Anne of Green Gables Novel Beat Sheet
Genre: Rites of Passage
Canadian author L.M. (Lucy Maud) Montgomery wrote a beloved historical children’s/young adult series that quickly became a favorite among readers of all ages. The heroine, clever orphan Anne (“spelled with an E”) Shirley, is a character known as much for her imaginative spirit and her penchant for getting herself into social scrapes as she is for being a fiery redhead.
This first novel in the multi-book series, set on Prince Edward Island between 1876 and 1881, covers the period in Anne’s life from when she arrives in Avonlea (a picturesque, albeit fictional, small town) at age eleven and it spans her school years until she’s sixteen.
Mistakenly sent to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a pair of middle-aged siblings who lived together and who had originally intended to adopt a boy, Anne must learn to make her way in this new world of school and society. For a well-intentioned, hardworking, and very bright girl—but one who is ever so dramatic and prone to mishaps—this proves to be more difficult than her adoptive family ever expected.
The popularity of the story over the past century led to more stage and screen adaptations than I can count, but the version I most love to watch is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s film featuring Megan Follows as Anne and the late Jonathan Crombie as the handsome Gilbert Blythe. I’ve seen this production (and its sequels!) many times and have read the first several books almost as often. The stories are humorous and heartwarming and, though I have neither freckles nor red hair, I couldn’t help but wish for both after devouring Anne’s adventures.
Immensely readable and enjoyable, Anne of Green Gables is a classic for the young and the young at heart. Since its publication in 1908, it’s sold more than 50,000,000 copies and has been translated into at least 20 languages. If you haven’t yet had a chance to pick up a copy, I hope you’ll give it a read sometime and experience the joys and sorrows of life in Avonlea for yourself.
Here’s my take on the beats:
Opening Image (pages 1-8, although the first six pages of this edition are front matter; the story officially begins on pg. 7): The novel opens in the point of view of nosy next-door neighbor Rachel Lynde, which is somewhat unusual given that she’s a secondary character. Mrs. Lynde, however, represents the townspeople of Avonlea, and when she spots Matthew Cuthbert driving his buggy and wearing his best suit—oh my!—she just knows something out of the ordinary is afoot. She immediately sets off to Marilla Cuthbert’s house, Green Gables, which Marilla shares with her brother Matthew, to determine what on earth is going on.
Theme Stated (pages 12-13): After being forced to confess to Mrs. Lynde that Matthew is headed out to pick up the boy they’re planning to adopt, Marilla is faced with her neighbor’s surprise and a series of warnings. Marilla responds by telling her neighbor and friend that “…there’s risks in pretty near everything a body does in this world.” When Mrs. Lynde recounts further horrors about the dangers of adoption, specifically when dealing with a girl, Marilla adds, “Well, we’re not getting a girl… I’d never dream of taking a girl to bring up.”
The theme revolves around a willingness to take risks—for Anne, that means opening herself up to big dreams beyond even her wild imaginings and, for Marilla, that means taking on the role of a parent for the first time, even in her more advanced years, and learning how to raise a spirited girl.
Set-Up (pages 7-25): Matthew, a shy man of few words, arrives at the train station and, to his shock, there isn’t a young boy waiting for him as expected to help him with the chores and farm work. Instead, there’s Anne, who’s a highly imaginative and almost unfathomably talkative girl. She jabbers about her time at the orphanage and how there wasn’t much “scope for the imagination” there. She tells him snippets of her background and, even while she tries to speak positively of her past, it’s obvious to Matthew and to the reader that she’s had a very hard life for an 11-year-old.
She’s delighted by commonplace things and is moved to give fanciful titles to places like Barry’s Pond, which she renames the “Lake of Shining Waters.” Matthew is utterly charmed by her and can’t bring himself to tell her she can’t stay with them for more than a night or two. He’s grateful his sister Marilla is such a firm and practical woman. She’s going to have to be the one to break it to Anne that she’ll need to return to the orphanage. Secretly, he’s already begun to wish Anne could stay.
Catalyst (pages 25-31): Upon meeting Anne, Marilla is not only surprised by this unexpected youngster, but she’s positively determined to return the orphan to where she belongs and get whatever 11- or 12-year-old boy is available instead. Anne bursts into tears at not being wanted simply because she’s a girl, and she rants dramatically in a way that completely disrupts the equilibrium of the two original Green Gables residents.
Debate (pages 31-49): Marilla knows her soft-spoken brother rarely asks for anything and, yet, Matthew has made it clear in his subtle way that he’d like to keep Anne. Marilla herself, certain the child is practically a heathen, investigates the situation further. She learns a bit more about Anne’s tragic background, not to mention the unpleasant future that would likely befall the girl if the Cuthberts don’t take her in.
Marilla decides that, perhaps, on a trial basis, they could keep Anne. After all, Marilla feels she herself has had “a pretty easy life of it so far” but that now her time for some trouble has come. Marilla will do her duty and take on the project of raising Anne.
Break into Two (page 49): Anne’s official bringing up begins at Green Gables and, in fact, the title of the eighth chapter is aptly named “Anne’s Bringing-up is Begun.”
B Story (page 53): While the A Story is primarily about Anne’s transition from girlhood to womanhood—with Marilla and Matthew learning how to raise their new daughter and Anne herself beginning the process of growing up in Avonlea—the B Story revolves around friendship, particularly Anne’s long desire for a “bosom friend.” Anne hears more about Diana Barry, a girl of Anne’s age who lives nearby (along Barry’s Pond, aka Lake of Shining Waters) and, sight unseen, Anne is already certain that the two of them will become fast friends.
Lonely orphan Anne has never had an actual human girl as a friend (only imaginary female friends), so she sets her heart on finally having a BFF and sharing all of her experiences and childhood secrets with someone special. Diana, who’s away visiting relatives at the start of the book, will indeed become this treasured friend during the “Fun and Games” section of the story.
Fun and Games (pages 56-113): Growing up isn’t an easy process, especially for someone who struggles deeply with her pride and who’s so talented at finding trouble. Anne begins interacting with the good folks of Avonlea… and they with her. Anne meets outspoken neighbor Mrs. Lynde who, within moments, insults Anne (and vice versa), leading to a temper tantrum on Anne’s part and a spectacular standoff. She is highly sensitive about her hair color and her appearance, which is the source of many a frustration with other characters in the story.
Gilbert Blythe, a boy who attends school with Anne and Diana, makes the massive error of teasing Anne about her hair and calling her “Carrots.” This results in a longstanding personal and academic rivalry, as Gil becomes her nemesis for the vast majority of the novel. (Later in the series, Anne will eventually fall in love with Gil and marry him but, make no mistake, the girl can hold a grudge for years, and the transition from enemies to friends to lovers doesn’t happen quickly!) There are endless “firsts” for Anne—not only finally finding a bosom friend in Diana but, also, going to her first picnic/ice cream social, attending parties, meeting important people and making an impression (!!), and simply experiencing life as a normal school girl in an idyllic setting, rather than as a poor and lonely orphan.
Midpoint (pages 113): False defeat. Marilla allows Anne to invite Diana over for afternoon tea. While at Green Gables, Diana becomes accidentally intoxicated on the currant wine Anne served to her, thinking it was raspberry cordial. Diana feels sick, returns home drunk, and Diana’s mother forbids her daughter from having anything to do with Anne Shirley ever again. In despair, Anne offers her best apology, and even Marilla tries to intervene on Anne’s behalf, but Diana’s mother will not be moved. Diana isn’t allowed to play with Anne any more or even talk with her at school. Both girls are heartbroken.
Bad Guys Close In (pages 113-187): In the midst of this major friendship drama, there are other issues swirling around in Anne’s life, particularly the realm of their little schoolhouse. With Diana off limits to her, Anne is forced to expand her social circle and begins to get to know some of the other girls. Primarily, however, she throws herself into her studies—in small part because she can’t spend time playing with Diana any longer, and in large part because her rivalry with Gilbert Blythe heats up. Competition spurs Anne and Gil both to higher academic achievement, which, though challenging, is necessary for further scholastic opportunities later.
When Diana’s little sister comes down with the croup and their parents are out of town, Diana runs to Green Gables in desperation, hoping Anne can help. In her years before coming to Avonlea, Anne took care of many babies and had dealt with this illness before. She saves the life of Diana’s little sister. As a result, Diana’s mother finally relents and gratefully invites Anne back into their lives again.
There are several additional mishaps and misunderstandings that require Anne to apologize to someone or to heal after accidents, but with chapter titles such as “A Concert, a Catastrophe, and a Confession,” “A Good Imagination Gone Wrong,” and “An Unfortunate Lily Maid,” the reader is forewarned that Anne will face her share of disasters.
All Is Lost (page 187-190): Whiff of death. While playacting a “romantic” death scene with her friends, Anne’s boat is set adrift and floats away as planned. That it begins to leak and strands Anne under a bridge in the middle of the large pond is not at all what she planned. Gilbert comes to her rescue, but she still stubbornly refuses to forgive him and become friends, even though it’s been a couple of years since he’d first insulted her by calling her “Carrots.”
Dark Night of the Soul (page 190-192): After Gil angrily rows away, Anne feels a surprising pang of regret. She finds herself facing her own flaws, wishing she could have let go of her pride and, perhaps, answered Gil differently. But her biggest realization is that, for her, growing up means learning from her mistakes. She recounts some of her shortcomings (i.e., meddling with things that don’t belong to her, letting her imagination run wild, carelessness in cooking, and vanity) and the specific incidents from the past two years that “cured” her of these faults. At this point, though, she decides that this latest calamity will cure her, once and for all, of being “too romantic.”
Break into Three (page 192-199): This marks a new stage in Anne’s life where she’s beginning to be treated more like an adult than a child. Diana’s aunt invites the two girls to town for the Exhibition, and it’s a wondrous experience for Anne. She’s lavished with delicacies and delights but, even so, she realizes she wasn’t born for big city life. However fabulous the adventure, her favorite part is coming home.
Finale (pages 199-254): Anne’s path to womanhood moves more quickly in this section. Her academic achievements rise to the forefront of the story, and it’s clear that her hard work studying plus her natural intellectual gifts make her a top student—although still on equal footing with Gil. She gets a spot in the class to prepare for the Queen’s College entrance exams and, while her rivalry with Gil intensifies, Anne feels a sadness that this academic challenge isn’t one she and Diana can share. (Diana’s parents wouldn’t let her attend college even if she did get in, but Matthew and Marilla want Anne to have that opportunity.)
Anne also notices that she’s nearing the end of her childhood and actually recognizes how much she’s grown up. There are fewer social gaffes and more occasions where her maturity shines through. She wants to “grow up successfully” and feels that the responsibility to do so is on her shoulders.
Meanwhile Marilla, realizing how much she loves the young woman Anne had grown up to be, also feels a sense of loss. She and Matthew have done a good job parenting her, but they’ll miss her terribly when she leaves Avonlea. Anne does, indeed, pass the exams, and she even ties for first place with Gil. She earns her teacher’s certification and wins a college scholarship. Her friendship with Diana has stood the test of time and distance. But then Matthew dies suddenly and Marilla begins to lose her vision. Anne’s priorities are clear: She won’t leave Marilla alone in Green Gables.
Final Image (pages 255-256): After learning that Gilbert has given up his teaching position in Avonlea and taken a job further away so Anne can have the local school and live at home, the two of them finally meet and talk as (mostly) mature adults and friends. There have been both risks and rewards along her journey to womanhood. Anne reflects that despite—or, perhaps, because of—these recent changes, there is now a “bend in the road,” making her life exciting and unpredictable again. Nothing can take away her joy, her “birthright of fancy,” or her world of dreams.