I donâ€™t remember precisely how old I was when I first read Anne of Green Gables but it was very young â€“ 5 or 6. I know this because my mother tells me another mother commented on me reading it in the changingÂ room at ballet class when I was that age.(I was one of those irritating precocious early readers.) Iâ€™ve known the book and the character so long that in many ways I grew up with her. AnneÂ Shirley ran ahead of me throughout my childhood, always a little older than me,
stepping into college, into university, into work. She was my big sister, my wise friend, my â€˜kindred spiritâ€™, to use her words. Now, Iâ€™m older than she ever was (apart from in her last appearance, as a supporting character in Rilla of Ingleside). But I still go back to her story, I still retrace her life over the books in which L. M. Montgomery created her. I read a lot as a child. I still do. I still have many of my childhood favourites on my shelves and I reread many of them. Mostly, they survive. But every once in a sad while, one lets me down. The joy, the interest, the connexion fades away leaving only the bones of memory. I can no longer quite deal with some of the sentimentality in What Katy Did. Issues about class and gender step between me and Lone Pine Five. But Anne never lets me down, despite, yes, sentimentality and gender issues and so many other things. Because Anne in woven into the texture of my mind. I too was that child who populated her world with ghosts and haunts and scared herself too much to walk that path. I wrote in corners and day-dreamed my way through many things. I never went on a Sunday School picnic or wanted to speak poetry in public, but I had friendship tragedies and anxieties and an ever growing pile of manuscripts and ideas. And there was another thing, too, another way in which Anne made more sense to me than Jo March or Maria Meriweather.She loved to learn, she wanted to learn, she wanted to go on studying well beyond school. Anne was the first girl I met for whom further and higher education was a concrete, achievable, achieved dream. And there were very few of those in girlsâ€™ books back in the 1970s. Anne said it was all right to be academic, all right to write. I never questioned her, the way I did her co-creation, Emily of New Moon. I never really liked Emily, she was too sure of herself and her abilities. But I trusted Anne, and she saw me right. Most of the books that have stayed with me for so very many years are either fantasies or swashbucklers. The Anne books are neither, but they are deeply committed to the idea that creativity and imagination are valuable, to the idea that women can and do succeed in the work-place and at college, that a woman can be what she wants â€“ a writer, a doctor (in the case of Anneâ€™s children) â€“ without becoming unfeminine. They said that a girl could be someone interesting without having to resort to the tomboy gambit. I am so over being told that all proper girls identify with the Famous Fiveâ€™s George. I preferred her cousin Anne Kirrin. I never could see why I had to behave like a boy to be allowed to run or climb trees. I ran and climbed in skirts as easily as in trousers. I still do. So did Anne Shirley. I owe her.