As you may have noticed, I spell my name with the ‘e,’ because how could a woman who grew up with Anne of Green Gables not?
So I watched Anne With An E with trepidation. The actor playing Anne is wonderfully cast. She captures Anne’s brashness without being sentimentalized, although her material doesn’t allow her to flesh out the whimsy that is so integral to the character. Imagine Anne without the scene in which she manages to capsize her boat while imagining herself the Lady of Shalott? Only to be mortified when Gilbert comes to the rescue?
The first carriage ride to Green Gables reveals what could have been in Anne With An E. Anne’s allowed to be whimsical as she renames the avenue and properly charms the middle-aged, taciturn bachelor. I didn’t mind the flashbacks in the first episodes. Montgomery doesn’t hide the fact that Anne’s life experience prior to Green Gables was harsh. She was a child of eleven who had already been raising other women’s children and keeping house and dodging men who drank too much. I appreciated the choice to reveal her background, although at times it may have dwelt a little too melodramatically upon what was a horrifying experience, but more horrifying in its mundane slights and tasks than in its great terrors, like being whipped by a man who then keels over dead.
However, overall, the series simply isn’t successful. Joanna Robinson has a great account of what went wrong in Vanity Fair. She refers here to the minister’s advice that Anne stay at home and learn the skills necessary for being a good wife:
This cruel, pervasive attitude ignores the fact that, historically, Anne has been surrounded by other educated women—like her beloved teacher, Miss Stacy, or the girls who go with her to college. Anne Shirley is not the first girl on the planet to crack a book. These misogynist sentiments not only do the good men of Avonlea a disservice (Anne considers the kindly Reverend Allan in the book a “kindred spirit”) but construct an unnecessary obstacle to Anne’s success. Anne with an E seems to think Anne’s triumphs are only noteworthy if she’s continually told she can’t succeed, when in fact her unfettered brilliance needs no such clumsy opposition. It also seems to think that Anne needs a radical feminist makeover when, in fact, the story of her success was feminist in its own right.
This is core to my discontent with the series. I loved Miss Stacy when I was a child, happily reading the books. I was the brightest in my own class at school and my chief intellectual nemesis happened to also be a boy. My own Miss Stacy was actually a male teacher, but I absolutely appreciated how much of a relief it was to Anne to find a teacher who would encourage her love of writing and literature. To not feature Miss Stacy in any version of Anne of Green Gables? Particularly when the novel is chocked-full of great female role models for Anne?
Her name is Miss Muriel Stacy. Isn’t that a romantic name? Mrs. Lynde says they’ve never had a female teacher in Avonlea before and she thinks it is a dangerous innovation. But I think it will be splendid to have a lady teacher, and I really don’t see how I’m going to live through the two weeks before school begins. I’m so impatient to see her […]
She dresses beautifully and her sleeve puffs are bigger than anyone else’s in Avonlea. – Anne of Green Gables
There are two things to note. Miss Stacy is an intellectual mentor. She encourages Anne to go to college and to take her education seriously. Indeed, Marilla rescues Anne in no small way because she sees a bright girl and knows she should be in school. The novels are a celebration of women’s education. Which is why I was so disappointed that in rearranging events, the series has Anne helping to save Green Gables by becoming a cleaner. There’s only glancing reference to her intelligence and her experience in the class room, both of which are so integral to the novels. We all know that Anne goes to college and that she helps support Green Gables by moving home and teaching, continuing to study in her spare time. She goes on to earn her B.A.. Even Gilbert is deprived of his intellectual ambition in this adaptation, setting off to the docks where in the novels he works himself almost to death to become a doctor.
Miss Stacy is also a fashion mentor. The puffed sleeves do appear in the latest adaptation, but no sooner do they appear than they are forgotten, cast aside for a strange subplot about Matthew’s childhood sweetheart, as though a middle-aged man would still be pining for a girl he barely spoke to when he was a child. Anne’s love of fashion is not inconsequential. She learns to dress for the person she wishes to be – she understands that puffed sleeves have power and can lend her consequence. The novels never trivialize femininity or the interests of women. Anne can be an intellectual giant and still obsess over puffed sleeves.
However, speaking of Gilbert earlier… the series turns him into a saint! The power of the slate cracking on his skull is completely sapped, Anne’s righteous fury and indignation rendered bizarre.
I may never forgive the series for what they did to Gilbert.
Indeed, I’m trying to forget the final episode altogether…