INSPIRATIONS FROM THE BOOKSHELF Anne of Green Gables By L M Montgomery


This month N M Browne shares Anne of Green Gables, by L M Montgomery

It is hardly a revelation for a children’s writer to confess to being an avid reader, nor is it surprising that it is a struggle to pick only one source of inspiration: there are far too many.

As a child I was a fictional polyamorist, passionately in love with several characters all at once. More than that, I didn’t just love these characters I wanted to be them. It is hard to date these infatuations: the fiction you read as a child stays in your head and remains eternally present, the benign opposite of PTSD. I think I wanted to be Anne sometime after I’d outgrown wanting to be Darrell from Malory Towers, or Lucy in Narnia and around the time I aspired to be Jo Marsh, Lizzie Bennett, Biggles and, perhaps, a Hobbit. That would place this passion at the very end of primary school when my reading was eclectic and compulsive.

I loved reading so much that for the whole year of what would now be year five, I did no maths at all, but blatantly read under the desk (in full view of my teacher). He let me get away with it because he thought I was stupid and it didn’t matter too much.

Anyway, back to Anne. I don’t know why I identified with her so closely: I wasn’t an orphan, indeed I grew up in a loving home with a sister to play with. My mum was interested enough in clothes that I’m quite sure that, had I developed a passion for puffed sleeves, she would have accommodated it. I don’t remember using long words, and I didn’t get into ‘scrapes’ because there wasn’t that much scope for getting my best friend accidentally drunk in Nelson, Lancs. Yet there was something about Anne that connected with me (and a million or so other young girls.) I think perhaps it was her much vaunted imagination, which made others see her as an outsider. I too was a day-dreaming chatter box; talking to trees and flowers, imagining fairies, ghosts and spectres seemed perfectly reasonable to me. Moreover, I don’t think I’ve met a writer who does not see themselves as an outsider, obliged to temper real life with imagination. When I met Anne, I recognised ‘a kindred spirit’: I was not weird and I was not alone.

Revisiting the book again, Anne’s past is so much bleaker than I remembered (though not as bleak as it was painted in the latest 2017 series) and the language of the book is so flowery, the morality so powerful, that I’m surprised by how much it resonated with the child me. As a writer, I try hard not to be flowery and I try not to be overtly moralistic. However, I also work to make my stories compelling, and characters vivid and emotionally truthful, and Anne is certainly all of that. I cried when I read Anne of Green Gables at ten and I cried when I read it again, and not just when Matthew died. So much of it felt as familiar as if I’d only read it yesterday. And I still could not put it down.

As with all the really important books we read as children, I think I absorbed some elements of Anne into my personal DNA. I have always had a desire to be a redhead (and indeed have occasionally been one, with distinctly unattractive results) but Anne also made me want to be clever. She was intelligent, sensitive and ambitious. She worked hard and she wanted to be top of the class, to beat the boy who was her rival fairly, by being better. That struck a chord with me that reverberated throughout my school days. Though I wasn’t considered clever at ten, I had a suspicion that I’d like to be. Anne’s pride in intellectual achievement wasn’t common in my hometown either, which, though short on the scenic advantages of St Edward Island, had its share of a Rachel Lynde-like suspicion of educated women. Of course, Meg Murry in a Wrinkle in Time was clever, but that was at ‘Math’ (which I strongly suspected bore some relationship with the ‘maths’ I avoided so assiduously) so that didn’t really count. Jo Marsh wanted to write and that definitely rubbed off on me, and Lizzie was witty and I aspired to that too, but Anne’s desire to go to university, to do well, that planted a little seed of ambition for which I will always be grateful.


Anne of Green Gables was an old-fashioned rather moralistic book when I read it fifty years ago. Anne isn’t feisty, indeed she aspires to be ‘good,’ and gives up her scholarship to help her adopted mother, and yet the book takes female intellectual ambition seriously and, sadly, that is rarer than it should be even now. So, thank you Anne for inspiring me and L M Montgomery for bringing her to the page.


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Nicky has written nine YA novels as ‘N M Browne’, eight books for younger readers as ‘Nicola Matthews'; she has published poetry as ‘Nick Browne’, and is about to publish a YA SF novel Badwater as Nicky M Browne. She teaches for Oxford University Continuing Education as Dr Nicky Browne: Writing for Children Apart from occasional identity crises, she enjoys writing and teaching/mentoring other writers. She has been nominated twice for the Carnegie and other children’s prizes, but has only ever won a make-up set at the school tombola when she was ten.

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