“Kindred Spirits”: Examining the nuances and themes of Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

A comparative analysis of the abridged and unabridged versions of the novel

“God’s in heaven, all’s right with the world.”, Anne’s last words as the novel ends and she looks to a bright future. Standing in stark contrast to how the story of Anne began, this sentence aptly captures in words the emotion one feels after reading this novel. For this essay, we will consider the story of Anne by comparing two versions of the same novel, the first being the unabridged original version published in 1908 by Canadian writer, Lucy Maud Montgomery. The latter is an abridged version that was adapted by Archie Oliver almost a hundred years later in 2007. In understanding a comparison between these two versions, we must delve into the essence of the story after which we will explore the nuances and details of both the abridged and unabridged versions.

The title of this essay was chosen because it pertains to two central aspects of the comparison of the two versions. Anyone who has read the novel will probably understand it in the first sense, that it alludes to the eager and dramatic nature of the red-headed, freckled and feisty orphan girl, Anne Shirley who from the first time that we encounter her, makes us notice in her the great yearning for friendship and that too, friendship that is deep and eternal. She looks for and later finds “kindred spirits” in different characters as the book progresses. This is one aspect of the story that is unambiguously explored and elucidated in both versions of the book. Thus, it was only apt for the title of the essay to encapsulate a central theme of the book. This leads us to the second perspective on the title. The rudimentary meaning of the phrase, “kindred spirits” is ‘persons who share a bond created by similar interests and attitudes.’ Similarly, the two versions, both abridged and unabridged are like kindred spirits for they both embody the essence of the story. The difference lies mainly in the details.

The original version of the novel is descriptive in the most pleasant way for it takes the reader onto a journey into Avonlea, the small town where we will know our protagonist. Beginning with a prosaic description of Mrs. Rachel, a nosy and opinionated woman who Montgomery describes beautifully and also mockingly at the same time, the reader is led to believe that she is in fact the protagonist of the story. However, it is a pleasant surprise as the pages go by as we discover that Mrs Rachel is only the neighbour of the main characters who live in Green Gables. On the other hand, Oliver in his abridged version completely skips over this characteristic descriptive style. Scenes that cover entire chapters in the original are conveniently compressed into bite size readings of a page or two. However, despite the obvious lack of details in the abridged version, Oliver’s writing is commendable as he managed to stay true to the tone and mood of the original.

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s tone varies in Anne of Green Gables. We see that she leans towards being satirical, lightly mocking small town life while also being sentimental about it. Her approach to nature is romantic as seen in Anne. A running undertone of affection and sympathy towards Anne. Having been an abandoned child of sorts after her mother passed away and her father remarried, Montgomery brings alive in Anne deep rooted fears, insecurities and sorrows related to orphanhood. However, she also does not allow Anne to wallow in her misery. Anne is lively, romantic and bursting with vivid imagination. Though not as extensive as Montgomery in portraying the world of Anne of Green Gables, the abridged version by John Oliver also captures the broad tone and mood of the novel. However, since Oliver abridged the book to include it in a children’s Illustrated Classics series, it is quite apparent that his version is much simplified in every way.

The essential story that is told in both versions of the book is about an orphan girl who lands up unexpected in the care of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, aging siblings who had wanted to adopt a boy who would be able to help around in their farm. Set in a small town on Prince Edward Island in Canada, we are introduced into a world bustling with life while also ageless in the serene nature. When Matthew first meets Anne, his old quiet self is taken aback by her quirky, excessively talkative and yet attractive nature. She almost never stops talking and yet her talks of fantasies, imaginings and memories are all so well-articulated that Matthew immediately loves her.

It is not surprising that Matthew instantly takes to Anne for she is portrayed as lovable from the very beginning. One can almost hear her chirpy and eager voice as she speaks in the novel. Despite being an abandoned orphan, Anne is confident and sweet. The first time she meets Matthew Cuthbert, he is dazed for before he even begins to speak, she goes on a long trail of speech. Matthew becomes Anne’s first kindred spirit in the book as we see their instant connection with her talking and him listening. It is also Matthew who convinces Marilla that they should not send Anne away despite her not being a boy.

“I suppose you are Mr. Matthew Cuthbert of Green Gables?… I’m very glad to see you. I was beginning to be afraid you weren’t coming for me and I was imagining all the things that might have happened to prevent you. I had made up my mind that if you didn’t come to-night I’d go down the track to that big wild cherry-tree at the bend, and climb up into it to stay all night. I wouldn’t be a bit afraid, and it would be lovely to sleep in a wild cherry-tree all white with bloom in the moonshine, don’t you think? You could imagine you were dwelling in marble halls, couldn’t you? And I was quite sure you would come for me in the morning, if you didn’t to-night.” (Montgomery, 1908)

As seen in the above quote from the original, Anne does not shy from imagining. Though lacking in education and training in social graces, she is sophisticated in her fantasies. She screams at Mrs Rachel for ridiculing her red hair, a great insecurity of her own. Prone to making quick decisions and following her heart and instincts, we initially find that Anne gets herself into a number of scrapes of varying degrees. She makes many mistakes, using liniment instead of vanilla in a cake, letting a mouse drown in the plum-pudding sauce, and delivering a heartfelt but ridiculous prayer on her first attempt to pray before bed.

Towards the middle of the book, after Marilla and Matthew decide to keep Anne, we are introduced another important character and Anne’s first true friend, Diana. In Diana, Anne finds a kindred spirit her own age. Diana is kind, beautiful, joyful, loyal and true. To the reader though, she comes off as a boring nice girl. She isn’t imaginative, charming and fantastical in the way that Anne is. And Anne falls in love with her for who she is and so the reader falls in love not with Diana, but with the friendship that Diana has with Anne. In the abridged version, though Oliver does probe into details when it comes to their conversations, he is still able to somewhat capture the spirit of their friendship.

Below are excerpts of the first meeting of Anne and Diana from both versions:

“’Oh Diana!’, said Anna at last, clasping her hands in a whisper, ‘oh, do you think you can like me a little-enough to be my bosom friend?’

Diana laughed. Diana always laughed before she spoke.

‘Well, I guess so,’ she said frankly…

‘Will you swear to be my friend forever and ever?’ demanded Anne eagerly.

Diana looked shocked.

‘Why it’s dreadfully wicked to swear,’ she said rebukingly….

‘…Oh, it isn’t wicked at all. It just means vowing and promising solemnly…. We must join hands- so’ said Anne gravely. ‘It ought to be over running water. We’ll imagine this path is running water. I’ll repeat the oath first. I solemnly swear to be faithful to my bosom friend, Diana Barry…’” (Montgomery, 1908).

“For a moment or two, the two girls were silent, slightly shy of what to say to each other. But then Anne asked a question. ‘Do you think you could like- have me as a friend?’

Diana laughed. She always laughed before she talked. ‘Of course!’…

‘Will you swear to be my friend forever?’ Anne asked. ‘Of course I will.’ Answered Diana.” (Oliver, 2007)

As seen in the above excerpts, Anne is far less dramatic and the conversations are cut much shorter in the abridged version. But the central story remains the same. After this, Anne goes to school and feuds with a handsome, smart boy named Gilbert Blythe. When they first meet, Gilbert taunts Anne by calling her “Carrots” and pulling her red braid. Anne is extremely sensitive about her red hair, and Gilbert’s teasing infuriates her. She screams at him and smashes a slate over his head. This incident marks the beginning of a rivalry between Anne and Gilbert, the two smartest pupils, which lasts until the end of the novel.

As Anne grows up, she loses some of her childish flare for the melodramatic and romantic, and turns her spirited attentions to academics. A beloved teacher, Miss Stacy, recognizes Anne’s intelligence and encourages her to join a special group of students preparing for the entrance exam to Queen’s Academy. Her long-standing competition with Gilbert Blythe changes to an affectionate and familiar rivalry when, after four years of mutual silence, they both go to Queen’s Academy. Striving to make Matthew and Marilla proud, Anne devotes herself to her studies wholeheartedly and earns the prestigious Avery Scholarship, which grants her enough money to attend a four-year college the following fall.

Thrilled by her prospects, Anne goes home to Green Gables. Matthew, who has been having heart problems, dies of a heart attack. When Anne learns that Marilla is likely to go blind, she decides to stay at Green Gables and teach nearby so that she can care for Marilla, giving up her aspirations for a four-year degree. Gilbert hears of her decision and gives up his post as the teacher at Avonlea school so that Anne can teach there and be closer to Marilla. After five years of rivalry, Gilbert and Anne forge a close friendship. Though her future path has narrowed considerably, Anne remains eternally optimistic and thinks cheerfully about her future.

Throughout the entire story, we see major disparities in the details referenced in the original versus abridged versions. What accounts for more than fifty pages on the original may be summarized into a page or two. Thus, in a way, the Anne portrayed by Oliver is not as charming as the Montgomery’s. However, we must also take into consideration their target audiences. Montgomery’s original book was never classified as children’s literature. However later as it gained popularity among younger readers because of its straightforward style and appeal, it began to be seen as a classic among children’s literature. However, young or old, it continues to be read and reread. Oliver’s abridged version, on the other hand, was specifically written to appeal to younger children. Its lack of details and simplistic style is characteristic of books adapted for children. Moreover, Archie Oliver’s 2007 abridged version was published with illustrations and thus, robbed the readers of imagining Anne for themselves. Montgomery’s book, though, was a well written novel that could be enjoyed by anyone who likes to go back in time as they read.

A few broad themes are explored in both versions of the book. The most obvious is that of ‘kindred spirits’. However, having already discussed that we will look into the next one which is ‘conflict of imagination and expectations’. While Anne loves to live in her imaginary world of romanticism and materialism, she is constantly made to realize that the real world calls for practicality more than charm. She get into many scrapes because of her carefree nature. Moreover, societal expectations also do not align with a young girl’s fantastical notions. Marilla does not indulge in fantasy, and equates goodness with decorum and sensible behaviour. This frustrates Anne as she tries to please Marilla despite her natural tendencies.

Another important theme to be considered is that of forgiveness. The subject of forgiveness comes up over and over all through the book. In the very beginning, Marilla tries to persuade Anne to apologize to Mrs. Lynde, and her statements of regret, albeit exceedingly overdramatic, are acknowledged. All through the book, Anne keeps on discovering reasons for having to apologize. She apologizes to Marilla for dropping her pendant into the water, and she apologizes to Diana’s relative Jo for jumping on top of her in the middle of the night. Many of these expressions of remorse are for accidents or for occasions that never happened. For instance, Anne did not deliberately offer wine to Diana, she didn’t realize that Auntie Jo was on the bed, and she never took Marilla’s pendant! However, we find that she is sincere and kind, not resentful in anyway. Perhaps the greatest act of forgiveness seen in the book is that which ends Anne’s long standing feud with Gilbert Blythe. Even though Gilbert had tried numerous times to apologize to her, she declines to acknowledge his expressions of remorse. She only realizes towards the end of the book she had in fact pardoned him long back.

Besides these major themes, we also notice a few other universal ideas explored in the story. Anne’s coming of age and her growth into a beautiful and mature young lady is one such theme. The initial nineteen sections of the original book focus in on Anne’s first year in Avonlea, and after that, all of a sudden, the story progresses rapidly and we find Anne studying on to go to school for teaching degree. In the abridged version, the progress is even more abrupt. Besides major themes, we also see in the book different motifs featured which help to develop the story as a whole. Anne’s materialistic concern for puffed sleeves, her attachment to sentimentality, images of nature as well as her bright red hair that symbolizes her liveliness all come together and complement the story.

In conclusion, it is clear to the reader that Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery has remained a perennial favourite because of its spunky heroine and late 19th century small town charm. Though not measuring up to the original, it’s abridged version by Archie Oliver is also worth noting as a well-written shortened and simplified text. While the reader initially falls in love with Anne, it is also quite clear that she grows to become a thoughtful woman. Loved by many, this character went on to inspire multiple sequels to the book, though none as compelling as the first. However, little Anne’s spirit is carried on and loved for she did not change but only grew up. In her very own words,

“I’m not a bit changed—not really. I’m only just pruned down and branched out. The real me—back here—is just the same. It won’t make a bit of difference where I go or how much I change outwardly; at heart I shall always be your little Anne, who will love you and Matthew and dear Green Gables more and better every day of her life.”

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