Looking for Anne of Green Gables The Story of L. M. Montgomery and Her Literary Classic

Irene Gammel

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

320 Pages


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In June 1908, a red-haired orphan appeared on to the streets of Boston and a modern legend was born. That little girl was Anne Shirley, better known as Anne of Green Gables, and her first appearance was in a book that has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide and been translated into more than 35 languages (including Braille). The author who created her was Lucy Maud Montgomery, a writer who revealed very little of herself and her method of crafting a story. On the centenary of its publication, Irene Gammel tells the braided story of both Anne and Maud and, in so doing, shows how a literary classic was born.

Montgomery's own life began in the rural Cavendish family farmhouse on Prince Edward Island, the place that became the inspiration for Green Gables. Mailmen brought the world to the farmhouse's kitchen door in the form of American mass market periodicals sparking the young Maud's imagination. From the vantage point of her small world, Montgomery pored over these magazines, gleaning bits of information about how to dress, how to behave and how a proper young lady should grow. She began to write, learning how to craft marketable stories from the magazines' popular fiction; at the same time the fashion photos inspired her visual imagination. One photo that especially intrigued her was that of a young woman named Evelyn Nesbit, the model for painters and photographers and lover of Stanford White. That photo was the spark for what became Anne Shirley.

Blending biography with cultural history, Looking for Anne of Green Gables is a gold mine for fans of the novels and answers a trunk load of questions: Where did Anne get the "e" at the end of her name? How did Montgomery decide to give her red hair? How did Montgomery's courtship and marriage to Reverend Ewan Macdonald affect the story? Irene Gammel's dual biography of Anne Shirley and the woman who created her will delight the millions who have loved the red haired orphan ever since she took her first step inside the gate of Green Gables farm in Avonlea.


Praise for Looking for Anne of Green Gables

"Interesting and well researched."—The New York Times

"Drawing on a vast array of neglected and unknown sources, this groundbreaking study establishes new connections between Montgomery's isolated life in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, and the metropolitan existence that she consumed vicariously through magazines published in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Looking for Anne is a highly readable, top-rate study that [provides] a new spin on Montgomery's text."—Globe and Mail (Canada)

"Compelling and surprisingly moving."—Book Forum

"Rather than simply rehashing available material, Ryerson professor and noted literary researcher Irene Gammel . . . explores the social and literary influences that guided and inspired Montgomery in creating her impetuous heroine . . . Even more fascinating is the amount of inspiration Montgomery found in the myriad of current magazines and journals that made their way into her hands via the desk of her grandmother, the town postmistress."—Quill and Quire

"Looking for Anne is a fascinating and wonderful book. It brings forward an amazing wealth of new information, filling in many gaps (some of which I didn't even know existed!), and is presented in a captivating narrative that is very well organized and a great read. The research is fabulous . . . It's rather like the Road to Xanadu."—Carole Gerson, Simon Fraser University and co-editor of History of the Book in Canada

"Anne of Green Gables may be one of the most beloved of books, selling more than 50 million copies since it was first published 100 years ago. But according to Ryerson, a Canadian scholar and co-chair of the L.M. Montgomery Institute, Anne's creator was both secretive and ‘an emotional and forceful advocate of her own legend.' So Ryerson seeks out the truth about Montgomery and the writing of her novel, including the possible sources for Anne Shirley, a high-spirited, irrepressibly optimistic, redheaded Canadian orphan. Among Anne's antecedents were the bestselling Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and a proliferation of stories and poems about orphan girls named Ann, such as James Whitcomb Riley's popular nursery rhyme ‘Little Orphan Annie,' based on a girl orphaned during the Civil War. Montgomery's fear of aging and outsider status as a motherless child brought up by aging grandparents also fed into her image of Anne as did her adopted cousin Ellen Macneill, also an orphan. "—Publishers Weekly

"Gammel has written numerous essays on Lucy Maud Montgomery and Canadian culture. Here, with a good sense of narrative and ‘what the reader wants to know' and using little academic jargon, she extends her research into a full study of the Canadian author and her most famous creation, Anne Shirley. Montgomery was just 30 when she wrote Anne of Green Gables. In this book coinciding with the centenary of that book's publication, Gammel interweaves Anne's and Montgomery's life stories, showing how Anne's life mirrored her creator's own dreams, memories, and emotions. She shares such wonderful tidbits of information as how Anne got the e in her name, how she was modeled after the notorious Evelyn Nesbit, and which characteristics of her many friends Montgomery instilled in Anne. There are also photos of family and friends who are mirrored in the novels as well as actresses who have portrayed Anne over the years. This would make an excellent selection for lovers of Anne and her many adventures."—Rebecca Bollen Manalac, Library Journal

"Oblique, somewhat frustrating attempt ‘to piece together the fragments that inspired' the beloved Canadian novel. Gammel concentrates on the years from 1903, when the germ of Lucy Maud Montgomery's classic novel Anne of Green Gables took root, to its publication in 1908. Maud, as friends and family always called her, kept notebooks while writing the book, but ‘only the distilled version that she wanted us to see was allowed to survive,' comments the author. She also edited her voluminous diary with an eye to publication: ‘her journal was the stage on which Maud performed her artful versions of the truth.' She acquired habits of secrecy and self-deception early, avers Gammel. Her mother died of TB when Maud was a toddler, her father left and she was raised by undemonstrative maternal grandparents on Prince Edward Island. Though her fiction enveloped the old homestead in misty nostalgia, it was more like a prison to the ambitious young writer, whose dreams of becoming self-sufficient and famous found stimulus in such popular magazines of the era as The Delineator and Godey's Lady's Book. Gammel doggedly pursues a clipping of a girl pasted in Maud's journal and determines this ‘model for Anne's face' to be teenaged Evelyn Nesbit, who made her living posing for artists before the Stanford White murder trial made her notorious. The author links the theme of ‘bosom friends' in the novel to Maud's own intense female friendships, concluding that the writer was probably not a lesbian, but sexually frustrated in her subsequent marriage to the ‘sub-thyroid' (depressed) Reverend Ewan Macdonald. In the end, Gammel's triumphant declaration of ‘the mystery of Anne revealed' is judiciously countered by Anne's own assertion in the novel: ‘There's such a lot of different Annes in me.' Much ado about nothing, though loyal fans will celebrate this work on the centenary of Anne of Green Gables' publication."—Kirkus Reviews

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  • Irene Gammel

  • Irene Gammel is Professor of English and holds the Canada Research Chair in Modern Literature and Culture at Ryerson University, Toronto. She is the author and editor of eight academic titles, including the internationally-acclaimed Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada and Everyday Modernity: A Cultural Biography (2002). Irene Gammel has served as president of the Canadian Comparative Literature Association, editorial board member of Canadian Literature, and director of Women's Studies at UPEI. She is the curator of the exhibit Anne of Green Gables: A Literary Icon at 100, May 1, 2008 to March 1, 2009.

  • Irene Gammel