Anne Goes to College

Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel

Higher learning for women was a subject that L.M. Montgomery did not shy away from in her Anne novels.  In Anne of the Island, Anne Shirley is the first girl to leave Avonlea in order to attend college.  And Montgomery’s own experience with yearning for higher scholastics formed some inspiration for the plot of the third novel in her Anne series

AAnne Goes to Colleges Elizabeth Waterston writes in Magic Island: The Fictions of L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island would, “be pioneer in presenting four years at a city college, where women students live off-campus and study and flirt and form friendships in the shadow of a long male tradition of collegial life.” Montgomery wrote Anne of the Island with information from the journal she wrote during her one years as a student at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.  She also used the experience of her female cousin who, with Montgomery’s help and persuasion, also enrolled at a university in a time when only a handful of young girls were able to do so. “Montgomery was setting out to write a bildungsroman, an important and maybe unique story of a young woman’s intellectual aspirations, in a time of critical changes in the status of women,” Waterston writes.  “She planned to call her new book ‘Anne of Redmond’ emphasizing the shift to a brilliantly coloured world on the mainland (a ‘red-monde’), where Anne can enjoy ‘the widening of horizons and interests’.” Waterston asserts that the previous two Anne books prepared the way for Anne’s higher learning.  Marilla made it possible for Anne to leave Avonlea by inviting Mrs. Lynde to come live with her at Green Gables.  But Anne also leaves for college not unaware of the disapproving views, helped by women as well, about young girls and college.  In Anne of Green Gables, Mrs. Lynde commented, “I don’t believe in girls going to college with the men and cramming their heads full of Latin and Greek and all that nonsense.” And at the very beginning of Anne of the Island, some of the older women of Avonlea voice their criticisms.  They, “cite the danger to a girl’s health, the cost, the folly, the probability that she will face snobbery as a country girl among the Kingsport stylish co-eds,” Waterston writes.  Mrs. Lynde says, “I don’t believe…that the students in such colleges ever do much else than flirt” – to which Marilla responds, “They must study a little.” In Anne’s era, these attitudes were not surprising.  In 1874, the year Montgomery was born, only a handful of courageous women would have applied for university.  Dalhousie University awarded a BA to a woman for the first time only ten years before Montgomery was admitted there. Montgomery left for university without the full support of her family and only had enough money to spend one year there, during which time she took many English courses.  This university would come to be a model for Redmond College in Anne of the Island.  

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