When readers first encounter the indomitable Anne Shirley in ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, she is a determined and outspoken girl of 11. In honor of the classic book’s 100th anniversary, Canadian author and Nova Scotia native Budge Wilson has written a prequel to the famed tale, detailing all that happened to young Anne before she arrived on Prince Edward Island and into the hearts and minds of audiences the world over.
Fans of the series have long marveled at Anne and her adventures, and thought it remarkable that a poor orphan girl who bounced around from foster home to foster home could have such a steadfast and noble character. She possesses little knowledge of her life before the orphanage and long wondered about her parents and the circumstances that led her to this point.
In BEFORE GREEN GABLES, we discover that Anne owes more to genetics than she knows. Both her parents are dedicated schoolteachers whose small but happy home is always brimming with books and the love of knowledge. Her father, Walter Shirley, teaches at the local primary school and is known for his fair character as well as his bright red hair. His loving wife Bertha also teaches at the school, until she becomes pregnant with Anne. Although she can barely contain her excitement at the prospect of starting a family, Bertha deeply misses her vocation and envies her husband heading out to school each day. Once Anne is born, the young couple hires a local woman named Joanna Thomas to aid their family.
Joanna revels in their love for each other and their new daughter. Her own husband is a drinker who sometimes takes out his frustrations with his fists. Poor Joanna feels trapped by her own situation but relishes the diversion her life in the Shirley household affords her.
But less than a year after Anne’s birth, a vicious influenza epidemic sweeps through their small town and Anne’s parents perish. Joanna agrees to take young Anne to live with her and her family, but soon her hard life with her husband takes its toll on Joanna’s normally placid nature. She begins to resent Anne, and the bright young girl is the first to feel her wrath. Joanna’s eldest daughter, Eliza, cares for Anne like she was her own. But when she receives a proposal of marriage from a local man, it soon becomes clear that Anne is not part of the agreement. Eliza has to make a painful choice and leaves Anne behind --- the first of many separations in the young girl’s life.
BEFORE GREEN GABLES takes us from the origins of the Shirley family right up to Anne’s journey to Prince Edward Island: “…as Anne stepped off the ferry and then off the wharf onto dry land --- onto red soil --- she stole a swift moment to think, I’m here. I’m on my island. I’m on THE island. I will be here forever. It’s my home.” Soon she will meet Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, Green Gables Farms, and the beginning of a wonderful new life.
Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ANNE OF GREEN GABLES has been a staple of children’s literature since its publication in 1908. Translated into 36 languages and interpreted in a number of film and television adaptations, its popularity is largely due to the wonderfully optimistic character of Anne Shirley. Budge Wilson does an excellent job imagining Anne’s life prior to Green Gables and just how our plucky heroine came to be. She inherits her knack for teaching and her quest for knowledge from her schoolteacher parents. She possesses her mother’s sweet nature, and the carrot-colored hair that will become the bane of her existence she gets from her father. It’s fitting that Wilson, apart from her many literary accolades, is a Nova Scotia native, well acquainted with the beautiful landscape and hardy people, making her more than capable of such a monumental task.
BEFORE GREEN GABLES is a charming and satisfying prequel to Montgomery’s hundred-year-old classic, enjoyable for fans of the series and perhaps converting a few new ones.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on December 22, 2010
Before Green Gables: The Prequel to Anne of Green Gables