Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson

October 15, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): Anne (with an “e”) Shirley arrived at the Cuthbert farm in Green Gables on Prince Edward Island at the age of 11. But what was her life like before that fateful day when she was finally adopted? With permission from the L.M. Montgomery estate, author Budge Wilson attempts to answer that question in the prequel Before Green Gables.

Anne’s parents, Walter and Bertha Shirley, die of fever when Anne is just 3 months old. She is then taken in by the Thomas family, not out of love, but out of the avaricious hope that they would be able to take away some of the Shirley furniture as well. The only thing they got, however, was an old china cabinet, which wasn’t quite enough compensation in their mind.

Anne’s time with the Thomas family was nothing short of horrible. Mrs. Thomas never loved Anne and her wild red hair, while Mr. Thomas was a drunkard who could never stay sober or hold jobs for very long. When he was drinking, he would beat Mrs. Thomas, and generally make the household unpleasant (though he never laid a hand on Anne). Add to that the fact that Anne was little more than a paid servant, having to take care of four children younger than herself (she was only 5) as well as helping with dinner and laundry and gathering kindling for the wood stove, and you can see what kind of existence the girl had.

A tragedy in the Thomas household puts Anne on the move again, and she ends up next with the Hammond family. This turns out to be yet another stint as an indentured servant, and leads to more depressing scenes of Anne having to care for a bunch of babies that were not her own. After another tragedy, Anne ends up in the orphanage that will eventually lead her to Green Gables.

There were a few bright spots in Anne’s early days. She met some very nice people, including the “Word Man”, Mr. Johnson, who cultivated her appreciation for new words, and Ms. Henderson, her first teacher at school. Anne also had the comfort of a couple of cats, as well as imaginary friends Katie Maurice and Violeta.

Liked:

  • I love the Anne of Green Gables books, so I was very intrigued by the premise of a prequel. I am not opposed to modern authors trying to write prequels or sequels to classics, and was looking forward to learning about Anne’s 11 years before Avonlea.

Disliked:

  • I thought the execution of this novel was terrible. It moved incredibly slowly and felt extremely repetitive, what with Anne being subjected to the same old chores and backbreaking work day after day. I understand that the author was trying to capture some of the drudgery that was Anne’s life, but she could have done it in 100 fewer pages!
  • Young Anne was depicted as incredibly precocious, to the point of being completely unbelievable. Yes, Anne is that way as an 11-year-old when she arrives at Green Gables, but the author didn’t make a good enough case for showing how Anne got that way. She was raised by uneducated people and only went to school off and on, yet she was talking that way at age 5 — before even meeting the Word Man? She was walking by 8 months and using full sentences at age 2? Yeah, right. Anne Shirley was always considered smart, but not a friggin’ genius.
  • I did not like the imaginary friend Katie Maurice. Wilson went to that well far too often in this book, and it soon became apparent that Katie Maurice was nothing but a device to allow Wilson to throw large chunks of exposition at the reader. So instead of living through Anne’s adventures firsthand, we have to hear about them secondhand as she tells Katie Maurice. This made for some very boring reading.

Rating:
I suppose there are some Anne fans out there that will appreciate any look at what their favorite little girl was like before her famous arrival at Avonlea, but I am not among that number. I don’t mind that Budge Wilson tried to write this prequel; I just didn’t think the result was for me. I will not consider Before Green Gables to be part of the series, and give the book 2 stars out of 5.

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