In need of comfort during Melbourne’s seemingly endless Covid lockdown*, I turned to Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery, which was a favourite book of mine from childhood. Anne-fans won’t be at all surprised to learn that I began smiling again almost immediately.
Anne of Avonlea follows on directly from Anne of Green Gables. The chapters tell of Anne Shirley’s day to day pleasures, the challenges she faces and her growth as a very young school teacher at the Avonlea school. In this day and age the thought of a sixteen-year old teaching school seems unthinkable, but when this book was written it must have been commonplace, as several of Anne’s schoolfriends were also teaching at various schools on Prince Edward Island throughout this story.
Anne might be a little older but she is as impulsive as ever and the story begins with her accidently selling a cantankerous new neighbour’s cow instead of her own, after said cow broke into the neighbour’s paddock and ate his oats. A beautifully iced cake and Anne’s most sincere apology left her and the new neighbour as friends. The theme of friendship runs through the remainder of this book.
In this story, Anne’s school friends Diana, Gilbert, Jane and the other young people of Avonlea form the Avonlea Village Improvement Society. Some of the townspeople are convinced that it is the people themselves who are to be improved and are resistant to the idea, although they can usually find improvements to be made amongst their neighbours. Other curmudgeons are convinced that the society is a cover for the young people to go courting. The AVIS experienced a discouraging setback when after fundraising to paint the Avonlea Hall it was painted the wrong colour, an ugly bright blue usually seen on wheelbarrows. Regardless of this, they succeeded admirably in prettying-up Avonlea by planting trees and flowers along the town’s roadways.
There are several new faces in Avonlea, including the delightful Miss Lavender, who Anne befriended and helped to escape her enchanted castle after returning Miss Lavender’s prince to her. There were also a horde of school children who Anne taught at the Avonlea school, including Anthony Pye, whose heart she couldn’t seem to win.
At Green Gables things livened up with the arrival of six-year old twins, Davy and Dora, who were adopted by Marilla after the death of their parents. I don’t think I’ve read this book in at least thirty years and this time around I struggled with Davy and Dora’s characters. Marilla and Anne openly admitted to loving naughty Davy better than his well-behaved, dull sister, which I believe is something that a person might think privately but would never say. With more life experience of my own since I last read this book, I also thought that the death of the twin’s mother was glossed over and I particularly struggled with the children’s easy acceptance of their loss.
I was also surprised to discover that Anne and other characters were racist towards French people, who were definitely second class amongst their community.
The story ends with Anne on the verge of adulthood and about to leave Avonlea for Redmond College.
I enjoyed Anne of Avonlea despite the areas of plot that don’t stand up to the values of today.
*It has been over a month since I wrote this review and since then, things in Melbourne have changed enormously. There have been no Covid cases in over a month and lockdown has lifted, although some minor restrictions remain. Right now the sun is shining and life is good!