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Entering my twenties and what I’ve learned from Anne Shirley

Written by Arts, Book Reviews, Editor's Picks

In the face of nostalgia as I approach twenty-one, Anne of the Island by L. M Montgomery has really inspired me. This unapologetically wholesome novel is the third in the series about the life of an adopted Canadian orphan, Anne Shirley. Bright, enthusiastic and joyful, Anne’s approach to life is one I intend to adopt in the coming decade.

Why? Because I can identify with her. She expresses my feelings exactly during periods of change as she goes away from home to study: ‘ “Where’s all your philosophy gone Anne?” “It’s submerged under a great, swamping wave of loneliness and homesickness” ’ (Chapter 3). I felt this particularly keenly while on my Year Abroad in Paris this year, living outside the student bubble in a country less welcoming than I had imagined. Also, like me, she experiences regret as she turns twenty, ‘ “I suppose you feel kind of sorry” said Aunt Jamesina “The teens are such a nice part of life” […] Yes, I’m sorry, and a little dissatisfied as well” ’ (chapter 19).

“To think that this is my twentieth birthday, and that I’ve left my teens behind me forever”

(L. M. Montgomery 1915: chapter 19).

Nevertheless, Anne has two ways of tackling this feeling. Firstly, she draws encouragement from her friends. When I first turned twenty, I felt a sinking feeling of being a fully-fledged ‘responsible’ adult, when my tenth birthday seemed so recent! I began to envy the ‘young’, feeling my youth had slipped away in drops of wasted years with no chance to do things differently. The teenage Kate is never to be seen again.

Anne reflects similarly on her twentieth birthday, saying of her character, ‘ “I don’t feel that it’s what it should be. It’s full of flaws” ’ (chapter 19). In response to Anne’s ruefulness comes the advice of her elderly friend: ‘ “So’s everybody’s […] Mine’s cracked in a hundred places […] Do your duty by God and your neighbour and yourself, and have a good time” ’. (Chapter 19). I intend, like Anne, to follow the advice of such friends, who also say ‘ “You can do your work so much better if you’ve had a good bout of play first” ’. (Chapter 35). That is to say, ‘Have some fun once in a while!’.

“ I suppose we’ll get used to being grown up in time” said Anne cheerfully ’ (Chapter 1)

L.M Montgomery, Chapter 1

Secondly, Anne always sees the good in this time of life.‘ “ I suppose we’ll get used to being grown up in time” said Anne cheerfully ’ (Chapter 1). Rather than giving up on herself, she continues to learn as the novel goes on, later summing up her time at university: “I really have learned to look on each little hindrance as a jest and each great one as the foreshadowing of victory.” (Chapter 37). Yet it is not a selfish victory that Anne seeks, but one that blesses others: “ I shall leave here my fancies and dreams to bless the next comer,” (Chapter 38). It is with this altruistic determination that I would like to approach my twenties.

So, after eleven months of reflection, I conclude that my twenties are a gift to be shared with those around me, not the end of a good time. I’m excited for what the next ten years will hold!

Last modified: 25th July 2020

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