Anne of Green Gables is turning 100. In Slate, Meghan O’Rourke explores the quietly subversive appeal of this enduring heroine:
"Unlike many other 20th-century children's heroines—Jo of Little Women, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, even Nancy Drew—Anne is not just a sensibility incarnate; she has an irreducible human soul. Her inner spiritual life exists utterly apart from the domains of domesticity and romance. She may be capable of telling her best friend, Diana, "I'd rather be pretty than clever," but she is also organically indifferent to the courtship tactics of the popular Gilbert, whose smooth brown eyes wholly disarm the other girls. The immunity of the questing self to the distracting temptations of the flesh is most often an attribute of heroic men, from the hardboiled detectives who pass up luscious blonds to Greek warriors who heed not the sirens. Anne, with her endless wealth of subjectivity, is nobody's object but her own. And she takes the prerogatives of the questing self to be her own. She may enjoy male company—especially as she ages and befriends Gilbert—but the pursuit of it hardly deflects her emotional course.
"As if in reverence for Anne's independence, Montgomery often shows her to the reader in hovering tracking shots. In Anne of the Island, the third volume, Montgomery has Anne looking out a window in one of her lofty moods. "In imagination she sailed over storied seas that wash the distant shining shores of 'faery lands forlorn …' And she was richer in those dreams than in realities; for things seen pass away, but the things that are unseen are eternal." That last idea—that there's no place like the imagination (sorry, Dorothy)—could be the series' credo. (It's also the opposite, it turns out, of L. Frank Baum's more dismal message to Emerald City-infatuated young girls, who are forced to admit that reality consists of a dusty Kansas homestead.) It's unusual for a book about a girl to champion fantasy over the facts of life, such as they were ordinarily defined. This doesn't make Anne an ethereal sprite herself, though. Later in the series, she does grow up. She goes to college, develops her writing, marries Gilbert (but only after he almost dies, and out of abiding friendship, not fear of loneliness), and becomes the mother of six children. Still, the result is a sort of blended family. Her physical offspring have to share the house with her fertile imagination.”