By Jonathon Van Maren/Bridgehead.caFebruary 10, 2024
Share this article:
Leftists have been trying to kidnap Anne of Green Gables, Canada's most famous literary icon, for years. The 1908 classic, the first in a series of eight by Lucy Maud Montgomery, sold over 50 million copies and has been translated into 36 languages, making it one of the bestselling novels of all time.
The story of the 11-year-old orphan girl on Prince Edward Island, her friends, her struggles, and her love for Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, who adopted her, have remained beloved for over a century. Anne of Green Gables cannot be canceled, and thus she must be hijacked or rewritten. Innocence and the high drama of ordinary living have no place in the 21st century.
Back in 2000, a professor at the Royal Military College insisted that Anne Shirley was likely a lesbian and that her creator was, too, despite Montgomery having rather unambiguously stated that "I am not a lesbian." The evidence? Her 'bosom friendships' and kindred spirits.
This is part of the sexualizing of all intimacy, in which close relationships must be recharacterized as sexual to justify the appetites of activists. The romance between Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe is the best-known in Canadian literature, and the rest of the series details their marriage and family life. Montgomery herself was married to a Presbyterian minister and had three children.
Reinterpretation of classic literature is a booming industry. As Tristin Hopper noted in the National Post, in "recent years, even the P.E.I.-based L.M. Montgomery Institute has issued statements accusing their namesake of being a purveyor of colonialist white supremacy," and in 2022, they hosted "a conference of scholars who 'have experience discussing Montgomery's work in connection to conversations on queer theory and gender, colonialism, and diversity in literature."
Indeed, one academic called Montgomery gay; another LGBT activist writes that she was 'homophobic.' It never seems to occur to LGBT activists that sometimes their proclivities are simply not relevant to the conversation.
Where reinterpretation fails, the story has been retold. Exhibit A is the blessedly canceled Netflix show Anne with an E, which, on 1880s Prince Edward Island, features a cross-dressing gala (a 'queer soiree' to celebrate a recently deceased lesbian), plenty of LGBT relationships, and characters constantly leaping to defend LGBT lifestyles.
When Diana Barry discovers that her Aunt Josephine was in a lifelong lesbian relationship that Anne refers to as a 'marriage,' she is upset, but enlightened Anne says, "How can there be anything wrong with a life if it's spent with a person you love?" The point is made with a club. No interpretation is necessary.
The feminists also like to claim Anne Shirley as their own because she is smart, assertive, and independent, as if such people didn't exist before Gloria Steinem. Again, this is to ignore Montgomery's entire corpus, which includes twenty novels and over five hundred short stories. Most are old-fashioned romances set in small towns among staunchly religious Presbyterians--Anne included.
Montgomery wrote about the places she knew and loved and drew from her own life as a church-going pastor's wife. To feminists, of course, Anne Shirley wasn't really free because abortion wasn't available on Prince Edward Island (indeed--PEI held out longer on that front than any other Canadian province). Feminists would have been thrilled if Anne had an abortion in the books rather than a family of seven children.
In short, it is swiftly becoming impossible to simply celebrate Anne of Green Gables without some insisting that we talk about everything else as well. Parks Canada has just released a 23-page strategic outline for overhauling L.M. Montgomery's Cavendish National Historic Site, which includes the PEI farmhouse where Montgomery grew up as well as the nearby Green Gables farmstead that served as the inspiration for many of the locations in her novels.
The sites attract 200,000 visitors per year--even Princess Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, was drawn to PEI by Anne. Parks Canada now plans to overhaul the sites to emphasize "marginalized communities" and present "new narratives, perspectives and voices" of "cultures not currently presented."
The redo of the historic sites, which is subject to ongoing discussion, will take a decade. "Through 2033, the number of opportunities at the site to engage visitors in learning about and connecting to a diversity of cultures will increase," the outline notes.
While there is nothing wrong with heritage sites highlighting the diversity of heritages that make up Canada's past, to do so at sites intended to specifically celebrate the stories of L.M. Montgomery and her fictional characters is frankly tiresome, especially since we are likely to see the islanders of English, Scottish, and Irish descent cast as 'settlers,' with all the ideological baggage such terminology now carries. This comes off not as an addition but as a corrective.
It bears mentioning that Anne Shirley is much beloved by people of all races and cultures. She is famously popular in Japan, where the book exploded after a translation by Hanaka Muraoka was published following World War II. Muraoka was gifted a copy by an Anglican missionary from New Brunswick, Loretta Shaw, in 1939. She secretly translated it throughout the war--English was "the language of the enemy," and she risked imprisonment or even death--and published it in 1952 under the title Red-Haired Anne.
It was an overnight sensation, and in 1970, it was added to the Japanese curriculum. A full-sized Green Gables replica was built, and Japanese visitors flocked to PEI. The Japanese royal family has visited twice.
The Japanese are such fans of Anne that it has become difficult to purchase L.M. Montgomery memorabilia. It took me years to find a book signed by Montgomery for my wife (Anne's biggest fan) because much of the memorabilia is either in museums, private collections, or purchased by overseas buyers. Great literature conveys fundamental truths about what it means to be human and has the power to transcend individual cultures.
Anne Shirley has fans around the world because she is a girl of her time and place--a Presbyterian from Prince Edward Island at the turn of the last century. Millions of people relate to her. Montgomery's work--and the sites associated with her--don't need an overhaul and don't need to be turned into grievance museums (perhaps this won't be the case, but with the planned destruction of other beloved Canadian museums, I'm not hopeful).
"It was November," Montgomery wrote in one of the Anne books, "the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul." That is the prose that has captured the hearts of generations of readers. A progressive is the sort of person who reads it, squints angrily at the page, and thinks, Okay, but where are the minorities? Why was Montgomery such a racist?
For the last couple of decades, unfortunately, those are the sort of people who have been in charge, and there's nothing they won't ruin.