How to Be An L. M. Montgomery Heroine in a 21st-Century World

4K Shares

Are L. M. Montgomery’s heroines your kindred spirits? Here’s how every woman today (who’s old-fashioned at heart) can be more like them. Because if you love Anne Shirley and Emily Starr and Rilla Blythe and Pat Gardiner, you’re in good company here.

Side view of Megan Follows as a grown-up Anne Shirley from Kevin Sullivan's miniseries Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel

Life Lessons from Anne Shirley

I recently met a fictional heroine whom I didn’t like, and respected even less.

We all assume character development will happen over the course of a novel…however, I believe you have to be able to root for that character from the start. I couldn’t, so I shut the book and left her to her fate.

I find that I’m increasingly drawn to an old-fashioned kind of heroine, the kind who’s becoming a rarity in today’s pop fiction populated with bad decisions and muddled priorities. The literary heroines I love the best are the ones who have self respect, who know how to treat others properly and what kind of treatment they deserve in return.

The kind of heroine you meet, say, in an L. M. Montgomery novel.

Over the past few years, I’ve renewed my friendships with Montgomery’s heroines, and met a few for the first time whom I didn’t know growing up. I became a mom and read about Anne Shirley’s entrance into motherhood. I started keeping my own home and read about Pat Gardiner and her abiding love for Silver Bush. The well-spent hours I’ve invested in these novels have confirmed it: Montgomery’s heroines are the kind of company I want to keep.

A good literary heroine is one worth emulating, and for all of their realistic faults Montgomery’s heroines continue to inspire me long after I’ve finished the novels they inhabit. Sometimes I daydream about having my own farm on Prince Edward Island, but I think what I ultimately wish for is a “Green Gables life” right here where I am now.

To have a Green Gables life in the 21st century, you have to have a worldview that aligns in many ways with Anne’s–or L. M. Montgomery’s. And you have to be the sort of timeless heroine that could be found in either time or place. You could exist in Prince Edward Island in the early 1900s, or now, in your own corner of the world.

What does this kind of heroine look like, and how do you become one? Here are my thoughts…

10 Ways to Be Like Anne of Green Gables (and other Montgomery Heroines)

1. Tune your heart to recognize beauty

For the Josie Pyes or May Binnies of this world, life on a Prince Edward Island farm holds no magic. But for the stories’ heroines, a simple farm and a small island are, to quote Jane of Lantern Hill, their “spirit’s home.” Anne and Emily and Pat and Jane find beauty in commonplace chores like roasting potatoes or churning cream. They’re acquainted with small manifestations of beauty, like spring’s earliest flowers, and with large–like the constellations. For them everything seems enchanted–or can be–and they don’t lose that sense of wonder even when they grow up.

Do you find beauty in the familiar place you live, in the ordinary things you do? If you don’t, that’s a virtue you can cultivate. Learn all you can about the natural world, especially in your region. Notice the simple pleasures in your daily life, and never take what you have for granted. Open your senses to more fully experience the tasks you do each day.

(For more ideas on surrounding yourself with beauty, see #4 on this list.)

2. Learn how to be alone

Montgomery’s heroines understand the beauty of solitude in a way that’s foreign to women in our hyper-connected, scheduled lives. Usually, nature is where they go for alone time. When Anne returns from Lover’s Lane or Pat from a ramble in the Secret Field, they feel rejuvenated, content, clear-headed. This is a much deeper form of self care than the shallow “treat yo self” prescriptions of our contemporary self care movement.

Misty field with wildflowers and a rustic wooden fence

If you’re a Montgomery heroine you’ll welcome solitude, whether it’s during those times that you’re learning to navigate loneliness (like all of Montgomery’s heroines do), or you’re simply taking a step back to soak in a full and beautiful life.

3. Invest yourself in your home

Nature is one of the recurring romances in Montgomery’s novels; home is another. The heroines fall in love with their homes long before they fall in love with their men. Modern readers may find the strong currents of domesticity to be at odds with Montgomery’s more feminist themes, but I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive at all. Investing in your home helps you establish yourself and know yourself better. It gives Montgomery’s heroines a sense of rootedness, pride, and confidence that establishes them in their community and helps them contribute to it.

Be mistress of your kingdom, whether it’s just one room in a shared apartment or your very own many-roomed Ingleside.

Need help in this area? Here are 11 things to resolve for your home, and 30 simple ways to add beauty.

4. Practice hospitality

Hospitality is a trait that’s sorely lacking for today’s fictional heroines, and it’s not a theme many contemporary novels explore. But I can’t imagine a Lucy Maud Montgomery novel without it!

Throughout her novels, you see people opening their homes and firesides, whether it’s for chummy drop-in guests, unwelcome guests, or guests attending lavish parties in the Silver Bush tradition.

Many contemporary heroines don’t practice hospitality because they don’t operate out of a home base or a strong sense of home. Their lifestyles reflect our own mobile culture. Roots are temporary as the heroine focuses on her career–or wanders the globe in search of herself.

Instead, you can be a Montgomery heroine by fostering real-life community with the people around you. This can take many forms and doesn’t have to be a sit-down dinner party! It can be as simple as keeping baked goodies on hand so you can invite a friend over for spontaneous tea.

5. Find a friend you can love like a sister

One thing that draws many of us fans to Montgomery’s novels are her keen portrayals of friendship–especially female friendship. Except for Kilmeny, all of Montgomery’s major heroines are blessed with rich female friendships. These friendships may seem merely serendipitous, but in fact they would’ve been dead ends if the women hadn’t cultivated them. They do this by setting aside their own (or their relatives’) biases, embracing vulnerability, and always offering forgiveness after quarrels.

Eclectic china tea cups, saucers, and teapots, with greenery

Any woman today knows that these are critical traits in a flourishing friendship, but we tend to forget that deep friendships require quality time! Don’t let the tyranny of the urgent keep you from tending your friendships. Be like a Montgomery heroine and spend lots of time in each other’s company, and have real conversations on the phone or by letter if you live far away.

Also, don’t forget that sometimes the friend you love like a sister is your sister! And age doesn’t have to be a barrier there: see Pat and Rae!

Related: For a look at other favourite literary friendships, read this post.

6. Be open to friendships outside your peers

Unlike many of the girls and boys around them, the heroines of Montgomery’s novels are willing to form friendships with people who are vastly different in wealth, age, or religion. These relationships are mutually enriching and prove something else about the heroines: they possess an open-mindedness and compassion that are classic heroine traits, regardless of time or place.

Cherish the value in unlikely friendships. Don’t close off your circle and be unwilling to bring new people in.

7. Be industrious

No one can accuse Montgomery’s heroines of not taking time for leisure. They read, build forts, take long walks, and go to concerts and parties. But they also work with a will, whether that means preparing for an exam or spring cleaning the house from top to bottom. Even an easily-distracted heroine like Anne learns to buckle down when she studies for Queens Academy!

With so many demands that vie for our attention these days, it’s easy to feel like we’re being productive if we’re being busy. But these two aren’t the same thing. Find ways to declutter your schedule, and redeem your time by being industrious at the things that matter most.

Megan Follows as a young Anne Shirley, looking up at the White Way of Delight

8. Know yourself

I think many authors today don’t give their heroines enough self knowledge or self respect. Although we first meet most of the Prince Edward Island heroines when they’re very young, these strengths have already taken root, and continue to develop throughout their histories. They’re confident in what they like and don’t like, and they know the kind of respect they deserve from others.

Pay attention to how you tick, and you’ll find life a little easier to navigate, even in adversity.

9. Let go of your pride

Pride is a mixed trait for Montgomery heroines, just as it is in real life. On the one hand, Emily’s pride in “New Moon traditions” and Pat’s in the Gardiner family name are inspiring and admirable. But pride also cuts them off from blessing–and personal growth. Anne’s pride won’t allow her to be teased about her looks or accept Gilbert’s friendship. Emily endures years of heartache and misunderstanding. Pat’s pride jeopardizes relationships and prevents her from ever accepting her sister-in-law as a sister.

Pride gives us all blind spots, and oftentimes softening our hearts isn’t something we can do at will. But when you feel the twinge that something isn’t as it should be–that your pride could be the barrier–do something about it. Anne, Emily, and Pat let these opportunities slide by, only to find they must face the consequences in the end. Learn from them.

10. Step up to the plate

And finally, if you want to be a heroine, you have to choose to act like one. Life on P.E.I may look like a storybook, but it’s really pretty ordinary. People laugh and quarrel and grieve and gossip…and life goes on, even when the world is changing. That’s how it is today, too, and sometimes it doesn’t feel like we’re doing anything very special.

But there’s always a need for bravery in ordinary circumstances. Emily makes the quiet, misunderstood choice to stay at New Moon rather than chasing fame in New York. Self-absorbed Rilla becomes a bulwark for her family when World War I rages abroad. Many times, each heroine in small ways embraces duty and kindness and self sacrifice. They may not see themselves as the glamorous protagonists in the novels they love, yet they are the strong women we love reading about today.

And we can follow in their footsteps.

Collection of paperback L. M. Montgomery novels scattered on a table

What do you love about Montgomery’s heroines? What are some of their shared traits that you admire?

More posts on Anne of Green Gables and L. M. Montgomery:

More Life Lessons from Classic Heroines:

Collage of Anne of Green Gables inspired gifts - books, mug, art prints

How to Be An L. M. Montgomery Heroine in a 21st-Century World
4K Shares

34 Comments

  1. I feel exactly the same! What a lovely post. I had assumed the connection to these types of heroines was too old fashioned for most people. At least my teenaged children like to remind me how dated I am already, without bringing up the likes of Ann Shirley. But I love her and all that she represented and stood for. I felt like I was that kind of child and in our modern world, I am finding it difficult to go back to her ways/my ways. But this post is a practical reminder that it is possible. Thank-you so much for that. I’m currently in Provence, travelling the world with my husband and teens, on a mini retirement. Back to the real world in August and this piece provides wonderful insight into how I can reconnect with my life back home.

    1. So many things in our modern world make it easy to lose sight of the possibility of living this kind of “old-fashioned” life. But I think many people long for it, even when they don’t realise that’s what they miss. So good to meet you! Enjoy your lovely trip!

  2. Reading books about the adventures of Anne Shirley was the first “awakening” in a part of me that craved everything about her existence. It was the first time my inner eyes were opened to see pictures of what I was reading. I didn’t know it at the time but it was very exciting, just as it to be feeling those “re-awakenings” just reading this post. I agree with the comment above, that it is possible to cultivate areas of our lives to be able to live simply and with wonder. It is just so good to be reminded of it through the books I read that seemed to start “it” for me. How good to feel that spark re-ignited from so many decades ago! It just goes to show me what captured my heart was something real about me then AND now! Thank you so much for this post!

    1. You are very welcome, and thank you for your comment! I know what you mean by “it.” I feel that quickening whenever I read Montgomery. It was there when I first read Anne years ago, and it’s there waiting for me whenever I pick up those books again(:

  3. I absolutely loved this post! I fell in love with the Anne of Green Gables movies a few years ago (never saw them as a child), and was so inspired by the stories that I named my daughter Avonlea. She is now one years old, and as I nurse i’ve been slowly working through the entire Anne series, and they are delightful! I will find myself laughing out loud or tearing up as I nurse, so amazing. I’ve been thinking so much about how I can cultivate the kind of wonder, curiosity and enjoyment as Anne does, so this came at such a wonderful time! Thanks for sharing:) xoxo Katie

    1. Thank you, Katie! What a gorgeous name for a daughter. You might enjoy reading the simple/intentional parenting post I wrote on my other blog (here). Charlotte Mason, the author I talk about in that post, has so many insights on practical ways to cultivate this type of life for our children!

  4. This touched my heart. I am just now reading the Anne series at age 39, and I find myself longing to be more like her: taking people home with her for holidays, trying to help those who are longing for beauty and friendship. I can hardly bear to read contemporary fiction anymore…it just distresses me, for all the reasons you named: bad choices, poor morals, lack of loveliness. I am such a lover of old books and want to bring those qualities I find there into my home. Glad to know I’m not alone (sometimes it feels like we are few and far between, us old-fashioned ladies!).

    1. It is a wonderful treat to read Anne, at any age. I’ve heard people talk about how important it is to find mentors in life, but they are not always easy to come by. Thankfully, good literary heroines like Anne can serve as mentors, too, though. I am learning so much from her and others of her ilk! And no, you are most certainly not alone in these old-fashioned sentiments(:

  5. What a fantastic post! Loved this so much! Even as a child and teenager I always dreamed of growing into the type of girl or woman who could be in an LM Montgomery novel. It’s so lovely to see you analyze some of those characteristics out and discuss how to achieve them! What a treat. Great work!

  6. Los Libros sobre la vida de Anne, asi tambien como los libros de su hija, me acompañaron toda mi infancia, imaginando esa maravillosa isla, mirando la naturaleza con otros ojos, asi tambien su onestida y valentia, me enseñaron mucho al respecto.
    En cuanto a la serie de nexblix, noe esta mal, y la pelicula np sabia que existia, ya la voy a ver. Pero indudablemente me quedo con los libros a medida que Anne va creciendo.
    Linros que va a heredar mi hija.

  7. What a lovely post. I clearly need to revisit some childhood books!
    I find myself striving for pretty much the same. As with my farm it seems the more I go off the beaten path the more I discover and gain.
    Your rule for a close sister-like friend makes me smile. I lost my best friend/sister years ago and it does hurt losing her but I still smile remembering her. It is very true that a friend that knows everything about you that no one else will ever know and still loves you unconditionally is the richest treasure of all.
    Thank you so much for the wonderful read.

    1. Have you read Montgomery’s Pat books? Pat loses her dear friend, and although it’s tragic, Montgomery’s portrayal just shows even more her grasp of the nuances and impact of friendship.

      Thank you for your kind comment!

  8. It may sound a little dramatic but I didn’t think there was anyone else in the world that shared my views. It’s so good to read this blog and find out that I’m not the only one who wants to be like this. I love this blog so much and I’m glad I found it! It feels so much less lonely just to know.

  9. Oh, I love this so much. I’m fourteen and Rilla, Anne, Emily, Valancy, Pat are all my literary best friends. Ive aspired to be like them since I first read the books at around eleven years old. I didn’t think that anyone else felt the way I did about these books that changed my life and made growing up so much fun. It was the loveliest thing to read this and know that others love and look up to these characters as much as I do.

    1. Oh yes, Alysha, you are among kindred spirits here! I have heard from many other Tea and Ink readers who treasure these friendships with LMM’s characters and books, too! I loved discovering in my teens the world that Montgomery created, and I love returning there now.

  10. I am so happy I found this website! Tea and Ink Society! What a wonderful name! However did you think of it? It’s so sophisticated! I love it! There are so many kindred spirits about. It’s a lovely article, I picked up most of these things but it was nicely laid out so I did get some great life advice! I’m only young but I love all of Anne’s antics! I’m quite sure we’d be bosom friends!

    1. Welcome! I brainstormed website name ideas with my husband, and I believe he came up with the final title. I wanted to make sure “Society” was in the name somewhere. So glad you’re here!

  11. Hello Elsie ! Just wanting to say that how lovely and happy I felt after I read this post. You are spot-on with all the ten points about L.M.Montgomery’ s heroines. I have been reading Anne from Green Gable ( I have heard of.this, but never read them before) couple months ago while I’m nursing my bub ,and have felt in love with the series. I somehow have the urge to read this series ever since I became a mom I just felt like I want to reconnect with childhood literature, and I’m glad that I did. I hope to keep this series for my little one later on. I’m yet to read your post about which TV series of Anne from Green gables are worth watching . Thank you again Elsie , I love your webpage! Xx

    1. Sabrina, somehow I missed this comment earlier; I’m sorry! It makes me so happy to hear that you’re enjoying the treat of L. M. Montgomery’s novels. Nursing is certainly a great time to get reading in, as I’m finding again for the third time!

  12. Hi Elsie ! Thank you for your reply. Somehow I wasnt able to reply directly on your thread. Just saying Congrats you have a baby! I hope i didnt misunderstood you then =))

  13. Oh my gosh, the Anne books!! So much a part of my early years…I find myself only now fully embracing how truly old-fashioned I really am. Somewhere along the way I felt the pressure of being modern and worldly and I lost sight of who I really was at heart. Thank you for reminding me I need to reread these books…currently rereading the Little House series so the Anne books are next!
    Love feeling the kindred spirits here!

    1. Sounds like we are on the same page, Kelly! Indeed, reading books like Anne (and Little House, yes!) has reminded me who I am and who I want to be!

  14. Thank you, Elsie! One of my goals this year is to read the entire Anne series (I never finished it in my youth), and I’d love to read more of Montgomery after that. Your sister Emma pointed me to this post, and you have summarized important themes in the books beautifully.
    BTW, I saw your post on the outrageous Anne covers several months ago and it is a delight! I look forward to exploring your blog further. I believe we are kindred spirits.

    1. Thank you for stopping by! Kindred spirits are always welcome here. You are in for such a treat with grown-up Anne and with all of Montgomery’s books! I wish I could read them all over again for the first time!

      I will have more “bad book cover” posts in the future; there’s plenty of great material there, ha!

  15. I know I’m late but what a beautiful post! You practically echoed all my literary thoughts of the last six years. I have always been drawn to these old-fashioned ladies novels, and I wish more young people would read them. I’m only seventeen, but I know that other youth would benefit from reading such things. I’ve always been considered by friends and family as an “Anne” as I have red hair and an animated nature. Anyway, it saddens me that the simple, beautiful ideals of these books are considered “outdated” in todays world. Modern books miss so much. Your post has inspired me to keep these ideals living inside of me. Cheers to all of you people who appreciate such goodness. Keep these stories alive! <3

    1. You sound familiar! When I was seventeen I was reading these books–and others like them–and wishing more people my age read them too, so we could talk about them! I’m so glad you grasp the richness and beauty in old-fashioned books. As you can see from the comments on this post, you are not, after all, alone!

  16. I really appreciate your love of L.M. Montgomery!!! I have been searching for FOREVER for an L.M.-loving community (I pride myself on perhaps being her biggest fan ever). Your advice about having a close sister-friend made me smile, because it was actually my very own kindred spirit who sent me the link to this.

    I have a question for all the AOGG fans here- who else is head-over-heels in love with Walter Blythe? I certainly am!!!

    1. Hi Lily! I wish I had been better about replying to your comment sooner, but hopefully you will still see this. I am so glad you stopped by here! If you’re not already, you might want to check out our Tea and Ink Facebook group (there is a link to it in the welcome series when you join the email list). There are a LOT of LMM fans in there!

      And I love Walter Blythe. Probably my favourite of Anne’s children. Isn’t it special that LMM kept writing about Anne and Gil, and that we got to see how their family turned out? What a treasure!! Although, I have to say that my biggest disappointment about the later Anne books is that Shirley Blythe is strangely absent. The other children get whole chapters devoted to their individual escapades, but Shirley is left out. He’s a big question mark to me. Did you ever notice that? I wonder why LMM did that?

  17. Oh, I have definitely noticed that about Shirley and that is weird. I feel like if one character should have been killed off, it should have been Shirley bc he was sooooo under-developed. I also appreciate LMM’s Christian morals! She always manages to do that, even though she strugggled greatly in her own life.

    1. Good, I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed that about Shirley and found it odd! It’s also seems an odd coincidence that Anne herself is not as close to him…she was so sick after his birth, that Susan was more of a mother to him for awhile and they have a special bond. I don’t know if that would have anything to do with him being underdeveloped as a character, but it does strike me as interesting. And yes, I feel like LMM’s books are uplifting to me in part because of her refreshing approach to faith and religion. Have you read Jane of Lantern Hill? There’s this extraordinary passage where Jane’s father is showing her that everything she thought about the Bible being dull isn’t true. I thought it neat that as a writer, LMM saw so much beauty in the Bible, and she expresses that through another writer (Jane’s father) within her story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.