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My namesake

November 19, 2018

Okay, she was created before I was, so I suppose I’m her namesake.

Yes, Anne with an E. Isn’t that the most beautiful title sequence you’ve ever seen? If he was still alive, I would assume it had been designed by Gustav Klimt.

When I heard the CBC was doing yet another version of Anne of Green Gables, I rolled my eyes. Really? What was the point? Well, turns out there was a point. This show is so much more than another remake. (Not least because, three seasons in, Matthew is still with us.)

I can’t remember how old I was when I first read the book. Probably about nine or ten. I was one of those naughty kids with a torch under the covers, reading long past my official bedtime. That’s what I was doing when Matthew died. I started crying. I climbed out of bed, fled to the livingroom and clambered on to my mother’s lap (something I hadn’t done for a long time) and wailed about Matthew’s death. My mother cuddled and comforted me until I’d stopped weeping, then led me back to bed. She tucked me in, smiled and told me we’d wait until the next day to discuss why I was still awake and reading long past lights out. She stayed with me until I was asleep.

That is my most vivid memory of reading the book, although much more of it stayed with me. I very much identified with Anne.

And not just because our names were spelled the same way. (I can’t tell you how many times, whilst spelling my name to someone over the phone, I’d say, “Anne with an E”, only to have the person on the other end say, “Anne Whitney?” No, I’d correct. My first name is spelt with an E. Someone once asked what difference it made. “Well,” I said, “one’s my name and the other one isn’t.”) Yes, I understand the importance of that E.

I was an only child with a very vivid imagination, so we also had that in common. And I, too, was a freak. Not because I had red hair (although my mum told me I was born with a full head of flaming red hair, all of which promptly fell out to be replaced by blonde), but because I wore glasses from a very early age. While Avonlea Anne was teased mercilessly about her hair colour, I was teased mercilessly about my glasses.

Unlike past productions of this story, this one has the perfect Anne. Amybeth McNulty is exactly the Anne I pictured when I read the book. Even if this production didn’t vary a fair bit from the source material, a remake would have been in order just to see this young woman in the role.

I watched the end of the third series last night and was so sorry it was over.

Earlier in the series, Anne, lamenting the fact that she would never be beautiful and, blaming her red hair, took the disastrous step of attempting to dye it black. Needless to say this didn’t work, so her life was made even more miserable by having her hair cut to the length of a boy’s.

Watching that episode made me feel exactly as I’d felt as an adolescent.

There comes a moment in the lives of many, many girls when they are faced with the reality that they will never be pretty or popular with boys. It is an awful, awful moment, because at that age being pretty is everything. No one will ever love you or want you if you are not pretty. Everyone will make fun of you if you are not pretty. Your entire life will be spent in the misery of not being pretty. It is a grim, grim moment that sticks with you for a long, long time.

When I was in my early teens, my best friend was the prettiest girl in school. Ann (without an E) had a boyfriend named Mike, who, not surprisingly, was the handsomest boy in school. Mike had a best friend named Angus, a prematurely tall and gawky lad. The four of us hung about together a lot. Ann went off to a different school and we completely lost touch. No idea what happened to Mike, but Angus and I remained friends for many years. We ran into one another at a party sometime in our twenties. I don’t know how the subject came up, but I found myself telling Angus that I’d often wondered why Ann had picked me as a best friend. Was it to make her look even better by contrast? Was it because I could never be considered competition? No, Angus assured me, it was for the same reason Mike had picked him: to look smarter and funnier. We had what they, for all their looks, would never have. Wow.

How wonderful it must be for girls of that age, who may never have read the book, to watch a programme on television in which the lovely Diana has neither the wit nor the spirit of the wonderful Anne with an E.

Thank you, CBC.

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