The Girl with the Recessive Gene on Chromosome 16
Posted by: MaryKate Perry
“You’d find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair,” said Anne reproachfully. “People who haven’t red hair don’t know what trouble is. Mrs. Thomas told me that God made my hair red on purpose, and I’ve never cared about Him since.”
When it comes to books, I don’t casually date. Where reading is concerned I have an inexhaustible sense of romance. When I take up a book, what I ask is simply this: to fall heedlessly in love. When my daughter and I started Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 novel, Anne of Green Gables, I felt those familiar butterflies. Now I am all moony-eyed and have stopped calling my friends. Some of us are born to be always in love.
For years I carted around a small packet of literary shame because, though I watched the outstanding 1985 CBC production of the story, I had never actually read the book. I missed my chance when I was a young girl, but after my daughter read Much Ado About Anne from Heather Vogel Frederick’s Mother Daughter Book Club series, I decided we should read Montgomery’s book. (Frederick’s Dear Pen Pal is the book that got us to read Jean Webster’s Daddy Long-Legs, another novel from the early 1900′s with a strong, imaginative female protagonist.) Now all I can think about is Anne: endearingly verbose, wildly hopeful, volatile, warm-hearted….who can resist a red-haired orphan? No one, I should hope. And certainly not Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, the spinster and bachelor farmer who take her in, despite having asked for a boy (and in spite of a neighbor’s warning that sometimes orphans put strychnine in the well).
The story takes place on stunningly gorgeous Prince Edward Island where Anne finds herself, after 11 years of loveless, friendless existence. The Cuthberts are a brother and sister living out their orderly, solemn days on Green Gables Farm. As you might guess, their hearts are cracked open by the presence of this scrawny, temperamental, but utterly earnest waif. Perhaps the plot is somewhat predictable, but you will find ample compensation in the humor – Anne’s stream-of-whimsical-consciousness speeches are hilarious. Prepare to be utterly charmed by the characters and the beauty of Montgomery’s language. And given that there is a whole series, serial monogamy awaits you.
On August 17th, carrot-tops from hither and yon, including me, will descend on Portland, Oregon to attempt the world record for most redheads gathered in one place. If you are not one of the fortunate, freckled, freakish few (1-2% of the world’s population), slap on some number 85 sunscreen anyway (don’t forget the tops of your ears!) and spend August 17th in a hammock, enjoying the exploits of one of literature’s splendidly plucky heroines.
Montgomery went on to write scads of Anne books: Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne’s House of Dreams and Anne of Ingleside. These cover Anne’s life from age 11 to 40. She also wrote a series about Anne’s children, in which Anne is a lesser character (hard to imagine!): Rainbow Valley, Rilla of Ingleside and The Blythes are Quoted.