Anne's House of Dreams book coverThe Real Anne

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Newly married, Anne and Gilbert settle into their first house together at Four Winds Harbor, surrounded by the pounding ocean and glimpsed by a friendly lighthouse in the distance. Their adorable house with its history of first love, cozy nooks and wooden beams, well cared for garden with old fashioned flowers, and lively fireplace is everything Anne has ever dreamed of wanting. With memories from her past adventures – Gog and Magog beside the fireplace – and old friends visiting, life unspools before Anne. The adventure and excitement is less manic now, the dreams more sedate, the joy of having accomplished the steadiness of love alongside that brief moment of respite at the beginning of a life together make this the deepest and most underappreciated of the Anne novels.

I remember first reading Anne’s House of Dreams as a teenager on a long plane ride where the boredom of constricted space and the tedium of a bad book are enough to create a vividly unpleasant memory. When I came back to this book in the series during my re-reading foray, now a grown woman who is in the same phase of life as Anne, pre-children and settling into cozy married life in an old house (that yes, is my dream house) I found myself loving a book and a set of characters that I had once hated. The biggest surprise was that at the end of Anne’s House of Dreams, I felt dreamier and more deeply moved than at any other time with this magical heroine who first taught my grumpy teenage self the true love of reading. Perhaps it’s a perspective of age? Perhaps the leisure of reading the book more slowly? This time, however, I saw the wisdom and beauty of an older author who tempers wild dreams with happy, quite realizations.

painting of a lighthouse

Image by natureworks from Pixabay

As Anne and Gilbert set-up their house-keeping they become acquainted with two new friends who take on (and in some cases eclipse) the life of the story: the lighthouse keeper, Captain Jim, and the beautiful, haughty neighbor, Leslie Moore. I was surprised by how much Captain Jim resonated with me during this re-read, especially since I loathed him and his constant reminiscences during my first reading. An older gentlemen with a past of adventure on the high-seas and a long-lost love, Captain Jim is at the end of his life and dreams of simply telling his stories, some of which are funny and many of which are poignant. How could I have ever hated this? Yes, he is affected in the way of all of Montgomery’s characters, serious rose-tinting and nostalgia being a part of the series’ charm. Nevertheless, Captain Jim is real; he is at turns charming and melancholy, a happy man who has lived a full life and is willing to share those in the joy of the next generation.

Next up was Leslie. She’s a shade darker than Montgomery’s usual characters, who have their own sets of circumstances to overcome (recall Anne’s ruthless introduction to Green Gables as an orphan) and has grown progressively bitter because of a harsh life. Leslie has a tragic story, and she alternates between joy at finding a friend in Anne and envy at seeing another woman live out her dreams. Leslie’s story has emotional resonance on many levels and the older, more mature Anne is a good counterpoint. She learns from Leslie and teaches her, the friendship nourishing both and resulting in a beautiful happily-ever-after that while a little out there is classic Montgomery and purely good.

painting of a cottage

Image by JL G from Pixabay

Anne’s House of Dreams isn’t all cheerfulness. This book has a tragedy worse than the horror of Matthew’s death – a loss that results in a realistic dissonance that helps ground this adult Anne. She still has her charm, her wild spirits, her dreams, but she has been touched by real life in no uncertain way and the figure that emerges is stronger, wiser, and far less silly.

I suspect that my teenage self (I think I was 12?) wasn’t ready for this kind of romance: the quieter, more realistic, better kind. I didn’t understand Captain Jim and his desire to tell his story or the true beauty of second chances in later life. Or, perhaps, I was just cranky. Who knows? All I can say is that I am so glad that I went back to read this series again and reconnected with this older Anne Shirley. I’ve always liked Anne, but her silliness at times has been off-putting. This Anne is real, yet still joyous and loving and willing to live in both imagination and real, family life. This is the Anne that will forever more live for me; the “new” old friend I’ve found for a new time in my life.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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