We knew from the beginning that Anne With An ‘E’ was going to be a more modern take on the Anne of Green Gables story. Feminist themes have been made more explicit, and most of the additions to the story have been for the purpose of highlighting the differences and similarities between the way women were treated back in the early 20th Century, and the way they’re treated today.
I expected that.
What I didn’t expect is for the show to find a way to address another form of inequality, one that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough in historical fiction, and still while staying true to the original story.
Fiction often makes it seem like gay people didn’t exist before the 21st century. Cries for LGBTQ+ representation in historical fiction are often met with the response that it’s impossible to add gay characters to a world in which they were not visible, not accepted. Anne With An ‘E’ could have done that. After all, the story it’s based on wasn’t just set in the early 1900s, it was also written in that same time period. There was no mention of LGBTQ+ characters in the books. And yet, the writers found a way to include representation that could mean the world to Anne of Green Gables fans who now get to see themselves in Miss Josephine Barry.
Let’s talk a little bit more about Miss Josephine, because I loved her in the books and I’m thrilled that the show has added this new dimension to her character without betraying who she is.
Josephine Barry has more in common with Anne that either of them think. She decided to go against societal norms and not worry about what other people thought of her. She lived with the love of her life, and she was happy, even though she wasn’t allowed to be herself.
What really struck me about her in this episode, though, was that she wasn’t allowed to grieve her wife. Everyone thought she was grieving her best friend, not the woman she had loved for years. Nobody realized just how much she’d lost.
The show is not being subtle in its way of bringing Anne and Gilbert just a little bit closer. Gilbert is an orphan now, just like Anne, and yet they’re orphans in completely different ways.
Anne might be able to relate to Gilbert when he feels lonely and unwanted. When he wonders if he’ll ever be able to achieve his dreams without the help of a parent. When begrudges his parents for having died and left him to fend for himself.
But what Anne doesn’t realize at the beginning of the episode is that Gilbert’s pain is a very different one from hers. He knew his parents, and he has to mourn them while he takes on the enormous responsibilities they have left to him. He’s old enough that people expect him to take care of himself. Anne, on the other hand, never knew her parents. She never knew what she was missing. She was also given away to a foster family and has always had an adult to take care of her.
Of course, Gilbert doesn’t understand all the ways in which he’s been lucky, either. He doesn’t realize how lucky he was to have known his parents in the first place. Or to be able to make decisions for himself, to stay in the same place instead of being whisked off to the next abusive family.
In time, I’m sure they’ll both start to understand each other a little better. Maybe, once the pain has subsided a little bit, this thing they have in common will bring the two of them together. It’s not the way it worked in the books, but it might work.
I loved how this episode addressed Anne’s dilemma about getting married. This version of Miss Barry was probably the best person to give her advice, because she knows so much about love and about defying gender norms. She can tell Anne that she doesn’t need to be a wife, that she can aspire to more than just marriage. And yet, she can also tell her that she doesn’t have to reject love, that it can make her happy if she wants it.
Miss Josephine was happy despite being considered an old maid, but part of the reason for that was because she had love. Marilla was perfectly content living with Matthew, but she might have been happy with Mr. Blythe too. And Anne doesn’t want to take the traditional path, but she shouldn’t be afraid of Gilbert’s affections.
Anne With An ‘E’ is available to stream on Netflix right now.