Kate Stone

Kate Stone

Why Anne Shirley is a Comedy Icon

When it comes to girls and young women characters there appears to be an odd belief that there are few examples of them in comedy, specifically examples who could be held up as comedic role models. I seem to have some extra time on my hands right now and rather than rearrange my wardrobe I have decided to dedicate an essay each to the fictional girls and young women who deserve more recognition for their comedy.

I have had three encounters with Anne Shirley and none of them has been via L.M. Montgomery’s books. Rather, when I was six or so I saw a little of the 1985 TV mini-series Anne of Green Gables which introduced me to the term ‘bosom friend’ which at the time I found hilarious. Because bosom. Come on.

Years later in an English lesson, I was reminded of Anne Shirley, we’d been tasked with describing a fictional character from a book in first-person and the class had to guess who it was. I don’t remember who I chose, though I imagine the clue: “I have a lightning scar on my forehead” popped up a few times…

Then my best friend Marissa stood up and said: “I am an orphan who was mistaken for a boy, I have red hair, a bad temper and once smashed my writing slate on a boy’s head for calling me ‘Carrots’.” None of us could guess, but colour 13-year-old me intrigued, or rather, ginger because I too had red hair and while I had not been mistaken for a boy, I did have a bad temper.

But still, somehow the books passed me by. It wasn’t until Netflix released Anne with an E that I properly got on board the Anne Shirley train. Anne of Green Gables purists might be a little disappointed now, because I understand that Anne with an E tweaks the plot a little (or a lot, unlike L.M. Montgomery I find Matthew Cuthbert a necessary presence) but ultimately you can’t mess with the character that is Anne Shirley.

A comic character in the mishap and farcical tradition, it’s possible at a glance to miss this and dismiss Anne’s story as sentimental turn-of-the-century pap, it is not. Well, it is sentimental but it’s not pap. Even Anne Shirley’s creation story is tinged with scandal, as author L.M.Montgomery was inspired by a picture of actor Evelyn Nesbit, which she clipped out to keep without first identifying the model, who was often the fodder for much gossip… (look her up, I can’t do her justice in a sentence).

Anne Shirley is a whirlwind who thinks aloud, incapable of hiding her originality and happily sharing any whimsy she has. She dreams of puffed sleeves and raven locks. Anne never answers a question with a simple yes or no but a poetic speech leaving you wondering what the question was.

Fine, we might not all have bosom buddy Diana’s patience and find Anne occasionally too wordy. Her imaginative flights of fancy can leave one cringing in buttock clenching embarrassment rather than indulgence, but in Anne’s lack of self-awareness lies much of the comedy. Anne striding into school wearing a crown of flowers on her hat or asking Gilbert Blythe what the facts of life are, cause in wincing worthy of Peep Show. 

Then there are the scrapes Anne gets into, she mistakes some berry wine for cordial and gets drunk with her friend Diana at their sophisticated tea party. She buys hair dye from a pedlar and when she decides that, actually, black hair doesn’t suit her after all, her attempt to wash the dye out results in green hair. Within a week of her arrival, Anne has managed to offend everyone in Avonlea and beyond with her wild turn of phrase.

Anne Shirley is the perfect example of someone who can’t help themselves, and it makes for wonderfully cosy comedy.

If you have a character you’d like to suggest for this, then tweet me @funnywomened

Read why Wednesday Addams is a comedy icon here! 

Read why Marmalade Atkins is a comedy icon here! 

Read why Tracy Beaker is a comedy icon here! 

Read why Daria Morgendorffer is a comedy icon here! 

Read why Anastasia Krupnik is a comedy icon here! 

Read why Helga Pataki is a comedy icon here! 

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