Who doesn’t love Anne of Green Gables? For most kindred spirits, that’s like asking who doesn’t love raspberry cordial. Well, I binge-watched the new version titled, “Anne with an E” on Netflix this weekend and my biggest problem with it was that there was just not enough of it.
As a loyal fan of L.M. Montgomery books, who still has an entire shelf in my library designated for them, I believe “Anne of Green Gables,” like any great work from the Bible to Sherlock Holmes—is always worth reinterpretation. That’s why the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland (just a stone’s throw from where I live) is so popular. People want to hear these stories retold in different settings and time periods because they learn something new. In the case of “Anne with an E,” it’s the same setting and time period, but with new emotional shades. This Anne is more vulnerable and with that vulnerability comes even more to love. She is not some flutterbudget just spouting off eccentric words to impress people, but a child who is lost inside and using her imagination to survive.
It’s these darker shadows of Anne’s past that bother some viewers, but maybe they just like vanilla ice cream. Vanilla ice cream is great for what it is, but when you add the darkness of chocolate into the mix, you get tantalizing options of multiple flavors hitting your tastebuds like Rocky Road, Moose Tracks or Boudreaux Cherry. To me, that’s what “Anne with an E” tastes like. And just because you like one flavor, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the others.
I have to be honest, I loved the Megan Follows version of Anne. That series is among my favorite shows of all time—right up there with Lark Rise to Candleford, but the truth is most of these darker elements were there all along both in the books and even in the eighties version of Anne. Even diehard fans will have to agree the whispers of Anne’s insecurity and eccentric behavior could point to her past abuse. They include Anne talking to her friend Katy in the mirror (this Anne uses the window of the grandfather clock), the stories of her old adoptive family where she was treated like a slave and the mother burned her book because she was late, only in this newer version Anne is beaten. This newer version uses more backstory to reveal what Anne went through while she was an orphan living at an orphanage and acting as a slave for a woman who had three sets of twins.
Maybe one reason I find this Anne with an E, so compelling is because when I was younger, I felt like that eighties version of Anne–all I wanted was for everything to be beautiful, romantic and pristine like, “The Great White Way.” I certainly didn’t want to think of Anne as having gone through hard times. Now, as an aware Enneagram Seven personality, I realize I have chosen to ignore my own abuse for years because it was too painful to think about. And when I did think about it, I would have to not only feel bad for myself and my siblings, but feel bad for my parents too. That was just too much pain to deal with–so at the time, I said “No, Thank you” to introspection. It was much easier to stuff that pain down with food and other forms of escapism. So I stumbled through life making lots of mistakes because I couldn’t face my own past.
Even though I wasn’t an orphan, when I watch this Anne deal with her childhood PTSD, I know exactly what she is dealing with in some scenes. It thrills me that Anne can teach people who had a happy childhood what it’s like to deal with PTSD. There are actually people who discount PTSD and say it’s made up, but I can reassure you that any child who has been beaten with a belt never forgets it and it lives on for decades in your body even when your mind ignores it. And any child who was treated like a slave to do housework and not allowed to go to school realizes the value of having a book and an opportunity for education. These are things I share in common with Anne, a fictional character who I have always felt a deep connection to as a kindred spirit.
The town of Avonlea is just as charming, but there are imperfect people who carry their own prejudices and snobbery and jealousy. This is not a gothic version of Avonlea as I saw some critic call it, but it’s more like a microcosm of a real life town where people have struggles and prejudices which they need to set aside so they can learn to get along. Anne has her own prejudices and learns a few lessons while Marilla’s enduring friendship with Rachel Lynde is a prime example of compassion and loyalty despite different life circumstances and views of politics.
Anne is not the only one who was abused or had limited choices in life. In “Anne with an E,” there are other children with struggles not that different from her own. Matthew and Marilla both unrequited romances just as they did in the books, but with a little back story embellishment, we are reminded they too, were either orphans or slaves to the farm long after their parents and brother died. Which brings up the question for each of us about why we make the choices we do in life and the commitments we respect. Matthew and Marilla and Anne show us that in the end, love is always worth it—that not all love is romantic, but love can remain true and faithful despite the hard times.
If you’re an Adult Child of a Narcissist, or an orphan, or foster child or an outcast that was enslaved or abused in any way, you will probably find “Anne with an E” a little more realistic and palatable than the more saccharine versions of Anne. Here, even with the bitter, we find the sweet and this trip to Avonlea is another delicious treat.