Not My Anne – but Much More Vibrant: A Defense of “Anne with an E” on Netflix

Like thousands of other girls in my generation, Anne Shirley, as portrayed by Megan Follows, embodied the young girl I wanted to be, and for an awkward teacher’s pet as myself, her story became my oasis.

I was Anne….

Literally.

Ann as Anne
Santa and his elves worked very hard to create my Anne look the Christmas after I fell in love with “the Anne girl.” I only found out as an adult just how difficult it was for my parents to find those lace-up, slightly heeled, just-over-the-ankle boots – since this ensemble was lovingly hand-sewn and created before the internet made internet shopping accessible.

To this day, I still prefer the movie over the series of books, which is rare for a bibliophile such as myself. So, when I heard there was a new Anne series available on Netflix, I had decided I would not watch – nobody could capture the essence of “my Anne,” or display such a beautiful portrayal of imagination helping to conquer all!

After reading a harsh critique of the series, I began wondering if there was more to the story than the feel-good of the series in the 1980s. Embedded deep within the comment thread of an article, I found a more sympathetic review and my fate was sealed – I knew I would have to binge-watch this series to form my own opinion.

Given the more favorable review, I decided to watch this series, not as an “Anne devotee,” but rather as an adult… who has worked extensively, and lived with, children whose pasts are like Anne’s – children who are survivors of abuse and neglect… I had to put on my social worker hat.

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When I watched, and subsequently read Anne of Green Gables as a child, I got her – the imagination, the social awkwardness, the difficulty fitting in with peers… shoot – I still get her! The tragic story of the orphan, while not overlooked, was an underlying theme that was largely undeveloped. Instead, it was more of a fact stated several times – that she came most recently from an orphan asylum, and had been orphaned at the age of three months.

The Netflix series, “Anne with an E,” however, develops that story.

And it is uncomfortable.

But, I assert it is an uncomfortable necessity. This series comes with a rating for older children – PG13; and, I would say that is an accurate rating. I would go so far as to not allow my thirteen year old to watch it without me, either, and I would tack on an extra “trigger warning” for victims of abuse.

Because, like it or not, what we didn’t understand as children in love with Anne, is that Anne Shirley was a victim of abuse and neglect. When fate placed her on the woodpile of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert’s local train station, Anne had eleven years of abuse and neglect to overcome. And, “Anne with an E” doesn’t gloss over that.

Having come from an orphan asylum, her experiences as envisioned by the producers of the Netflix series are brought to light, and directly mimic bullying, aggressive, abusive behavior that sadly occurs occasionally in today’s modern group homes. There always seems to be the weakest link in a group home pecking order, and Anne, the starry eyed dreamer that she is, will always be a target – whether she was in a group home in the 1800s, or today.

On page 55 in Trauma through a Child’s Eyes, by Peter A. Levine and Maggie Kline, the authors inform readers,

School-aged children, like preschoolers and teens, exhibit variations of the common symptoms of trauma that were described at length earlier in this chapter: hyperarousal, dissociation, contraction, and shutdown (or freeze), accompanied by feelings of helplessness. This age group (roughly from five to eleven years old) likewise is susceptible to re-living the event, having sleep disturbances, suffering from somatic complaints, and exhibiting inconsistent behavior punctuated with new fears and aggression. They are particularly susceptible to worry, with graphic “worst case scenario” thinking that is far more imaginative than plausible…

This older group has more resources available, including more highly developed language and reasoning skills, as well as more advanced moral consciousness and altruism. Additionally, because the children are of school age, they have more demands and responsibilities placed upon them to concentrate and learn. Because of these factors, for many children who have experienced trauma, the signs and symptoms may surface (or become more pronounced) at school due to the additional pressures of academic achievement and socialization.

Seen through this view, Anne suddenly becomes more heroic than ever. The producers of the Netflix series show parts of her history of abuse through flashbacks and her memories which intrude at the most inconvenient times. This series displays her hypersensitivity to certain instances, and tackles her fear of abandonment by showing how she thirsts for, and longs for a “kindred spirit,” and quite frankly attempts to develop friendships quicker than most other children her age. This series digs into her history of neglect, honing in on how she uses her imagination to cope. Her “friend” Katie Maurice becomes not just an imaginary glass friend, but a haunting realization that any child placed under such significant stressors in a young life, would require some way of dissociating from the pain and trauma they are experiencing.

No, “Anne with an E,” is not the Anne Shirley we knew and loved.

Yet, she is all the more heroic when we, as adults, are forced to recognize, and sit uncomfortably at times in our seats, and watch what was all too common an experience for an orphan in LM Montgomery’s day… and, even still occurs far more frequently than we would like to admit today.

Even the (admittedly) drawn out sequence of the “pet mouse” scene (episode three for those wanting to skip) made it apparent to me, as a professional having worked with similar children, the social awkwardness of a child today, who has been prematurely exposed to sexual activity. It displayed how these young victims have a tendency to take stories a little too far for polite company, and sets them even further apart from their peers. And, regardless of “the times” back then, the Netflix portrayal of the instructor grooming Prissy Andrews, his pupil, is just that – grooming behavior. Even in LM Montgomery’s time, it was considered inappropriate, hence the reason the instructor gets transferred.

It’s an uncomfortable truth.

Finally, “Anne with an E,” deviates wildly from the Gilbert Blythe script we know and love from LM Montgomery. Who can forget the incensed Anne, slamming her slate over Gil’s head, ranting how she was not carrots, and vowing to never speak to him again?! If you’ve seen the movies, that scene is forever seared in your imagination, along with the “You go, Anne,” elation the scene invokes! And, because of that, I wonder if producers removed the storyline almost entirely – because nobody can fill the Jonathan Crombie “Gilbert Blythe” shoes… ever.

Also, by removing that part of the storyline, the producers were able to continue developing Anne’s internal, personal struggle and story, focusing on her uncomfortable, foreign road to most of us, leading up to presenting the well-adjusted, well-rounded woman she becomes.

So, no, this Anne is not the one I remember.

She is far more bruised, wounded, and complex…

She has larger hurdles to overcome than I ever imagined as a young girl. Because, as a young girl, I wasn’t thinking of Anne as being a victim of child abuse and neglect.

But, I am no longer a young girl, and instead, a seasoned adult with opened eyes.

The Anne in this Netflix series is deeper and richer than I remember. This depth in her character makes her heroism and beauty shine all the more bright. And, I for one, am hoping this series returns – to continue building the person who rises above all the tragedy in her life, and becomes an inspirational role model we know Anne becomes. I also encourage every adult to watch this series, especially if you are unfamiliar with abuse and neglect, and how it can impact young children so pervasively.

Ultimately, and most likely unwittingly, the producers of “Anne with an E” are setting the stage to prove Levine and Kline’s assertion on page 6, “…to help the child resolve a trauma, there needs to be a safe adult available.” By making her past more tangible, it opens our eyes to the horrible ramifications of abuse and neglect; and, it highlights the power of safe adults who are able to help a child through their trauma.

Trauma through a Child's Eyes book quoteWhich leads me to ask – how can we be safe adults to our collective children, if we aren’t willing to occasionally sit uncomfortably as we face the ugly reality of the effects of physical and sexual abuse, and neglect, on children? 

22 thoughts on “Not My Anne – but Much More Vibrant: A Defense of “Anne with an E” on Netflix

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  1. I love your perspective. I have to wonder, though, if it’s not so much a reflection of what Anne experienced before the story started? Or a reflection of how our society has changed? Like, I wonder what LM Montgonery intended (of course, given my literary background)…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would definitely agree with that… I would guess she intended to portray the rise above her initial experiences, and I acknowledge the producers probably didn’t put as much thought into what I read into it. 😉

      But, I couldn’t *not* avoid the parallels between their portrayal of flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and more, and what I’ve seen with children with similar backgrounds even today!

      Like

  2. I have such mixed feelings– on the one hand, I am fascinated at the angle of looking deeper into the trauma that Anne faced. On the other hand– I hate when Hollywood is gratuitous, adding in immoral content for the sake of adding in immoral content. I haven’t seen “Anne with an E” not only because we don’t have Netflix, but because based on the reviews I’ve seen, I haven’t known on which side of the line the film falls.

    Several people have commented on the addition of a feminist agenda as well, which is irritating. Anne is strong without having to say, “I am a girl, and I am strong.” I like the idea of looking beyond the words on the page, but I don’t like the idea of adapting Anne to our modern sensibilities. Your input is much appreciated!

    Thanks for your review.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your thoughts! I am sure producers added the content for immoral reasons – they’re doing it for the viewers. However, I’m hopeful my perspective helps some viewers understand an Anne with baggage – which impacts her in every situation as she learns to settle comfortably into her role at Green Gables.

      I am skeptical about another season – how they may take it… but, I definitely think this first season shows the plight of many children today (who may be acting out in classes, or the “odd kid” on the fringes of their peers) who have suffered at the hands of child abuse and neglect… even if they are in a loving environment, they still need to wade through those memories.

      And, I have had to go back and re-read LM Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables,” because of this! But, there are subtle nuances to the darkness she experienced, even in that writing.

      I can’t wait to hear your thoughts if you watch this series… but, again, this isn’t the “Anne” we knew growing up!

      Like

  3. People who have never worked with, lived with, or adopted children of abuse and neglect live in glass houses. They have no idea about what happens in the “real” world or about how “Anne with an E’ grasps the reality of such needy and hurt children. Child Welfare was not founded until the very early 1900″s. Before that, cases were referred to the ASPCA. Now tell me how constructive Child Welfare was at that time. I grew up in an upper class home with no idea what happens in the “real” world of children. Somewhere along the line I discovered child welfare and for 33 years worked with children of abuse and neglect. Imagine my surprise early on that children were needy in ways I never dreamed of…abuse, neglect, sexual assault, abandonment, Reactive Attachment, fear, lack of trust, no food, no place to live, and no one to really care. Dedicating my life to this work also opened the eyes of my children to the dangerous plight of those not so well loved and cared for. “Anne with an E” should be a constructive eye-opener to those who think this present series is over the top. They need to pull their heads out of the sand and see what the other half of the world can live with and live like. “Anne of Green Gables” gave many little girls a person to identify with and believe in. She was a lesson in being strong and how the eventual outcome for those little girls can be positive- and have hope. “Anne with an E” reaches out now to the girls who deal with what she dealt with. They identify with her in today’s terms. Let kids be kids…and let Anne’s be Anne’s. A girl for the times…….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand that critics of this series are upset that producers and Netflix ruined Anne and her experiences. But, I think it’s important to recognize even the Anne in the book (and movie) had some serious hurdles which she had to overcome!

      I was just hoping to provide an alternate perspective than just “they ruined it!”

      Thank you for your insight!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I never read or watched the original. My kids and I, yes my kids, love this version. (They didn’t start watching until episode 3) At the moment we are huge fans. As far as the violence and other matters I use those opportunities for teachable moments. Frankly I’m happy we’re watching a show where they language extends beyond words such as “bae”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for that insight – I am so glad you are using those moments as teaching moments… because you are correct! They *can* (and should be) teaching moments! And, yes – at least the language is a little more distinguished…

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I have to say after reading your piece, I think I might change my mind and watch it with my 14 year old who loved her books and the movies. I think there is a lot to talk about that maybe in the earlier movies, one just didn’t talk about those things! But these things are happening as you know and the lack of interest in them is sad. Just as we need to have more open conversation on being pro-life and ending abortion, we need to take a stand against this type of abuse , actually all types since being pro-life means All Lives Matter! Thank you for your well done piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughts. I certainly wanted to present another lens through which to view this series. It’s not the Anne your daughter will know and love, but she’s still there – the determination to rise above it all, and the love she experiences from the abrupt Marilla, unused to having a child around, and the compassionate Matthew! I hope you will give it a chance… and, as a previous responder said, use it as a teaching moment!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad to offer a different perspective. I would say Little Miss is probably still too young for the Netflix series, but my hope is that this sparks thought and conversation with adults – about ways we can be the “safe person” in a child’s life… and, not just our own children’s lives.

      I hope if you decide to watch the series, that you will keep these points in mind… even if they were unintended consequences of the producers! 🤗

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you very much for this well written, educated review of the Netflix “Anne”. As a longtime devotee of the book series, I firmly believe that L.M. Montgomery meant to convey the seriousness of the abuse that Anne suffered prior to coming to Matthew and Marilla’s house, and careful readers will see that Anne was not all light and sunshine. The sheer genius of Montgomery’s writing is that every single character (especially our Anne) is multifaceted and flawed, just as people are in real life, and some of those characters manage to rise above their pasts to become stronger, better and more alive. Why else would Anne resonate so much with so many people worldwide? Choosing to overlook the ugly parts of Anne’s early years does a disservice to the strength of Montgomery’s story as whole, and Netflix has captured what I feel might be more truthful rendition of Anne’s story.

    Two enthusiastic thumbs up for this review, Anni H.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This article reminds me of reading the book “Before Green Gables”. In this book, the author, Budge Wilson, covers some of the abuse alluded in the later books. It is hard to hear about abuse but I can see how important it is to be open to listening to the children in our life and being open to being there for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have *heard* of the book, but not read it. And, it actually makes me wonder if that is where some of the producers of the Netflix series got some of their content… 🤔 Thank you for sharing that idea.

      And, yes – it is so, so important to be open to listening and being there for the children in our lives.

      Thanks for stopping by?

      Like

  8. Well-said.

    You accurately point out that abuse still happens at times in orphanages. That is not good, and should not happen: ever.

    However, bad as such abuse is, I think it may be preferable to simply abandoning orphans: or sparing starvation or predators the trouble, by ‘mercifully’ killing them before they become a nuisance.

    I do not approve of abuse. As I said, that shouldn’t happen, ever. But I also recognize that our efforts at caring for the helpless, flawed as they are, are still efforts at caring.

    I’ll admit a bias. Some of my father’s extended family were among the ‘lucky’ children on orphan trains, who were acquired by adults who treated them as children: not cheap labor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree – flawed as they are, at least we are still attempting at caring, instead of allowing orphans to literally starve in the streets! And, thankfully, there is a lot of oversight now for staff in group homes, which minimizes (although, I’m aware does not eradicate) instances of abuse by the caregivers of group homes.

      This Anne series shows Anne suffering torment from other orphans in the group home. Amongst her peers, she is the weakest link. That abuse, since they are kids and group homes are so shortly hurting for adequate staff coverage, is what I was implying… the peer based torment, which goes on in any social group. But, it’s also why it needs to be addressed, as uncomfortable as it may be to discuss.

      And, I almost cried by your statement. It sounds like your father’s extended family found good homes… and, that is truly a blessing!

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and your family’s experience!

      Like

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