Before Green Gables
Having never liked Anne of Green Gables, I didn’t expect to enjoy this book. How wrong I was!
For this prequel to the classic story, Budge Wilson, who lives in Nova Scotia, has carefully followed up every clue in L. M. Montgomery’s books and undertaken extensive research about life in Nova Scotia in the 19th century. Her aim was to imagine how Anne, coming from such a deprived background, could have become the articulate and fascinating child who eventually arrives at Green Gables.
The story begins before Anne’s birth and takes us up to her arrival at Prince Edward Island. Orphaned, then twice adopted to work as a little slave by hard-pressed poor families with too many children, Anne makes friends and finds hope and encouragement in everything that happens to her. She struggles for the right to go to school and develops a thirst for books and knowledge. Her outer life is endless drudgery but her inner world is full of joy and richly imaginative. She becomes deeply attached to certain people in her life and several times is distraught when she is removed from them with only an hour or so’s notice and taken to a completely new environment. The book is saved from being sentimental by its true-to-life depiction of the harsh lives of poor Nova Scotians. The lot of women—the hard, exhausting work and the endless cycle of child-bearing—is graphically portrayed, as is the countryside of Nova Scotia—briefly warm and beautiful in summer and autumn, but deep in snow for much of the year.
What makes this book so good are the characters. Every major character (and there are many) is fully developed and understood—and this helps to make this long, often quite repetitive story so gripping. Anne herself is an endearing creation with her vitality, chattiness and capacity for love. A long, absorbing read.