Anne of Green Gables is the first of a series of books about redheaded orphan Anne Shirley from Prince Edward Island, Canada. Published in 1908, Lucy Maud Montgomery found her inspiration for the book in a story she wrote at a young age describing a couple that was mistakenly sent an orphan girl instead of a boy but decided to keep her. She also drew upon her own experiences growing up on the Island. Recently considered a children's book, Anne of Green Gables was originally intended as a novel for all ages.
While later books chronicle a much more mature Anne, in this first book she is amusing and tempestuous as a young girl who can't keep her temper and is always getting into scrapes. This is the Anne Shirley we all remember and love. Who can forget her angry tirade against Mrs Lynde, dying her hair green, or her almost fatal fall off Mrs Barry's roof?
In Anne of Avonlea, published in 1909 and the second in the series, Anne has graduated from school and takes a position teaching at the Avonlea school. This book is more like a string of short stories than a novel. It chronicles several characters on the Island and Anne's special relationships with them. There is Paul Irving, the boy Yankee who seems to be a male version of young Anne Shirley (without the green hair). There are the twins: prim Dora and troublesome Davy. And Mr Harrison, the bachelor who lives next door with his foul-mouthed parrot. Most lovingly portrayed is Miss Lavendar, a lonely middle-aged woman who forms a special bond with Anne. While more mature in this book, Anne is still prone to unexpected, but sometimes fortuitous, antics. Again we see Anne always makes the best out of her troublesome experiences.
I read these two novels around the time I was also reading the short stories from A Humble Romance. It could be because of some unconscious choice in my reading material, but I usually find similarities among the novels that I read together. The similarities among these novels are not only location (New England versus Eastern Canada) but also plot and language. Montgomery's prose, like Wilkins', frequently details the beautiful landscapes, flowers, and trees. And her plot is very simple, yet engrossing. Perhaps surprising for a book about a young girl, readers of both genders and all ages have posted reviews about how wonderful Anne's story is, "without violence, sexual situations, or earthy language." We marvel that we still have the capability of being taken in by such a simple story. Somehow these novels help us tap into a primal instinct for nature and simplicity that reminds us of what life's really about, and they do it most absorbingly.