Anne Shirley is a fictional girl who was created by Lucy Maud Montgomery at the turn of the 20th century in her novel, Anne of Green Gables. While Anne was invented, her situation was based on a real story from Montgomery’s hometown and her appearance was lifted from a photograph of Evelyn Nesbit, which Montgomery had clipped from New York’s Metropolitan Magazine and put on the wall of her bedroom.
While this is an internationally beloved story, it has quite a sad premise. A middle-aged brother and sister “order” an orphan boy to help them on their farm, but are sent a girl instead. While they initially want to send her back, she endears herself to them, starts school, and makes a life in the small community.
Montgomery’s stories about Anne were intended for a broad readership and this was achieved, with Anne of Green Gables having international success. Girls can relate to Anne’s personality and her friends, while boys seem to relate to the main male character Gilbert Blythe.
This illustration captures perfectly the scene described in the book:
Gilbert reached across the aisle, picked up the end of Anne’s long red braid, held it out at arm’s length and said in a piercing whisper:
Then Anne looked at him with a vengeance!
She did more than look. She sprang to her feet, her bright fancies fallen into cureless ruin. She flashed one indignant glance at Gilbert from eyes whose angry sparkle was swiftly quenched in equally angry tears.
“You mean, hateful boy!” she exclaimed passionately. “How dare you!”
And then — thwack! Anne had brought her slate down on Gilbert’s head and cracked it —slate not head — clear across.
It is important for Anne to fit into her new school and with new friends, so her violent reaction to Gilbert’s taunts seem a bit over the top. But she had also been raised in orphanages, so her outburst also might come from a deep seated need to protect herself.
As for her portrayal, Anne is shown in a dress typical of her time. Her flat chest and boyish figure are still pronounced, letting us know that she is still in her youth.