Join us on a musical sleigh ride through stories with our Christmas show Jingle’s Magic Sleighbook now

Anne Shirley

from Anne of Green Gables

Upload your character

By Rebecca

A photo of Rebecca Dowman in a red wig holding the book Anne of Green Gables

She is a feeling. A bitter-sweet flashback of childhood, warmth and home.

Anne Shirley was 11 when I first ‘met’ her: a mail-order orphan with long, red braids awaiting collection by Matthew Cuthbert at Bright River railway station. Shy farmer Matthew was in for a surprise, the first of many concerning Anne, as he and his sister Marilla had requested a boy…

I was eight, sitting with my Mum in her chaotic kitchen, watching the 1972 BBC mini-series on a black and white portable. Every Sunday for five weeks we followed LM Montgomery’s Anne through her fears of returning to the orphanage – “my life is a graveyard of forlorn hopes” – her adventures with ‘bosom friend’ Diana Barry, her despair over her red hair and freckles, the classroom rivalry with sworn enemy Gilbert Blythe, and her sorrow on gentle Matthew’s death.

Mum and I watched endless TV children’s classics together but no other made us laugh, gasp and cry as much. Anne got into the most fabulous scrapes. Like the time the ‘black’ dye she bought from a pedlar turned her hair green, or when she was rescued – humiliation-on-humiliation – by Gilbert after the boat in which she was posing as Tennyson’s fair lily maid sank.

And, unlike many heroines, she had a cracking temper. Gilbert suffered a broken slate on his head and five years of blank hostility after calling her Carrots, and she gave a critical neighbour as good as she got. “’I hate you,’ she cried in a choked voice, stamping her foot on the floor. ‘How dare you call me skinny and ugly? How dare you say I’m freckled and red-headed. You are a rude, impolite and unfeeling woman.’” Go girl!

I wanted to be like Anne. Shy and awkward, I yearned for the confidence to chatter effortlessly like she did and to have a Diana to signal to from my gable window. And I longed to have a Gilbert Blythe as ‘my good enemy’ because, of course, Mum and I always knew they were destined to be together. “’I have a dream,’ he said slowly,” – working up to The Proposal – “’I persist in dreaming it, although it has often seemed to me that it could never come true. I dream of a home with a hearth fire in it, a cat and dog, the footsteps of friends – and you…’” Hell will freeze over before those lines fail to make me sniffle.

Thirty years after we first watched Anne of Green Gables, Mum and I saw it performed at the Lilian Baylis Theatre. I did not know it then but the long illness that would steal Mum’s memories had already begun rolling in. Some years later, to try to help her recapture joy, I compiled ‘Val’s happiness book’ filled with special reminders – cards, party invitations, photos of babies, weddings, laughter – and a bookmark from that show, illustrated with a long, red braid.

The 26 writing group has worked with The Story Museum as part of its 26 Characters exhibition. The group have produced a collection of poems, and couldn’t resist being part of the gallery of favourite characters.

Back to gallery