New Anne of Green Gables book stirs debate

TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - A new book about the early girlhood of Anne of Green Gables is stirring up controversy in Canada, where the original novel written a century ago made Anne the country’s best-known literary heroine.

The cover of "Before Green Gables" is seen in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/George Gibbs

To mark the centennial of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 original novel, Penguin books commissioned Canadian author Budge Wilson of Nova Scotia - the province close to Prince Edward Island where Green Gables was situated - to write the new book, titled “Before Green Gables”.

“Anne of Green Gables” has sold more than 50 million copies and been translated into 20 languages, according to Penguin. Its success prompted Montgomery to write seven sequels and two related books before her death in 1942.

Montgomery’s book tells the fictional story of Anne Shirley, a red-haired adolescent with a vivid imagination, after her adoption at age 11 from a Nova Scotia orphanage by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert.

The new Anne book is about her younger years. It explores what life might have been like for Anne before she lived with the Cuthberts at Green Gables.

Montgomery’s heirs authorized Penguin to produce the prequel, which is based on information about Anne from the 1908 novel.

Wilson, when first approached by Penguin, did not want to write the book. But after re-reading the Anne series she said she became totally bewitched by her character, much more so than she had been as a child.

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“I am still vaguely troubled by the idea that L.M. Montgomery would perhaps not want this done,” she said in an interview.

In the 1908 book, Anne recounts her early life experiences as an orphan working for the families who housed her.

“You saw what a lively, cheerful, articulate person she was, but she should have been a basket case after what she’d been through. I realized that this was a huge puzzle -- and a puzzle that I might like to try to solve.”

It took Wilson two months to decide to write the prequel.

The new book has generated mixed reactions, with some academic scholars saying it is too commercialized.

Deirdre Baker, a professor of children’s literature at the University of Toronto, said she finds the prequel more serious than the original novel.

“One of the really wonderful things about L.M. Montgomery is that the reader is free to imagine anything,” Baker said.

“It’s a weird thing to have two authors playing about with one character. The ethos of the story seems completely different than anything I associated with ‘Anne’.”

Wilson, who has written 32 books, said she realized that when she embarked on the project “there would be a good chance I would be torn apart by the critics and the Anne lovers.”

“A lot of people have told me they’ve done a lot of crying and I am delighted,” Wilson said.