that get her in trouble. There was the time she tried dying her red hair a beautiful chestnut brown, only to find that the peddler’s dye turned her tresses an awful green. Or when she was so proud to bake a beautiful cake for the minister’s wife, but found upon serving it that it tasted awful because she mixed up anodyne liniment for vanilla. And then, of course, there was the disastrous “grown up tea” she was so proud to host for her bosom friend Diana Barry. How could she have known that the “raspberry cordial” was actually red currant wine and she would send her friend home to her conservative mother hiccupping and drunk?
Often times it is her wild imagination that distracts her from the task at hand. But there is one thing that will always hold true: no matter how devastating the blunder, Anne will never fail to see the lesson and come out stronger.
“Marilla, isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”
“I’ll warrant you’ll make plenty in it,” said Marilla. “I never saw your beat for making mistakes, Anne.”
“Yes, and well I know it,” admitted Anne mournfully. “But have you ever noticed one encouraging thing about me, Marilla? I never make the same mistake twice.”
“I don’t know as that’s much benefit when you’re always making new ones.”
“Oh, don’t you see, Marilla? There must be a limit to the mistakes one person can make, and when I get to the end of them, then I’ll be through with them. That’s a very comforting thought.”
3. The unexpected turns in life can lead to the greatest joys.
Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert had no intention of adopting a young girl and raising her as a daughter. The brother and sister were hoping to find a boy that could help Matthew with the work on the farm. Their plans were to send Anne back to the orphanage as soon as time permitted. But of course, even the hard, brassy Marilla couldn’t resist Anne’s charm, and she soon relents and lets the girl stay.
“Are you sorry you kept me, Marilla?”
“No, I can’t say I’m sorry,” said Marilla, who sometimes wondered how she could have lived before Anne came to Green Gables, “no, not exactly sorry.”
Marilla finds that the “mistake” that was Anne ends up being the greatest joy of her life. And as Anne grows older, she too finds that there is adventure around every bend in the road.
“When I left Queen’s my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does.”
4. Own your anger.
One of the many reasons that Anne is my kindred spirit is that we both tend to be ruled by emotion. We love fiercely…and fight ferociously. Anne’s quick temper gets her into plenty of trouble throughout her early years. The first time she meets Marilla’s friend Rachel Lynde, the elder lady does not greet her kindly, calling her “terrible skinny and homely.” She even insults her red hair – a point of insecurity for Anne. Anne’s already on tenuous ground in the Cuthbert household, but she doesn’t let that stop her from unleashing. Anne’s temper explodes.
“I hate you,” she cried in a choked voice, stamping her foot on the floor. “I hate you—I hate you—I hate you—” a louder stamp with each assertion of hatred. “How dare you call me skinny and ugly? How dare you say I’m freckled and redheaded? You are a rude, impolite, unfeeling woman!”
There is also the infamous encounter between Anne and her one-day love interest, Gilbert Blythe. Their relationship gets off to a precarious beginning when Gilbert has the audacity to call her “Carrots” and pull her braid. Sure, the perceptive reader might recognize that this is Gilbert’s attempt to flirt with the new girl. Anne, however, only hears the slur against her greatest insecurity. It does not go over well.
“You mean, hateful boy!” she exclaimed passionately. “How dare you!” And then–thwack! Anne had brought her slate down on Gilbert’s head and cracked it–slate not head–clear across.
5. But don’t be afraid to apologize once your temper has cooled.
There are definitely downsides to being ruled by your emotions. You often regret your outbursts once you’ve given yourself time to cool off. Even so, it’s hard to admit when you’re wrong. It may take a bit of time (and a bit of coercion from those she loves) for Anne’s anger to lose intensity. Ultimately, however, she is able to admit her mistakes and apologize for them. It’s kind, quiet Matthew that convinces her of what needs to be done with Mrs. Rachel.
“It would be true enough to say I am sorry, because I am sorry now. I wasn’t a bit sorry last night. I was mad clear through, and I stayed mad all night. I know I did because I woke up three times and I was just furious every time. But this morning it was over. I wasn’t in a temper anymore—and it left a dreadful sort of goneness, too. I felt so ashamed of myself. But I just couldn’t think of going and telling Mrs. Lynde so. It would be so humiliating. I made up my mind I’d stay shut up here forever rather than do that. But still—I’d do anything for you—if you really want me to—”
Anne’s feud with Gilbert endures for quite a few more years before she is able to exonerate him for his slight. When she does eventually forgive him, they develop a friendship that ultimately blossoms into something beautiful.
7. Seek the good in every day…even if you have to use some imagination to find it.
One of the many things that you can’t help but love about Anne is her eternal optimism. Her early years were anything but happy. Her parents died of typhoid fever when she was only three months old. She spent her first eleven years in unloving foster homes and cold, cruel orphanages. Despite her hardships, she always focuses on the positive. Rather than dwelling on the negative, she uses her imagination to see the world in an optimistic light.
“When I lived with Mrs. Thomas she had a bookcase in her sitting room with glass doors. There weren’t any books in it; Mrs. Thomas kept her best china and her preserves there–when she had any preserves to keep. One of the doors was broken. Mr. Thomas smashed it one night when he was slightly intoxicated. But the other was whole and I used to pretend that my reflection in it was another little girl who lived in it. I called her Katie Maurice, and we were very intimate. I used to talk to her by the hour, especially on Sunday, and tell her everything. Katie was the comfort and consolation of my life.”
Much later in the story, Anne mistakenly sells the neighbor’s cow thinking it was her own. She is terrified to confess her mistake. Mr. Harrison is a crotchety, cranky man, and she’s sure he will be furious. Like everyone, however, he cannot resist Anne’s charm. When she comes back home, she is thrilled to tell Marilla the story.
“It’s a pretty good world, after all, isn’t it, Marilla?” concluded Anne happily. “Mrs. Lynde was complaining the other day that it wasn’t much of a world. She said whenever you looked forward to anything pleasant you were sure to be more or less disappointed…perhaps that is true. But there is a good side to it too. The bad things don’t always come up to your expectations either…they nearly always turn out ever so much better than you think.”
Anne consistently reminds us that the difficult roads often lead to the best destinations.
“Oh, this is a moment worth living through weeks of storm and stress for.”
8. Kindred spirits are not so hard to find.
As Anne settles in at Green Gables, she is excited to discover a young girl around her age lives nearby. After so many years with only her reflection as a companion, Anne is thrilled to make a real friend. Diana Barry becomes her bosom buddy, and their friendship endures throughout their lives. She soon has a whole group of tight knit friends. Anne looks for a kindred spirit in everyone. With her vivacious personality and her ability to see the good in people, she is able to develop friendships everywhere she goes.
“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”
9. Don’t miss out on real life waiting for a fairy tale.
Anne’s imagination is undoubtedly a huge part of her charm. But there are plenty of times when it gets her into trouble. She almost misses out on the love of her life because he doesn’t seem to initially fit her “ideal.”
It takes her nearly five years to forgive Gilbert for the “Carrots” incident. Even then, she is quick to thwart his every romantic overture. She claims she values their friendship too much, but in reality he just doesn’t fit her over-romanticized vision of love. It’s only after she receives a proposal from a different beau that she comes to her senses. Roy Gardner is brooding and handsome, wealthy and poetic; everything Anne thinks she wants in a man. But as he is down on his knee asking for her hand, she suddenly realizes it is Gilbert that she loves.
“It was as if a veil that had hung before her inner consciousness had been lifted, giving to her view a revelation of unsuspected feelings and realities. Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one’s life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one’s side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music, perhaps. . . perhaps. . .love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.”
Sweet, practical Gilbert, of course, always knew that Anne was the one.
“I’ve loved you ever since that day you broke your slate over my head in school.”
Theirs is the perfect romance.
10. Finding yourself is a journey.
Through L.M. Montgomery’s ten book series, Anne endures great heartaches and extraordinary joys. Montgomery’s brilliant story-telling makes Anne’s evolution into adulthood feel authentic. She develops from a chatty, awkward, young girl, to a beautiful and poised woman, and eventually to a loving and spirited grandmother. We are with her every step of the way, cheering her on in her triumphs, cringing at her mistakes, and crying with her sorrows. Anne Shirley reminds us that no matter how awkward or inadequate we at times may feel, we can leave our mark and change the world for the better.
“I went looking for my dreams outside of myself and discovered, it’s not what the world holds for you, it’s what you bring to it.”