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The Heartbreaking Pattern in the Tale of Anne from Avonlea

The literary saga of Anne of Green Gables, penned by Lucy Maud Montgomery from 1908 to 1921, unfolds across eight books tracking the journey of Anne Shirley. The narrative begins in the year 1876 and draws to a close by 1918, amidst the echoes of the Great War.

The tale commences with Anne, an imaginative eleven-year-old orphan from Nova Scotia, who gets a new lease on life in Avonlea with the elderly Cuthbert siblings on Prince Edward Island. With Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, she finds a sense of belonging and connects with friends who share her zest for life’s possibilities and dreams. Anne’s life transitions from Avonlea to Glen St. Mary following her marriage to Gilbert Blythe, whom she once detested. The latter half of the series delves into Anne’s experiences as a wife and mother, revealing a noticeable, if disquieting, trend.

In her earlier years, Anne’s aspirations of becoming an acclaimed writer shine through. Her initial success in publishing a handful of stories post-education is notable. However, after her marriage to Gilbert and her children’s arrival, her focus pivots entirely to family obligations. Her once fiery passion and whimsy seem to dim, as her life revolves around social visits, concerns about her children’s futures, and her advancing years. Anne, the vivid protagonist, gradually steps back, becoming a peripheral figure referred to as merely “mother” or “Mrs. Blythe”.

Caught in the gears of matrimony and motherhood, not by her family, who support her completely, but by the unwritten expectations of the time, Anne grows increasingly muted. Her eldest, James “Jem” Blythe, once a treasure trove of fantasies like Anne, abandons his creative streak to follow in his father’s medical footsteps, eventually marching off to war, his own voice quashed by the era’s stringent norms of masculinity.

Out of Anne’s progeny, Walter stands alone in his determination to be a writer. In Rilla of Ingleside, the series’ finale, Walter’s poignant wartime poem garners island-wide recognition. Yet, swept up in the tumult of the times, he enlists and ultimately meets his end on a French battlefield, silencing another storytelling voice.

This recurring quietus may mirror Montgomery’s personal plight as a 19th-century woman wrestling with societal constraints and personal ambition. Born on Prince Edward Island in 1874, Montgomery’s own solitary childhood brimming with story-making and nature’s solace echoes through Anne. Montgomery’s characters often reflect fragments of her identity or her adversities; Leslie Moore, akin to Montgomery, tends to a mentally unwell spouse with far more fortune than the author herself found in her own less-than-blissful marriage. Montgomery infuses Anne’s character with her own aspirations, yet one can’t ignore Anne’s diminishing presence; it’s a testament to Montgomery’s enduring conflicts. Unlike Anne, Montgomery did achieve her authorial aspirations, gaining fame though not without personal tumult.

In a revelation from 2008 by the author’s granddaughter, Montgomery’s lifelong battle with depression and her ultimate suicide came to light. Anne’s childhood solitude is perhaps an allegory for Montgomery’s, potentially mirrored once again in her adult life. During a time when fame was not an aspiration customarily nurtured by women, Montgomery’s lifelong dreams were at odds with societal expectations.

With more understanding and less stigma around mental health in those early days of the 20th century, one wonders if the Anne of Green Gables series might have more openly dissected the impact of the roles imposed on women—their mental health, their agency, and their capacity to remain audible in a world which often sought to quiet them.

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