DCIB Book Club: Anne of Green Gables! The First Book in the Series, the First Sunday of Our Series!

Don’t worry, the discussion questions are going to be very general, so even if the last time you read the book straight through was years ago, you can still contribute. Personally, I was just going to sort of skim, and then I ended up sitting down and reading and crying for 2 hours straight yesterday and forgot to eat lunch. Basically the same as the first time I read it

Synopsis: A spinster sister Marilla and bachelor brother Matthew in a small hardworking farming community foster an orphan girl with the expectation that she will attend school and church, but also do chores and help around the farm. The little girl is filled with imagination and passionate emotions which shock the brother and sister and they struggle to control her. She fights with a boy at school who teases her (Gilbert), makes passionate best friends with the girl who lives down the lane (Diana), inspires all the girls of her age group to do crazy fantastical things, dreams of being a great author, excels in school, continues to ignore Gilbert even though he clearly has a crush on her, and in the end chooses to give up her dreams of college in order to stay home and care for the spinster sister after the death of the brother who she has grown to love dearly and vice versa.

Now, first question! Who loves Anne more, Matthew or Gilbert?

Matthew, 100%. Gilbert is nice with his teasing that grows into patient love, and the way he puts up with Anne constantly ignoring him and rejecting his kind gestures, and ultimately giving her the Avonlea school just because it is the decent thing to do without even expecting her to know. But Matthew buys her a dress with puffed sleeves even though he is afraid of the store lady, and afraid of Marilla yelling about it! He goes above and beyond, does something that seems completely outside of his abilities, because he knows it would make her happy.

Next question, Would Anne have been better off in a home with more demonstrative love?

I’ve read a lot of Montgomery books, and I know a bit about her real life as well. In real life, she lived most of her childhood and young adulthood with her grandparents after her mother died. The few times she attempted to live with her father and stepmother, it was a disaster. Most of her books are about orphans, and in some of them the place the orphan ends up is really horrible. Relatives who nag and snap and never let her be herself. But I don’t think this book is that exactly. Yes, you read it thinking “well, if I were raising Anne, I would let her have pretty dresses and read for pleasure and decorate her room and all those things she was forbidden”. But on the other hand, she really did need something to steady her. The rules were good for her. In fact, I am going to say this was the best place for her, somewhere steady and secure and predictable, even if it wasn’t very fun.

Next question, which female bond resonates with you more? The passionate friendship based on nothing more than proximity and age matching between Diana and Anne, or the tough unbending love between Anne and Marilla?

When I was growing up, definitely the Anne-Diana friendship. I think that’s a universal for all children, this passionate connection that is really just being the same age and living next door. And yet it is stronger than any adult friendship based on mutual interests and blah blah blah. This book even addresses that, the girls Anne meets when she goes away for the two year advanced high school classes are so much more like her than Diana is. And yet, Diana is always and forever her one true best friend. SO TRUE!

On the other hand, now that I am older, the Marilla-Anne relationship is fascinating to me. Marilla is such a tough hard woman, afraid to love. And Anne loves so easily. The two of them balance each other, Marilla challenges Anne to think through her relationships and emotions and understand another perspective. And Anne works her way into Marilla’s heart by determined pushing. If there had been no more books in the series, I would have been happy with this ending I think, Marilla ready to sell the farm and lose everything so Anne could go to college and Anne ready to give up her dreams and her future so Marilla could have things a little easier. It’s a classic mother/daughter (or parent/child really) moment that resonates through to today, the mutual sacrifice of strong wills.

What do you think about how Anne’s life before Green Gables is handled (or rather, not handled)?

This is really a tragic life, parents die before she can remember them, taken in by two women in a row who barely care for her, and then shoved into an institution. I can see the writing part of this, you want her young enough that you can erase that sad bit with happiness, but old enough to talk for herself and have a personality. But still, even at only 11, it seems like all that misery would have an effect! There’s a new “Before Green Gables” series now that covers the Lost Years. But I think I prefer them not to be dealt with at all? If you include them, suddenly the whole story becomes so tragic you can’t enjoy it. Best to just leave them as something briefly described and dealt with as “and then they felt like a dream once my real life and childhood started”. What do you think? Would it be better to integrate that tragedy more? Or even to make her previous life less tragic?

Question that came up from my reread yesterday: Why does Matthew’s death always make me/everyone cry?

Is it because Montgomery so perfectly evoked that first moment of sorrow and tragedy in life? Or because it is Matthew, and Matthew is The Best? Or because Marilla falls apart, and Marilla never shows emotions? Or is it just the every day quality of it? So often death is like that, someone falling down in the kitchen while their loved ones try to hold them up, no big death speech, no hospital slow farewell, just everyday life interrupted? I don’t know what it is, but I know Matthew’s death and (SPOILERS) Walter’s death in Rilla (END SPOILERS) are the two times I am guaranteed to cry every single time I read the books. Oh, and basically anything with Dog Friday.

And two bonus questions:

Tell me about the first time you experienced this story

My Mom started reading Anne of Green Gables aloud to me while we were waiting for my sister to finish her dance class. And then I loved it so much, I had to start reading it on my own and gobbled up the whole series.

How has your relationship to the books changed as you got older?

I read them when I was so young, and then read them over and over and over again straight through until I was in college, every single summer, that now they are both a story of Anne’s childhood and my childhood. I can read them and remember all the other times I read them and be transported back to that time in my life at the same time I am transported into Anne’s life. Also, I have A LOT more sympathy for the adults dealing with Anne now than I had the first time I read it. She is a tricky little girl.

17 thoughts on “DCIB Book Club: Anne of Green Gables! The First Book in the Series, the First Sunday of Our Series!

  1. Who loves Anne more, Matthew or Gilbert?

    It’s definitely Matthew, especially in this book. He almost immediately likes Anne and when Marilla wants to send Anne back, he’s very vocal about his dislike for that idea. Also since this is the first book, Gilberts feelings are still not as deep as they are later on in the series but even then I would choose Matthew as for Matthew, Anne is the centre of his world.

    Would Anne have been better off in a home with more demonstrative love?

    I don’t think so, as Anne seems to be stuck in a fantasy world (more as a way to cope with her tragic backstory) so she needed people who were very realistic over ones who would spoil her and feed into her fantasy’s. I feel her upbringing also explains her romantic choices in latter books.

    Which female bond resonates with you more? The passionate friendship based on nothing more than proximity and age matching between Diana and Anne, or the tough unbending love between Anne and Marilla?

    I definitely think its the tough unbending love between Anne and Marilla as there is very little in common with Diane+Anne. Also when I see my mother’s relationship between her childhood best friend and how they have slowly become more friends for a namesake than an actual bond. I feel that Diane and Anne’s friendship would slowly become closer to that than Marilla and Anne where there was much more work put into becoming close. I also think in some ways Matthew’s death helped both of them get closer to each other than when Matthew was the middle man in their relationship.

    What do you think about how Anne’s life before Green Gables is handled (or rather, not handled)?

    I personally feel it’s handled very well as it explains Anne’s tendencies to drift in a fantasy land. It reminded me a lot of Imran Khan’s girlfriend in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (except the latter never grew up) but it makes her character more deep than the typical bubbly girl.

    Why does Matthew’s death always make me/everyone cry?

    I actually can’t answer this question. I feel like it’s a combination of both Matthew being the best and the everyday part of death. It always feels like you lost a piece of your soul that you can’t get back when he died.

    Tell me about the first time you experienced this story

    For me, my mom suggested me this story and I read it and fell completely in love with it. I was just obsessed with it and loved the domesticity of the book.

    How has your relationship to the books changed as you got older?

    I feel it has gone from a simple pleasant story to something deeper. When I remember the plot-lines and the way the story is, I am completely part of the community and care so much about every single character. I also love how though Anne is not a revolutionary person, Montgomery always takes her seriously and tells stories of domesticity with 100% commitment.

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    • Thank you! This is the kind of super long in depth comment I always hope for.

      Maybe it’s that Matthew has so little else to love? Not in a bad way, just that his world is very small. Gilbert has friends and family and lots of things around him, eventually he has children of his own even. And he loves his work and his ambitions. Matthew is just a quiet man who loves one person out of the whole world.

      Ooo, I hadn’t thought about the way Anne used fantasy as a coping mechanism. You could also say that Marilla’s harsh but fair attitude helped her to learn how to deal with “normal” tragedy. Being disappointed because she couldn’t go to an evening party or something like that was good for her, because she discovered she could survive it and learned how to handle it. While if Matthew had been in charge, she never would have experienced that sort of “normal” disappointment and learned to live through it in a normal way.

      Something that occurred to me in this read is how much Marilla influenced Anne’s way of seeing the world. She didn’t have an imagination, she didn’t love school and reading and so on, but she took a quiet enjoyment in her house and garden, in working hard and doing her duty and all those boring every day things. Anne, by the end of this book, had learned to have the same kind of enjoyment and the two of them were ready and able to build a happy shared life. Anne changed Marilla’s life utterly, but Marilla also helped form who Anne was as a grown woman. Oh, and I think Anne learned from Marilla how to appreciate different kinds of love language. Diana is so blunt and obvious, just says “I love you” to her. But Marilla shows her all the time.

      Ooooo! The Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na idea is ON POINT!!! I’ve read the occasional criticism for how Anne’s trauma isn’t really dealt with. But your flip is to say everything about Anne IS her trauma. The escape into imagination, the failure to stay organized and focused, the passionate emotional up and down. And then when she matures out of it, it’s not just about growing up, it’s about the stable influence of a loving home allowing her to get rid of those crutches.

      Matthew IS the best!!! Setting aside why the death scene makes us cry, I love the idea of this shy quiet man that no one even noticed being so deeply mourned. I think there’s a nod to that in either Avonlea or Island, Anne still visits his grave routinely and has a moment of thinking about how she is probably the only one who still remembers and misses him. He didn’t have to be a national hero or anything to be deserving of such deep grief, just had to have one person he really loved and vice versa.

      YES! The Anne books, and the greater PEI world Montgomery created, are so specific and so clear and you can just fall into them. Agree about the domesticity stories. It’s not just “a woman is a wife and mother”, a lot of her characters (like Marilla) aren’t even that. It’s that women’s work is IMPORTANT. They help keep the farm running, they can and cook and preserve, they run the church, they nurse the sick, they make the major family decisions, it’s everything that makes the world turn. And there are too few books that deal with that whole part of life.

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  2. I feel like I agree with you and Anon in the discussion questions!

    The only thing I will say SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS is that I read a fic in which Walter’s death isn’t so neat (one bullet to the heart). It’s just what generals wrote so that families at home wouldn’t worry and would think their sons died painlessly. The people who went to war in the books know this, but the people at home don’t. And that broke me. END SPOILERS

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    • Yep, that makes sense. SPOILERS The book already evokes how the war and death were very different for the returning soldiers. Jem in particular struggling with how to handle losing Walter and grieving as part of the family. END SPOILERS

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    • Oh, and at least answer the last 3 Qs! How did you first read the book, how has it changed over time, and why is Matthew’s death so unbearable?

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  3. Who loves Anne more, Matthew or Gilbert?
    In the first book, ofc Matthew. But I wonder who it would be at the end of the series too — perhaps by then, Gilbert’s and Anne’s mutual love would have matured into the selfless no expectations love that Matthew is able to provide Anne.

    Would Anne have been better off in a home with more demonstrative love?
    I think not. Similar to Anon’s comment ahead – she’s so imaginative that a healthy dose of reality would have helped.

    What do you think about how Anne’s life before Green Gables is handled (or rather, not handled)?
    I don’t think the tragedy of what Anne experienced struck before Green Gables really struck me when I read as a kid! I definitely thought it was sad and was very sympathetic but not to the level of understanding how HARD it would actually have been. Oddly this was also contributed by not understanding the meaning of the word “colic”…
    I didn’t fathom the horrors of colicky babies. Soo it was only last year when I was pregnant and understood what colic actually meant was I hit with a force of sympathy for Anne (for the word colic always reminds me of her) and the fact that she was pretty much an unpaid unloved nanny for babies at such a young age — how horrid! I caught myself thinking of her earlier this year too when I handling my gassy newborn.
    All of this to say, I’m glad I did not understand as a child and I do now — and it speaks to the power and vividness and magic of LM’s writing that it sticks with you so!

    Why does Matthew’s death always make me/everyone cry?
    Interesting question… Hmm, the tragedy of losing the character itself was quite heavy. By that part of the book, I saw some of myself in Anne and loved Matthew fiercely by then… so the shock of losing him made me cry my heart out, worrying my mum. Also, I was maybe 9 when I first read it and, Matthew reminded me forcibly of my maternal grandfather (who is now 91) — someone who loves you without reserve and exists to fulfil your every whim even if in dissonance with your mum! And Matthew’s death spoke to my fears of losing my granddad.

    Which female bond resonates with you more?
    Oh for sure Marilla-Anne!
    That said, as a kid, definitely Diane-Anne. I even saw many shades of Diane in my best friend in school and we would nickname each other Di and Anne in our letters / emails. Anon’s comment also makes me think of how their relationship might pan out as they’re older (although we get glimpses in latter books). I have very close friends from school and college that I have nothing in common with anyone since what bound us then was really being roommates/college stuff… I think without a True meeting of minds and hearts it’s not possible to remain friends forever and ever, and I’m not convinced Anne and Diane have that.

    Tell me about the first time you experienced this story
    Mum bought it for me, maybe when I was 7-8! I found the writing hard to parse so I didn’t read it for yearrrrrs until after I turned 9! She let me find my way to it… And one holiday morning I was rummaging my cupboard and I found this title I hadn’t read till then. And I could NOT put it down, reading it everywhere then rereading it then quoting it to my friends (who good-naturedly tolerated me) and finding pride in my imagination (although it was nothing like Anne’s) as until then I thought it was something to be subdued.

    How has your relationship to the books changed as you got older?
    I don’t know actually… I read it over and over until I went to college. Then it became one read a year. And after graduation, I don’t think I ever read the first novel again atleast. But it feels like a part of my blood. And every time I’ve reread I remember feeling empowered, like LM enabled me to be me (through the first novel) and set expectations for what friendships and schoolwork and crushes (through the first and second novel) should look like… And I think my school / college life actually met them all.

    Thanks for this Margaret! 🤗

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    • On the friends bit** — friends from school and college who I am no longer close to now as we don’t have anything in common!

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    • Rilla deserved her own book so I’m glad we got to see her, but I also wish we got just a few more glimpses of Gilbert and Anne together as empty nesters in Rilla’s book. I think there were a few nods to it, Rilla overhears them talking about serious subjects together, clearly they are still “best friends” in terms of sharing their deepest sense of things. And after The Bad Thing happens, Gilbert devotes himself to Anne despite his own sorrow. Yes, I could see them aging out of the honeymoon phase, the raising children phase, and then into a Best Friends and One and Only sort of deep connection and partnership. But it would take years to develop something that Matthew and Anne had right from the first second.

      Maybe it’s the combo of Matthew and Marilla that made it perfect for her. Unquestioning absolute devotion from one parent, and tough love from the other.

      I think Montgomery also captured a bit of how a child would process that childhood. Anne sort of set it aside to deal with later, and I think the later books do deal with it, visiting her parents’ house and then after she has her own children looking back on how casual she was in caring for babies. But at age 11, you would just tell the story in practical simple terms and not understand how horrible it was.

      Matthew makes me think of my Grandpa too! Something about an older man who doesn’t really know how to say “I love you” fighting his way through bonding with a young girl is so perfectly captured. It’s a unique relationship, and yet common, and somehow Montgomery captured it perfectly. Well, not “somehow”, she was raised by her Grandpa and assume her feelings for him were similar.

      I think in later books you see that part of the reason Anne turns to Gilbert is that he can give her the long term friendship and shared experiences of Diana, but also the ambition and broad ideas and sense of humor she needs. It’s an interesting idea when you think about it like that, her romantic partnership starting in a quest for a “new” best friend. And yes, Anne and Diana trade naming of children after each other and keep writing and enjoy talking together, but there is something missing. I think this was a DCIB discussion question at some point, and we realized almost all of us were no longer friends with our “forever friends” from childhood/high school/college. you just don’t have that much in common any more.

      One thing I realized about the books as I got older was how much they contributed to how I myself was raised! My Mom loved them and read them over and over as a little girl. And then she had me and she made me pretty dresses and let me do whatever I wanted with my room and taught me how to cook and clean and so on and so forth, all these things that you see Anne do later in the books. I mean, it’s mostly my grandmother (my mom’s mom) who also did things like that and grew up in a farming community and household a lot like Avonlea, but it’s also the Anne books. Like you said with the colic coming back to you when you became a parent, I wonder if you will find other things coming back to you as well?

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      • How you’ve captured Anne and Gilbert makes total sense to me; yes of course Anne was unconsciously looking for her new Best Friend!

        I’m so heartened to know that losing (most of) your childhood/college friends is a universal experience. I catch myself feeling guilty ever so often when I think of my college friends and the plans that we made as we lived together — that they’d be godparents to my kids and all that. And how matters have turned, we haven’t even met yet after the baby although we’re all in the same city.

        One exception to losing friends are those I’ve made through volunteering… I find that those I’ve held on for 20+ years! And even now, I carry all my relationships (whether of my age group or older men/women!) from volunteer work over decades and they’re like extended family really.

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        • Btw I think our mums seem to have similar tastes in reading (informing their life priorities)… Although my mum’s absolute favorite was Pollyanna (vs Anne vs Little Women etc)

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          • My Mom read Pollyanna once I think as a child, but I loooooooooooooooved it. And I read the sequel, which you should definitely do. It’s out of copyright and free lots of places, “Pollyanna Grows Up”.

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          • I’ve read Pollyanna Grows Up!! I found it at the same time I realized Eight Cousins had a sequel, Rose in Bloom. Preferred the latter as a sequel, although I was really happy reading Pollyanna’s too even if it had too many couples all mixed and [Spoilers] I didn’t like that any character development of the aunt was effectively undone (and the Dr passed on!!) [End spoilers]

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          • This goes back to something I want to talk about in the Island post on Anne! There was definitely a style of 2 or 3 book serieses at the time. First book is young girl stories, second book is adult romance of the same characters. Or first book is young girl, second book ends on a cliffhanger, third book resolves the romance. You can see it really clearly in An Old-Fashioned Girl where there is that break in the middle and then we come back to them all as adults.

            My assumption is for some of these the authors wrote the first book on spec, and then were offered the sequels. The first Anne book can definitely stand on its own as a completed story in a way none of the other books in the series do. Same with Pollyanna. There are hints of where the story could/should go, but it’s still closed enough that this one book can sell as a single volume.

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          • Oo interesting. Actually the Anne books work just fine as a set of 3! Although the second — it sometimes feels like it’s a filler story; not as captivating as the first, and not even plot as the third In An Old Fashioned Girl, I rather wish (spoilers) she ended up marrying the nice fellow who liked her first and married Tom’s sister (end spoilers). Even Pollyanna Grows Up has that break that you speak of where they’re kids first and then come back as adults.

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        • And again, that is an Anne thing! When she is an adult in Ingleside, her life revolves around the church ladies and that community, the people with common values and common work projects. Her college friends and childhood friends she stays in touch with laters, but on a daily basis it is the other members of the quilting society and so on.

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  4. I finally got access to our computer but I’m too tired to think and write. I get to sleep on it and come back tomorrow!

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