A TALE MOST TRAGICAL by Joy Margetts
Soon, however, I was dismayed to find characters being introduced that I had no memory of, themes and storylines being woven in that were definitely not consistent with the period and tone of the original book. For example, Gilbert Blythe has a year out (age 16!) to travel the world employed as a stoker on a steam boat, where he meets, befriends and brings home an ex -slave from Trinidad, who later becomes a central character. Anne's friend, Cole, is artistically gifted, and disappears off into the woods to make scultures, to escape the school bullies. He struggles with his sexuality and we see him even considering suicide. Then we are introduced to the native Indian family and the role of the now vilified Canadian school system in abusing their child.
Whilst all these were interesting storylines and made for good dramatic watching, they were so inconsistent with the feel, values and intent of the original stories that for me they just jarred. I suppose the screen writers were looking to make the series attractive and relevant to a modern audience, and may well have been successful in this (apparently 13 million complaints were made when Netflix announced the final series)*. But for me, this rehashing of Anne of Green Gables, was in Anne’s own words, ‘tragical’.
semi-autobiographical – she knew what it meant
to be an lonely child brought up by an elderly couple, strict in their beliefs.
She also had Anne’s vivid imagination, love of nature, oversensitivity, and
recklessness. I can fully imagine some of the scrapes that Anne gets herself
into as being based on real life episodes. But Maud (as Lucy was known) also
loved Prince Edward Island, her community and her home; Avonlea and Green
Gables were based on these
|Silver Bush, her childhood home|
Cavendish, her home village, had a good school, and her grandparents kept an extensive library, so Maud read veraciously as a child and began to write from a very young age. She also had a spell teaching in community schools before marrying a Presbyterian Minister. She published Anne of Green Gables in 1908 and it was an immediate bestseller. She went on to write more than 20 books, only one of which was not based on her beloved Prince Edward Island. She wrote what she knew. Her life and values underpinned her writing, and her stories of simple late Victorian life in rural Canada became hugely successful. For what they were.
I wonder if Montgomery ever considered the audience she was writing for when she wrote her books? Certainly it seems her publisher tried to dictate, wanting more and more ‘Anne’ books, when Montgomery herself had exhausted the character. Later in her life she also had to endure criticism from the literary establishment that her books were naïve and overly sentimental - her readers, however, disagreed, as sales continued to flourish.
Screen writers I guess, have no choice but to consider their audience, and commercial interests dictate that they write what people want to watch. One positive thing that watching ‘Anne with an E’ did was to inspire me to go back to the original and read the books again. I have been touched once more by the gentle storytelling, believable characterisation, and imaginative description of her work. She takes you right back to the time she was writing in, and you feel every emotion. It is just delightful, and does not need any added ‘drama’ to be utterly compelling.
L M Montgomery stayed true to herself in her writing, but what about us? Our style, our storytelling, our values, might not appeal to everyone, but surely our honesty to ourselves in how and what we write is paramount? Would you drastically change your writing because a publisher asked you too? Would you add characters and storylines inconsistent with your own beliefs and experiences just to appeal more widely? What if you ever got to see your work dramatized on screen? How would you feel if it were ‘adapted’ so much as to be almost unrecognisable from the original?
I don’t know how Lucy Maud would have felt if she had sat by me watching ‘Anne with an E’. I’m sure like Jane Austen, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, Dickens, and indeed many of the greats whose works have been adapted for screen with varying success, she might have squirmed. Perhaps, however, Montgomery would have been happy to see ‘Anne with an E’ successfully introduce her work to a whole new generation. Let’s hope it has driven some, at least, to go and read her writing in it’s original state – and hopefully not be too disappointed!
Joy Margetts is a newly published writer of Christian Historical Fiction. You can find out more here www.joymargetts.com