Do you know what it’s like to watch someone’s life speed past you? Do you know how it feels to become friends with someone, cry with them, laugh with them, groan at the scrapes they get themselves into? If you read, then Of course you do. You most likely have a handful-maybe more-of characters who leap off the page and remain in your heart and mind for a long time. To me it’s as if there’s no character I’ve known so well or so long as the beloved Anne Shirley Blythe.
We met many years ago, you see. I was perhaps eleven then, the same age she was when she first appeared. Since then I’ve followed her adventures, life lessons, achievements and sorrows with interest. My friends and I developed a flair for the dramatic and it was in part Anne Shirley who fueled that flair. It’s true, she did outgrow me quite quickly at one point. I got so tired of her early married life in Anne’s House of Dreams. I missed the girlish adventures and felt pity for her loss of care-free days and bosom friends, times spent wandering in Lover’s Lane or Willowmere.
I revisited the years before as I grew and there seemed to be a giant chasm between her joy and zest in life and my struggles with my first deep period of depression. We might as well have been living on different planets then. I read her of relish in ‘just being alive’ and thought, what in the world is that? It must be possible if you’re a book character. How nice for you, Anne. How foolish and how false.
But when I reread House of Dreams some time later, I found a kindred spirit yet again, this time in grief. We weep, we mourn, we feel as though life has ended. And yet it hasn’t. We look back one day and realize the ache has dulled and somehow we’ve moved on. Not forgotten, but moved on. Then Anne surpassed my age again and her children were born and grew older than my own. She still had the same zest, indomitable spirit, and fire, although it was tempered by age and life. I wasn’t happy with the stories. More Anne! I want to know more about her life! She’s there, reliable and courageous in the midst of a war that suddenly dragged a quiet Canadian village into a global arena, but I still wish she hadn’t been edged so much out of the center to make way for stories of a new generation.
Sometimes I can’t believe the same Anne who had despised her red hair, nearly drowned in a lorry, and snubbed the boy who became her friend and husband could be the same woman who ran a Red Cross and watched her children not only leave her home empty and quiet, but go on to fight and fall in love in a war-torn world. In my worst depression I often felt as though I watched my family pass me by as if in a current. A current I was unable to stop or join. It feels a bit like that watching Anne sometimes. How does Montgomery fit all the emotions of a whole life in just a few pages?
Thank you, Anne. Thank you for broadening my scope of imagination and offering a glimpse of the beauties of life and the world. Thank you for a kindred spirit in times of grief. Thank you for reminding me that life is brief and worthwhile and hard and lovely. Thank you for reminding me to hug my children and relish their fleeting innocence. When I extend empathy in my writing, if I ever write a character that reminds even one person that they are not alone, I will in part have you to thank for that.