IA Book of the Week: Anne of Green Gables

Every Monday we take a close look at one of the thousands of Fisher items available, for free, on the Internet Archive. This week Samantha takes a look at a true Canadian classic: Anne of Green Gables.

Is there a Canadian book more beloved to children than Anne of Green Gables? Ever since its publication in 1908 it has been a mainstay of the Canadian literary canon, and for many young Canadians (especially at the time of its publication) it is one of the earliest introductions to literature featuring a girl protagonist. Being such an important Canadian literary work, it’s no surprise that the Fisher Library owns a first edition of Anne of Green Gables, published by L. C. Page and Co. in Boston in 1908. Lucky for us, it is available on the Internet Archive, so anybody can enjoy this Canadian treasure. 

There is so much to explore in this edition, and this particular copy, of Anne of Green Gables. This edition contains eight beautiful plate illustrations by M. A. and W. A. J. Claus which not only add dynamism and interesting visuals to the story, they also give us a glimpse into how homes, schools, and towns at the turn of the century looked. Interestingly, this copy also includes highlighted passages, which allows us a glimpse into the mind of one of its previous readers. There are also examples of pencil markings, where a previous reader circles and drew stars next to certain passages, such as on page 347. This copy has had a few different owners, both individual and institutional, so we cannot say who marked up this text or if the highlighter and the circler were different individuals. However, it is still interesting to consider why a previous reader found those particular passages important enough to mark, or what they intended by marking them. Did they think these passages were of particular importance to the plot? Did they think these passages were particularly well-written? Did they think they illustrated key traits of important characters? We cannot know, but it is interesting to speculate about this. 

This copy of Anne of Green Gables is not a “true” first edition, in that it is not from the first printing of the text. In fact, Anne of Green Gables was so popular when it was published that it was printed multiple times, and this copy was produced during its eleventh printing. Given the immediate popularity of her book, author Lucy Maud Montgomery was quickly asked by her publisher to write a sequel. The sequel, Anne of Avonlea, had already been published by the time the eleventh printing of the first edition of Anne of Green Gables was created. Therefore, the sequel to this first edition actually predates it, and is advertised in the back of this edition!

Anne of Green Gables has been an important text in Canada’s literary history and has remained relevant in conversations about Canadian literature for over a century. There is as much in this text to critique as there is to love, and it is important that we take stock of our national heroes (fictional as well as real) from time to time to evaluate what kind of Canada they represent. With that in mind, we encourage you to read Anne of Green Gables and other Canadian classics with an eye not only for enjoying them, but also for what they say about Canada. Who is missing from these texts? What do they do well? Most importantly, what can be done to make sure the Canada they represent is a step toward the Canada we want to live in? 

-Samantha Summers, TALInt Student