Did you know that Anne of Green Gables was panned by The New York Times when it was first published in 1908? An unnamed critic at The Times wrote a rather uncomplimentary review, calling Anne Shirley a “little asylum waif” and implying that L.M. Montgomery hadn’t laid any character development into her story.
The review reads as follows:
“The author undoubtedly meant her [the book’s protagonist, Anne Shirley] to be queer, but she is altogether too queer … She spoiled the author’s plan at the very outset and greatly marred a story that had in it quaint and charming possibilities. The author’s probable intention was to exhibit a unique development in this little asylum waif, but there is no real difference between the girl at the end of the story and the one at the beginning of it.” Unsigned, Saturday, July 18, 1908
The Times was apparently not the only publication to pan the book. In a letter to her pen-pal G.B. MacMillian, Montgomery said of the 66 reviews she had received
“sixty were kind and flattering beyond my highest expectations; two were a mixture of praise and blame, two were contemptuous and two positively harsh.”
Evidently though, the harsh reviews were hardly taken into consideration by the public who adored the novel, although I’m sure they must have been anathema for Montgomery. By October of 1908, four months after the initial review in The Times, Anne of Green Gables was in its 5th printing and showing no sign in declining in popularity, a fact that seemed to stun Montgomery, according to her journals.
“I had a letter from Page today asking me for my photo and personal sketch of how ‘Anne’ came to be written to give ‘inquisitive editors.’ It seems Anne is a big success. It is a ‘best seller’ and is in its fifth edition‑ I cannot realize this. My strongest feeling seems to be incredulity. I can’t believe that such a simple little tale, written in and of a simple PEI farming settlement, with a juvenile audience in view, can really have scored out in the busy world.”
Anne of Green Gables is now one of the most reprinted books in the world-something I’m sure the original reviewer of the novel at The New York Times could not have imagined when they wrote their now famous review.
To learn a bit more about L.M. Montgomery's inspirations, watch our documentary Spirit of Place on GazeboTV.