This post contains spoilers.
As I watched Netflix’s “Anne with an E”, my family had to tolerate my enraged shouts at my laptop and my bookish friends had to endure text message rants in real time:
Every episode is worse than the last.
WHY is this happening?
They RUINED MATTHEW!
I challenge anyone who likes this version to a duel!
THAT’S THE LAST SCENE?!
I was writing a review for America Magazine so I couldn’t just quit watching, bleach my eyes, and burn my laptop, but I have big issues with this betrayal of my friend, Anne Shirley. Partly because I think the series is an aggressive charge in the war on whimsy, but also because I think it failed in it’s lazy attempt to insert modern feminism into a classic story that already HAD a lot to say about the strength, intelligence, and power of women. And in the process, the creators ruined characters and plotlines that expressed that strength.
Anne is a classic heroine. She doesn’t need you to throw in the word feminism or yell peevishly, “I’m going to be my OWN woman!” in order to be inspiring. Not only does she get her teaching license at Queens and wins the Avery scholarship for being THE LITERAL BEST. She goes on to complete her BA at a four year college, a highly unusual accomplishment for a woman in that era. She turns down suitors right and left. And she becomes a published writer and principal of a school before she marries a man who appreciates her intellect and they raise a gorgeous family together. Why would she need you to modernize her?
And although the writers have Anne crying in desperation, “Girls can do anything boys can do!” they fail to demonstrate the strength of women in the plot. In Montgomery’s book, Anne’s first meeting with Gilbert Blythe involves her breaking her school slate over his head when he comments on her physical appearance.
Here, here! Am I right, ladies?
Yet in our Oh So Very Enlightened new Netflix series, White Knight Gilbert’s first encounter with Anne is when he saves her, the Helpless Damsel in Distress, from a bullying older schoolboy who is threatening her in the woods. C’mon now.
How about we skip the clumsy modernized dialogue and instead stop stripping the heroine of her strength? And for the record, if a prospective suitor is going to save me from a sticky situation, I’d prefer it to be from a hilariously disastrous rendition of Tennyson’s “Lancelot and Elaine,” thank you very much. But don’t expect me to be friends with you EVEN THEN, Gilbert Blythe.
The new series inserts a sewing circle called the “Progressive Mothers Club” in which the members spout their ideas about raising daughters and make comments like, “Feminism. What a wonderful word!” as they embroider together. Eye roll. However, it’s made of up the same women who villify Anne for sharing about her confused views about sexuality that she’s developed from living in a home in which the drunken husband would sexually assault his wife.
Wouldn’t a “progressive” woman show Anne compassion for her painful past? When Anne points out that something sexual is going on between a student and the teacher, the “Progressive Mothers Club” ladies find fault with her instead of taking action and removing the teacher in order to make the student (one of their own daughters) safe from a pedophiliac predator. Is this series supposed to score points for feminism? Because it’s doing a terrible job.
It seems that the creators mistakenly assume that the story of Anne would be more relatable to modern audiences if they use the word “Feminism” and at the same time, remove all the strong female characters. Miss Muriel Stacey, one of Anne’s schoolteachers in the book is an excellent role model for an intelligent, ambitious woman. She helps prepare her pupils to further their education at Queens Academy so that more choices will be open to them. But in the series, they’ve removed her altogether!
And why did they flatten Rachel Lynde? What happened to the bossy, unstoppable Mrs. Rachel that makes everyone (including her husband) cower in fear? This portrayal is a terrible butchering of her character, that’s what!
Now I’m not saying that we should all go back to 1908. I for one very much enjoy having the right to vote and I think we still have a long way to go in matters of women’s equality. But the creators of “Anne with an E” have altered Montgomery’s original story so that there are no longer many different characters showing us how a strong, capable woman can look. They’ve replaced it with a bleak world longing for the one kind of feminism acceptable in 2017, and it just doesn’t work.
How does this series equip our daughters to be fierce, intelligent, capable, independent, unrelenting, compassionate, ambitious, powerful women when it has removed the plotlines and characters that inspire those ideals in exchange for awkward alterations and dialogue inserted to gain progressive points?
Do we have to impoverish the tale in order to modernize it? I don’t think Anne Shirley needs a damn thing from you, “Anne with an E.” And that includes an invitation to your progressive mother’s sewing circle. She’s far too busy taking names, breaking slates, and inspiring girls the world over.
P.S.If you want to read a less ranty, more reasoned review of the series, I wrote one for America Magazine.