History of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables

Few things represent classic Canadian better than the freckled face of the titular Anne from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. The novel is one of the most internationally recognizable pop-culture exports, having sold over 50 million copies worldwide. Despite its initial publication now being over 100 years ago, the novel still sees printing in multiple languages.

And in the century since Anne of Green Gables’ publication, the novel’s popularity has yet to dim. Anne Shirley has made an appearance in some way in almost every decade since. Prince Edward Island sees a steady crowd of tourists each year who come to explore the novel’s iconic setting.

But just how many adaptations has the children’s novel seen? How many books did Montgomery write about her redheaded heroine? Did she write anything else? And what was life like for the author herself?

All interesting questions that many may not know the answer to. For curious fans looking to potentially have some of their questions answered, this blog post is a perfect place to start. This timeline serves as an overview of Montgomery’s life, the different iterations of Anne and other interesting trivia relating to the legacy of one of Canada’s most famous modern-day stories.

1874 – 1905

Author of Anne of Green Gable's birthplace in Cavendish, PEI.
“Cavendish — Birthplace of Lucy Maud Montgomery — New London 4” by dugspr — Home for Good is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Lucy Maud Montgomery was born November 30th, 1874, in Clifton, Prince Edward Island. Montgomery wrote in her autobiography that her earliest memory occurred when she was two years old and saw her mother in her coffin. After her mother’s death, her grandparents raised her in Cavendish, PEI. Her father lived nearby at first but later moved to Prince Albert, Northwest Territories. Montgomery joined him briefly in 1890, but she felt marginalized by her father’s new family and life. She quickly returned home to her grandparents, though she couldn’t entirely escape the feeling of loneliness.

Montgomery first began writing at nine, when she wrote diligently in a journal and experimented with composing poetry. When she was a teenager, however, she turned her sights onto short stories with considerable success. She published her work in magazines under a variety of pseudonyms before she settled on L.M.Montgomery as her pen name.

During the 1890s, Montgomery began pursuing an education. She completed a two-year teaching course in Charlottetown. Following that, Montgomery began an English Literature program but had to drop out for financial reasons. She also engaged in a few romantic relationships during her studies and ensuing teaching career, but none lasted long.

She taught at schools around PEI for a few years but returned home to Cavendish following her grandfather’s death in 1898. Montgomery would remain in town for the majority of the following decade to help care for her grandmother.  

During this period, Montgomery spent most of her time writing or assisting with the post office run out of her grandparent’s homestead. She earned a decent living off of her writing at the time and continued to submit her work for publication. In 1905, Montgomery completed what would become her most famous work.

Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables is a coming-of-age tale that stars the orphan Anne who is mistakenly sent to a pair of middle-aged siblings.  The narrative follows her adventures (and misadventures) as her imagination, warmth, and charm slowly wins over the new community she has found herself in.

Classic children’s stories inspired the novel alongside a newspaper story Montgomery read about a real couple who wished to adopt a boy but instead received a girl. It also drew influence from Montgomery’s own life and experiences.

Montgomery sent out the manuscript to dozens of publishers, only to face rejection at every turn. Eventually, she gave up and stuffed the novel into a hatbox where she forgot about it.

1906 – 1915

Author of Anne of Green Gables Photo
“Lucy Maud Montgomery / Lucy Maud Montgomery” by BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In 1906 Montgomery became secretly engaged to Ewen MacDonald, a Presbyterian minister. However, they did not get married until a few years later.

The following year, Montgomery rediscovered the hatbox with the Anne of Green Gables manuscript inside. She decided to give publishing the novel another attempt and sent out the manuscript to more publishers. This time, however, she was successful. Montgomery secured a deal with L.C.Page, an American publisher located in Boston. Anne of Green Gables was released in 1908 to immediate success. It sold over 19,000 copies in its first year.

The novel earned praise from established literary figures like Mark Twain, who referred to Anne as:

“the dearest, most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice.”

Mark Twain

Her contract with L.C.Page required Montgomery to write two sequels to her original book. The first sequel was published in 1909 and was titled Anne of Avonlea.  After releasing some books outside of the Anne series, the third book, Anne of the Island, followed in 1915.

Montgomery’s grandmother passed away in March of 1911. A few months later, Mongtomery finally married Ewan Macdonald. The couple honeymooned in England and Scotland before returning to Canada. Macdonald received a parish in Leeksdale, Ontario, so the pair moved provinces that same year.

Montgomery would give birth to three sons. Her first son, Chester, was born in 1912. After she gave birth to a stillborn, she had her final son, Stuart, in 1915.  On top of looking after her home and caring for her children, Montgomery continued to write.

1916 – 1933

Author of Anne of Green Gables outside her home, 1932
“Norval, Lucy Maud Montgomery” by ArchivesOfOntario is marked with CC PDM 1.0

In the latter half of the 1910s, Montgomery released several works. The only poetry book of Montgomery’s published while she was living was released in 1916. In 1917, she published both the fourth Anne novel, Anne’s House of Dreams, and an autobiography entitled The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career.

1919 saw the publication of another book by Montgomery, Rainbow Valley, and the premiere of the first film adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. Montgomery despised the silent film, criticizing it for an inaccurate depiction of Anne’s character. She also received minimal royalties from the film, with most of the money going to her publisher.

L.C.Page published a collection of Montgomery’s short stories in 1920, even though the author had not renewed her contract with them. Infuriated about the fact the stories L.C.Page published without her authorization, Montgomery initiated the first of many legal battles with her former publisher. Other contentions between her and L.C.Page included rights to her first six books and the royalties she received from them.

The 1920s were not all hardships for Montgomery, however. In 1923, she was the first Canadian woman to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in Britain. She was also named one of the “Twelve Greatest Woman in Canada” by the Toronto Star in 1924. Another notable moment for Montgomery this decade was in 1927 when she received fan mail from Stanley Baldwin, the current Prime Minister of Britain.

She continued to publish new works regularly. From 1923 to 1927 she published her bestselling Emily trilogy and one of her more adult novels, The Blue Castle. The latter was banned in some libraries for exploring taboo topics, such as a woman being pregnant out of wedlock.

1934 – 1943

Lucy Maud Montgomery's tombstone
“Lucy Maud Montgomery Tombstone” by p.m.graham is licensed under CC BY-NC

Anne of Green Gables got its second film adaptation in 1934, and this release marks the first time the story would be shown with sound. The actress playing the titular character enjoyed the role so much she changed her stage name to Anne Shirley for the remainder of her career. Montgomery reportedly liked the film more than the first one, although she still had her issues. The film would be commercially successful enough to spawn a sequel, Anne of Windy Poplars, in 1940.

1934 was also the year that Montgomery’s husband was committed to a sanatorium. Macdonald’s mental health had become rather unstable, and he had to resign from his parish the following year. The couple also moved to a new home in the Toronto area, which would be the last house Montgomery would live in.

 Montgomery’s mental health had also historically not been very healthy. She struggled to balance her roles as a wife and mother. She also grappled with the near-constant feeling of loneliness – a theme that would show up time and time again in her written works.

The 1930s saw the last of Montgomery’s novels published. Another adult novel, The Tangled Web, was released in 1931. Montgomery followed with the duology of Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat, published in 1933 and 1935, respectively.  Anne of Windy Poplars followed in 1936, chronologically the 4th book in the Anne series despite being the 7th one released. After 1937’s Jane of Lantern Hill, the last book Montgomery would publish herself was the final entry into the Anne series with Anne of Ingleside in 1939.

Montgomery died in 1942 at the age of 67. The cause of death was reported as heart failure. Her family had her body sent from Toronto to Cavendish, PEI, where Montgomery would be laid to rest.  Her husband would be buried there the following year.

1944 – 1980

Photo from Anne of Green Gables Play, 1960s
“Scene from the Anne of Green Gables play. Canada Festival, Centennial Celebrations… / Scène de la pièce Anne… la maison aux pignons verts jouée au Festival du Canada, dans le cadre des célébrations du centenaire de la Confédération…” by BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Anne of Green Gables did not die with its creator. The legacy of the novel and its author only seemed to continue to grow with time.  

In 1952, Anne of Green Gables was translated to Japanese for the first time and released as Akage no An, which translates to Red-Haired Anne. It was an almost overnight success as it struck a chord with young post-war Japanese audiences.  

Montgomery’s debut novel continued to find its way to the next generation of audiences through its adaptation to new mediums. Anne of Green Gables: The Musical was released in 1965 and has since been performed in Charlottetown every summer. It holds the Guinness World Record for the longest-running annual musical, having earned the title in 2014.  

Only a few years after the musical, The Anne of Green Gables Museum opened its doors in 1972. Located 15 minutes west of Cavendish in PEI, the original building was the home of Montgomery’s aunt and uncle. Montgomery visited the property frequently in her youth and would eventually get married there. The museum features items both from Montgomery’s actual life and the stories she wrote.

The story of Anne makes its way into a new medium yet again in 1979; this time as an anime airing in Japan. The show used the same name as the translated novel, Akage No An, and ran for 50 episodes.

1981 – 2010

Anne and Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables movie
“Anne-Gilbert-anne-of-green-gables-3346298-1024-768” by norika21 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Kevin Sullivan’s 1985  version of Anne of Green Gables is one of the most recognizable adaptations of the beloved children’s novel. The film was the recipient of multiple awards and spawned three sequels: Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel (1987), The Continuing Story (2000) and A New Beginning (2008).

Sullivan returned to Montgomery’s mythos in a different form in the 90s with the Road to Avonlea series. The television show took elements from a few of Montgomery’s books that weren’t a part of the Anne series for its plotlines. The Disney Channel picked up the show in 1990 and it lasted seven seasons before ending in 1996.

While there has been plenty of love for the fictional character of Anne Shirley noted so far, there was still plenty of admiration for Montgomery herself. In 1993, the University of Prince Edward Island founded the L. M. Montgomery Institute (LMMI). The institute describes itself as a “research centre focused on [Montgomery’s] life and works.” Fans, scholars, and some of Montgomery’s family — including both her daughter-in-law and granddaughter — attended the institute’s opening. LMMI holds biannual conferences dedicated to the author and her writing, alongside running a digital journal that posts scholarly articles and essays.

Both Montgomery’s birthplace and her long-time home in Leeksdale became designated as National Heritage Sites in Canada at the turn of the millennium, in 1997 and 2004, respectively.  They are available for the public to tour and explore.

100th Anniversary of Anne of Green Gables’ Publication

2008 marked 100 years of Anne of Green Gables, and there were plenty of tributes to mark the occasion, such as Kevin Sullivan’s final Anne movie, Anne of Green Gables: New Beginning.

But amidst the celebrations, there was also a revelation about Montgomery’s death that sparked debate. In a Globe and Mail article, Montgomery’s granddaughter disclosed the existence of a note her father had found on the author’s nightstand. The family had long believed it to be a suicide note and that she took her own life but kept the knowledge hidden. Kate Macdonald Butler, Montgomery’s granddaughter, chose to come forward as a way to help fight the stigma of mental illness.

A notable Montgomery scholar offered a different opinion. Dr. Mary Rubio, who wrote the biography Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings, explained her view of the situation in an email interview with the Globe and Mail.  She countered that the note was labelled “176,” which could mean it was likely something Montgomery had meant to later type up for her “official” journals,  a common habit of the writer’s. Dr.Rubio theorizes that the author’s eldest son destroyed the 175 other entries. He lived at home at the time, and the entries would not have painted a kind picture of him as his mother did not think highly of him after his divorce and his lack of a job.

Dr. Rubio did not entirely dismiss the suicide theory, however. She applauded the family’s choice to speak out and admitted that at that stage of her life, Montgomery was “suffering unbearable psychological pain.”

2011 To The Modern Day

Students dressed as Anne of Green Gables Characters
“DSC_6836 Diana Barry, Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe relaxing on the grass at the Anne of Green Gables museum, Park Corner, PEI” by Greying_Geezer is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2

A new decade brought about a new crop of adaptations of the beloved children’s book. The kid’s channel YTV aired a trilogy of direct-to-TV Anne movies that aired in 2016 and 2017.

Also in 2017 came Netflix’s Anne with an E, which garnered a cult following. This well-received series aired for three seasons before cancellation and earned multiple Canadian Screen Awards.

Anne with an E marks the latest well-known adaptation, but it certainly won’t be the last. The series falls under the public domain now, which means anyone can create their own version of the classic story. So while there are no known Anne projects on the horizon at this point in 2021, one can rest assured that there will be future returns to Green Gables.

Suppose someone told Lucy Maud Montgomery when she initially wrote the Anne of Green Gables manuscript that her novel would still be in print over a century. In that scenario, there’s a good chance she would not have believed them in the slightest. She had, after all, faced rejection after rejection from every publisher she sent the novel to.

And yet, in the year 2021, Anne of Green Gables has sold millions of copies worldwide and spawned dozens of adaptations. Casual readers and academics hold Montgomery’s works in high esteem. The institute that bears Montgomery’s name and studies her writings will soon be entering its 20th year. Feminists such as Margaret Atwood have championed the character of Anne as an example of early feminism in literature. 

Lucy Maud Montgomery might have passed away almost 80 years ago now, but her writing talent and the charming redheaded girl she created have fostered a monumental legacy that no one can deny.

Resources and Further Reading

Adams, James. “Lucy Maud Suffered ‘Unbearable Psychological Pain’.” The Globe and Mail, The Globe and Mail, 24 Sept. 2008, www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/lucy-maud-suffered-unbearable-psychological-pain/article17971634/.

“Anne of Green Gables.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 26 Mar. 2009, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/anne-of-green-gables.

Herman, Natasha. “The History of Anne of Green Gables.” Anne of Green Gables: Official Site for the Original Series, www.anneofgreengables.com/blog/how-anne-of-green-gables-has-affected-us-through-the-years.

“L. M. Montgomery Institute.” About L. M. Montgomery | L. M. Montgomery Institute, L. M. Montgomery Institute, lmmontgomery.ca/about/lmm/her-life.

“Lucy Maud Montgomery.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1 Jan. 2013, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/montgomery-lucy-maud.

“Our History.” The Anne of Green Gables Museum, The Anne of Green Gables Museum, annemuseum.com/our-history.php.

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