Meeting Anne Shirley
Meeting Anne Shirley

Meeting Anne Shirley

Truth be told, I don’t actually remember when precisely and how precisely I started to read about Anne in the first place. “Anne of Green Gables” in Poland, where I was born in 1978, was very well known – in fact, it was on the list of compulsory primary school books to read. I had certainly read it well ahead of Grade 6, which is when I believe the book was read and studied.

I would have been about 11 or 12 years old, I imagine, when I first read the book. I believe the book was our own, that is to say, not from a library. This was excellent because that meant that I was able to read, re-read and then re-read all the chapters. And then read them again.

Most of all I recalled that the world simply stopped. My parents and my older brother might have been speaking to me, but they ceased to be of consequence! I was entirely enchanted. I was a quiet, rather pensive child, something of a Paul Irving in some senses, and even though I was very shy back then, I could easily relate to Anne. Whether this was because I felt a connection between feeling myself an outcast and could relate to Anne in some way, whether it was about Anne’s imagination and living in and with nature – a vital part of my growing up (we lived just on the edge of the forest with barely any traffic in the roads) or whether it was the notion of kindness and striving to develop into a good person that captivated, I’ll never know – very likely a little bit of all of them – but I was taken by emotional storm.

It wasn’t that I “really liked it”; what I was experiencing was a surreal, extra-sensory set of sensations of something beautiful filling my little soul. One of those moments in your life – fact or fiction – where it dawns on you that one can be something that you’ve previously thought was barred for you. I was entirely filled by romance of it (not to do with Gilbert Blythe); the romance of possibility. The possibility of what presently I think Khaled Hosseini expressed so well:

There is a way to be good again.

The Kite Runner

Unbeknownst to me, I became convinced that “being good” was something entirely right to strive towards and very noble, not just something that parents and teachers told children (not taking away from my love for my parents!).

Myself, no idea what age, but in the Tatra Mountains; thinking, dreaming

Growing up in an environment where I repeatedly heard to “stop daydreaming”, Anne liberated me into thinking that, hey, it’s actually pretty cool to imagine things, make one’s own stories and look at grass, clouds and listen to the murmurs of streams for no other reason than to imagine what they might have been talking about. I am still quite introverted, but back then I was really introverted, and thus Anne was certainly far more sociable than I was. Nonetheless, it was obvious to me that at the end of a busy school day or a Sunday picnic, she preferred to go back to her Green Gables room and imagine what it would be like to be a rose or bask in the moonshine.

After reading the first book, though, there was a break. I wanted to devour the rest of them, instantly, wishing to know more about this amazing girl who walks poles of rooftops, dyes her hair green, imagines dryads in the woods, saves young children from dying and wins scholarships. (To be frank, I don’t think she was “a girl” to me, really, just a fabulous human being.) Sadly, at that time, with no eBay or Amazon around (those were the days), the rest of the books were difficult to come by. I don’t know how it took really, but it might have been a year before my mum got me Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island (translated as “Anne at the university” into Polish). The rest of the series was read very fast, and I recall it as following a life of a very good friend, suffering for her when she did and rejoicing when she did. All the way through, I remember feeling melancholy and nostalgia, an anxious feeling, wishing Anne to stay the same in time, but always growing, changing, evolving.

I remember a time when our neighbour came over to visit us, in awe that I was fascinated and captivated by Anne. Apparently, boys didn’t typically read Anne books. I could not understand why.

I do vividly recall the covers of the Polish editions of the books. It’s possible to still find these covers online, even though they’re such old editions. Here they are in the order from Anne of Green Gables to Rilla of Ingleside.

There was also a terrific Polish radio drama, first recorded in 1979, that I will never forget listening to, which was on my shelves at that time – five cassettes featuring Monika Bezak as younger Anne, and Anna Romantowska as older Anne, starring some of the best Polish actors at the time. It is possible these days to listen to the 4 or so hours on YouTube these days – I did so about two months ago and it was quite an experience: reliving of childhood with surges of emotions rushing back.

Below are the covers of the first 3 cassettes from that radio series:

Anne Shirley is such as old story. “Old” is perhaps not a suitable word, though. “Vintage”, perhaps. Just gets better with time. As an adult, I understand more of what Lucy Maud’s messaging was – at least of what my interpretation of it is. Yet, now and again– no, frequently, I am just like that boy of 12 years old in the 80s in Poland when I read about Anne cruelly kept apart from Diana, Matthew asking Rachel Lynde to help him with getting the puff sleeves dress for Anne and Anne and Marilla sharing the intimate, sorrowful night after Matthew’s death – and I weep.

Emotions do not grow old. I am not sure they ever should.

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