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Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ingenious 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables has effectively been imprinted on the hearts of many. Whilst originally written for younger readers, the text is by no means limited by time or age and continues to appeal to audiences today through its simple and refreshing outlook on life. The success of the much-loved classic was primarily due to Montgomery’s great craftsmanship as an author, and her arrangement of both her characters and setting. Moira Walley-Beckett and Miranda De Pencier’s Netflix adaptation of the novel, was published in early 2017 and titled Anne with an E.
Both the book and series are set in Canada’s Prince Edward Island during the late 19th century and features eleven-year-old Anne as the main protagonist. She is a strong, clever, eloquent orphan girl, filled with youthful vigour. Her life-changes after being adopted by two older siblings – Marilla and Matthew Cuthburt – at their farm in the town of Avonlea, called Green Gables.
Anne’s journey and the struggles she faces to be accepted and fit into this new environment is the focus for the book. The repetitive motif for the series was that Anne is spelt “with an E”, this title was taken from the text and The modernised television series retains the core moral of the original novel – that everybody desires love, and enhances this message through the clever manipulation of Anne’s characterisation and of the plotlines.
In the original text, Anne is a hopeless dreamer who loves to dramatize every emotion but is at the same time, equally honest about matters.
She likes to use the biggest words in her vocabulary and as Anne herself puts it, “if you have big ideas you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?” Her sweet and pure expressions by using clever rhetorical questions at times, moves audiences to quickly adore Anne’s witty personality. Amybeth McNulty, who played the role of Anne in the television series embraced both Anne’s personality and appearance. The actress mirrors Anne’s unique red hair and freckles, down to the petite and skinny shape that the character is said to possess. In the novel, Anne is self-conscious of her looks and feels different from others. While travelling to Avonlea for the first time with her adoptive father Matthew, she voices her large concern that she is unable to be “perfectly happy” because she “[could] not imagine [her] red hair away” (pg 23).
While in the book, this scene was lengthy, it only briefly appeared during Beckette and Pencier’s adaptation before a quick scene change to other characters. The rest of Anne’s worries about her red hair is omitted, this may be due to the producers’ want to emphasise the relative unimportance of her looks from Matthew’s points of view. While others view Anne’s constant worry over her looks as ‘vanity’ and ‘sinful’ due to their Protestant background, it is a major obstacle for Anne who sees it as a flaw within herself. This was clearly evident in the most famous and much-loved scene of the book where Anne hits Gilbert Blythe (her later crush) in the head with her school slate after being teased that her hair was “carrots”. When re-enacting this scene, the producers of the series manoeuvred prior scenes so it would appear that Anne hit Gilbert because did not want to be bullied by her new ‘friends’ who had liked him. This added depth to the meaning behind this scene, that Anne was both self-conscious of her looks, and how she was viewed by others. She desperately wanted to be accepted and liked, something she had never experienced before.
As the novel progresses, audiences are given momentary glimpses into Anne’s past as an orphan. Unlike the cheerful Anne that captivated generations due to her happy charm, Amybeth’s great acting skills give a dark backstory that helps build an emotional connection with the readers. Anne’s brief, yet disturbing comments in the television rendition leaves the readers pondering the possibility that her bright and sometimes oblivious personality, was the direct product of her emotional scars. Perhaps Anne’s way of coping with her traumatising past was to escape into the free world of imagination. This was expertly reflected in the Netflix series where flashback scenes were often used. The skilful cinematography was both entertaining and revealing. Anne would be going-about in her daily life when some word or experience would trigger certain memories of being at the orphan asylum or at one her previous foster carer’s residence.
This is shown in Episode Two – I Am No Bird, and No Net Ensnares Me where Anne is temporarily sent back to the orphan asylum due to a misunderstanding that was later cleared, allowing her to return back to Green Gables. In this scene however, the helpless, and small Anne arrives at the large building, well into the night. Close up shots of Anne are shown as she begins to recall being bullied at the asylum, and starts to hyperventilate. The voices and actions of her bullies flash before her eyes and parts of her miserable past can be seen. The tension of the scene escalates as the tempo and dynamic of the eerie violin playing in the background intensifies, before breaking into silence. This deliberate, sudden silence proves to be highly effective as Anne’s eyes can be seen to be filled with tears of fear. Audiences are left to wonder how much Anne had suffered, and moved to understand why she had desperately want to be accepted and loved.
The plot of the series fails to be faithful to the original text and significantly varies throughout. Multiple plotlines were added to suit the extra themes within and enrich the story. The exploration of race equality was an interesting addition to the plot. Segregation was a large issue during the late 1800s in countries like the United States of America and Canada. Although slavery legally ended in 1865, the issue of rights for the black population was often debated. While this issue was no part of the original novel, Anne with an E incorporates this theme through the creation of the fictional character Sebastian. The character becomes close friends with Anne’s crush Gilbert, and travels to Avonlea to live with Gilbert. However, not all citizens of the small community welcome Sebastian willingly. He experiences daily prejudices and feels compelled to return to his ‘own people’ in a black community. Ultimately in his new community, he falls in love and gets married. Although this was a new plotline, it creatively supported Montgomery’s message that everyone regardless of appearance, desires to love and be loved. The themes of suicide and sexual identification were also featured throughout the screen version. These topics at times seemed unnecessary and overused with four separate characters showing homosexual tendencies, but they however, provide and promote more modern perspectives about these issues. Besides these created scenes, an original plotline in the book was the mishap that occurred when Anne and her best friend Diana Barry had a tea party. Though where currant wine is mistaken for raspberry cordial remains the same, how the two drunk girls are caught, differed. The book explained that Diana had to return home because of feeling sick whereas the series show Diana’s mother confronting the girls and declaring that they are not to associate together. This slight plot change change allowed audiences to see the firsthand reaction of Anne when she was about to lose her friend. Amybeth powerfully, repeatedly begs “Please, Mrs Barry!” and bursts into tears, the camera focuses on Anne’s devastated facial expressions. After this incident, Anne’s is not featured again until late that evening when Marilla Cuthburt, her empathetic, adoptive mother, enters Anne’s chamber to kiss her goodnight. This peaceful scene depicted for the first time, Marilla’s warm and sincere feelings towards Anne and moved the audiences hearts as well. Symbolism was also effectively used during this scene through the use of the one small candle that Marilla was holding in her hand. This subtly emphasized that Marilla was willing to help Anne through her times of despair and be her ‘light’ and guide. Beckett and Pencier’s clever use of symbolism helped arouse the human feeling of empathy among audiences and showed a demonstration of someone’s love.
The modernised television series retains the core moral of the original novel – that everybody desires love, and enhances this message through the clever manipulation of characterisation and plotlines.
The widely cherished Anne of Green Gables impressed the need of love, and to love. In Anne with an E, Anne Shirley embodied the spirit of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s core message that she wanted to express through the novel, that everybody desires, deserves, and needs love. Anne and Sebastian’s want to be liked and accepted, showed the humanly need to be loved. The sequential plot changes to include the theme of race equality and the importance of a loving-friendship also emphasised this inborn necessity. Moira Walley-Beckett and Miranda De Pencier’s television cleverly revises the classic into a modern adaptation. Although opinions vary for strong lovers of the original text, Anne with an E offers its own appeal. For all ages, this enduring novel continues to prove its precious value with the timeless message it shares.
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