Before Green Gables
In 1908 Lucy Maud Montgomery first published Anne of Green Gables, the story of the irrepressible redhead who brings joy to spinster Marilla Cuthbert and her bachelor brother, Matthew, when they adopt her into their home on Prince Edward Island. Now, in honor of the centennial anniversary of this beloved classic, Montgomery’s estate has authorized Budge Wilson to write Before Green Gables, a prequel that relates the details of Anne’s life before she comes to PEI.
Walter and Bertha Shirley die in an epidemic that sweeps through Bolingbroke, Nova Scotia, in 1886. Their three-month-old daughter, Anne, is taken in by the housekeeper, Joanna Thomas, and her husband, Bert, a couple who are sadly disappointed in their hopes to lay claim to the Shirley furniture. By the time Anne is five, there are four more babies in the Thomas family, and her days are filled with the drudgery of dishes and diapers. Although several neighbors befriend Anne, none offer to take her in when Bert dies, so she is sent to live with the Hammonds, a family with eight children under the age of four. When tragedy strikes the Hammond household, eleven-year-old Anne is sent to an orphanage in Halifax, where she stays only a few months before she is selected as a “useful and hardworking girl” to be adopted by the Cuthberts.
Wilson’s Anne is precocious, talkative, hardworking, and honest, but lacks the enchanting personality and uncanny propensity for trouble that makes the original so endearing. (What reader could ever forget the time Anne served her friend, Diana, currant wine instead of raspberry cordial?) The older Anne gets, the drearier her life becomes. It is a relief when she steps on the train and heads for Green Gables.