What was it exactly? The moxie of Anne, her habit of wearing her heart on her sleeve, her unabashed love for her best friend and her crush? Her canny insights, her rhapsodizing about nature, her orphan-ness, her anger, her smarts, her shame, her triumphs? That baking soda company essay she wrote (presaging the artist-selling-out trope), the way she bears up under Mrs. Lynde’s infuriating judgements?
Of course, it was all of it. Plus the red hair and freckles, the way they made her feel ugly as a child, but stand out as a woman who had a brain and complex feelings, who had pride, who had ambition—but who also cared about her hair. I loved all of these things and related to them so deeply that when I finally started reading the last book in the Anne series, Rilla of Ingleside, I stopped myself about two chapters in. I couldn’t bear to be done with Anne. So, I put the book down, and I vowed solemnly that I would save it for my death bed.
At 14, with my Grandma Moon, I visited the Anne of Green Gables house in Prince Edward Island. Most of the other tourists there were Japanese. This fact impressed me. How powerful Anne must be to reach across languages and cultures like that. I mean, to visit a little island off the eastern coast of Canada takes a pretty serious commitment, especially coming from Japan. I moved through the house with these Japanese tourists in a state of both reverence and remove. The house was nice … but Anne wasn’t there. What meant more to me were two aspects of the island: the absence of billboards and the red dirt. The absence of billboards helped maintain the pristine beauty of the island that Anne admires and also made it feel as though we could be back in the early 1900s. Though not in that house, Anne could be somewhere here on this island. The red dirt almost made me cry, since Montgomery mentions it in some of her descriptions, and it was something I’d never seen growing up in Wisconsin. Red like Anne’s hair, like sunset, like warmth, more gentle somehow than regular, old brown dirt.
When my husband and I moved into our house, I picked up Anne’s House of Dreams and began rereading it, letting Anne’s experience as a young wife merge with my own newfound domestic joy. Now I hope that my own daughter will read Anne and will be excited to go to P.E.I. when she is older. Recently, I read a few reviews of Rilla of Ingleside, and I re-committed to my funny, adolescent choice. If I die suddenly one day, I will still have lived never being quite done with Anne. Someone I told about my vow said that it was silly, that I should read the book now because we can’t predict when we’re going to die. This is true, but it misses the point. It doesn’t answer my desire to “never be done” with Anne. Even if I never finish the book, it feels romantic to wait for it.
And if I do make it to the end of life with mind intact and I pick up that book, or a loved one reads it to me, it will feel like coming home. I never want to be more sophisticated, more clever or worldly than the person who felt it meaningful to keep a kind of “live” connection to the most wonderful fictional character she ever knew. For me, Anne represents the exact spirit that seems to be vivifying the women’s movement again today. To be a whole human and also be a woman, to fight, to be ambitious, but also to delight in living, to pull pranks, to love fiercely, even ridiculously, and to let the beauty of the earth carry you into rapture some times. Despite having read so very many books since I first made my vow, there is still just one that I want to wait to read and no one I’d rather hold hands with through the pages than Anne.
Sarah Moon is a PhD candidate in English Rhetoric and Composition at University of Connecticut. Her research interests include the history of rhetoric, community writing and activist theater. Her dissertation centers on the community writing and performance project she facilitated in Willimantic, CT, Write Your Roots. A playwright, her work has been produced in Washington D.C., Boston and New York.