Some time ago I wrote an article for Folly, a journal written and read by children’s literature enthusiasts. It was one of a series of Desert Island Books and in it I outlined the books I couldn’t live without. As I wrote, I realised that they all had one thing in common: a strong sense of community and/or place. I also realised that, for me, that was a huge part of their appeal.
One of those books was Anne of the Island by LM Montgomery. Paradoxically, it’s the only title in the series that’s not set wholly in Prince Edward Island. In it, Anne goes to study at Redmond College in Nova Scotia (at least, I think Kingsport is in Nova Scotia but I’ve never been totally sure) and much of the action takes place there.
I’ve said before that it’s my favourite LMM book. Why? Because I want to be part of Anne’s group of friends and live in Patty’s Place with them. Stella, Priscilla and Philippa are bright, funny, caring girls and are an excellent foil to Anne’s daydreaming nature. The book effortlessly captures their joys and disappointments, their successes and disasters. And it makes Patty’s Place real. The camaraderie between the four girls and Aunt Jamesina creates a strong sense of community.
But the place that we are given a strong sense of isn’t Kingsport or Redmond College; it’s the Island. The book starts and finishes there and we see glimpses of it in between. As she sails away for her first term, Anne says ‘one’s native shore is the land one loves the best, and that’s good old PEI for me’ but she only fully realises how much she loves it after four years spent largely away from it. It’s during these years that she grows up and becomes more mature, finally completely understanding what is really valuable.
It’s clearly significant that Anne refuses Roy Gardner but I think it’s also important that she only accepts Gilbert Blythe’s proposal once they are back home in Avonlea. When he proposes in Kingsport, Anne is confused about many things (and I can’t tell you how annoyed I was with her when I first read the book!) but one of them is where she belongs. By the time she finishes college, she has visited Bolingbroke, the place of her birth, and realises that she feels no tie to it but that her heart really belongs to PEI.
It is a cliche that one has to leave something to discover what is truly precious but that doesn’t make it any less true! And Anne of the Island exemplifies it beautifully. It takes a bit longer and another cliche in the form of a deathbed revelation for her to see with whom her future lies but the two are inextricably linked. Only with Gilbert in Prince Edward Island can Anne be completely happy. And the tone, as well as the content, of the last chapter demonstrates that.
Maybe you’re wondering which other books I can’t live without (or at least couldn’t when I wrote my article). Well, I think I’ll have to leave you to wonder! Perhaps, over time, I’ll tell you about some more of them…