Matthew Cuthbert is one of the most beloved characters from Anne of Green Gables,whether in the book or on screen. His quiet manner and open acceptance of Anne, pretty much right from the moment they meet, have endeared him to audiences for over 100 years. As Anne said, “I felt that he was a kindred spirit as soon as ever I saw him.”
Tears cannot help welling up when Richard Farnsworth as Matthew Cuthbert, lurches over in the middle of the field and Megan Follows as Anne Shirley rushes toward him. As Anne holds Matthew in her arms, and they share their last heartfelt moment, you are hard pressed to not turn into a weepy mess. In its finality, it is an absolutely beautiful moment. Matthew was Anne’s father, in everything but blood, and his passing is her catalyst into womanhood. And yet, his death is keenly lamented by many.
“Many people have told me that they regretted Matthew's death in Green Gables. I regret it myself,” wrote Lucy Maud Montgomery in her autobiography, The Alpine Path. “If I had the book to write over again, I would spare Matthew for several years. But when I wrote it, I thought he must die, that there might be a necessity for self-sacrifice on Anne's part, so poor Matthew joined the long procession of ghosts that haunt my literary past.”
Montgomery’s regret is one that many writers feel after killing off their characters. When writing about life, even if fictional, there must always be death, often as the catalyst to propel the main character to growth or as a literary device to move the story forward. In saying that she felt it was necessary that Anne had some self-sacrifice, Montgomery is not holding Matthew up as a sacrificial character, rather she is acknowledging that his death was meant to lend itself to a profound moment for Anne- and indeed, aside from causing her to mature, Matthew’s death bridges the final emotional gap between Marilla and Anne when they unite in their grief for him.
As a plot device though, whether seen on screen or read in Montgomery’s prose in the novel, Matthew’s death leaves the reader/viewer feeling truly bereft for Anne and for themselves.
Perhaps, Matthew Cuthbert is one of those rare people (real or fictional) who is simply too good; whose presence, while quiet, added something vital to the lives of those around him. Montgomery is known for her strong female characters, who become both memorable and cherished. Matthew Cuthbert is the rare male figure who stands among them, loved for his gentleness, quiet kind spirit and open heart.