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Author Lucy Maud Montgomery's 1905 original manuscript for novel Anne of Green Gables is available to read online thanks to a new virtual exhibition.PEI Tourism Board

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables has been adapted for film, television and stage. There are sequels and an authorized prequel, and more Anne items available in Prince Edward Island gift shops than there are freckles on the adorable orphan’s fictional face. Now, Montgomery’s original manuscript is coming to a computer screen near you.

A new digital exhibition presented by the Confederation Centre of the Arts, the University of Prince Edward Island’s Robertson Library and the L.M. Montgomery Institute allows online viewers to explore not only the author’s handwritten original text, but also scratched-out passages and revisions on an interactive website.

“This is a celebration of Montgomery’s creative process, and we invite scholars and fans alike to explore the site and trace the origins of Anne,” said Emily Woster, a Montgomery scholar who curated the exhibition.

Anne of Green Gables is a classic children’s novel set in the late 19th-century that recounts the adventures of 11-year-old Anne Shirley, who mistakenly lands on a farm in the fictional town of Avonlea in Prince Edward Island. The history of the story dates to the summer of 1905, when the prolific Montgomery began writing Anne’s story in the kitchen of her home in Cavendish, PEI.

The Anne of Green Gables original manuscript, dating back to 1905.Jean-Sébastien Duchesne/Handout

Included in the exhibit is the original publishing contract. “She only made a few cents off each copy from the wholesale price, not the retail price,” Woster said of the deal with Boston-based L.C. Page & Co. “It was a very poor contract.”

The novel was an immediate success, selling 19,000 copies in its first five months. It has since sold more than 50 million copies worldwide and been translated into dozens of languages. Mark Twain described Anne as the “dearest most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice,” a reference to Lewis Carroll’s 1865 classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Developed with $250,000 in funding from Digital Museums Canada, the exhibit took two dozen people more than two years to complete. Beyond the manuscript, there are photos, videos, annotations and audio components.

One of the more meticulous tasks involved the reproduction of the 1,142 pen-written pages. Some of the sheets were almost translucent, Woster says, which made digitizing the warm, aged tone of the paper tricky. “A golden piece of card stock was placed behind each page of the manuscript to capture the colour.”

Portrait of L.M. Montgomery courtesy of the Anne of Green Gables Museum.courtesy of the Anne of Green Gables Museum

The exhibition is unrelated to Anne of Green Gables: The Original Manuscript, published by Halifax’s Nimbus Publishing in 2019 (although that book’s editor, Carolyn Strom Collins, did contribute to the new exhibit).

Late last year, the Confederation Centre of the Arts announced that, after 57 years, the beloved Anne of Green Gables – the Musical would no longer be an annual production at the Charlottetown Festival. Instead, the melodic presentation of Montgomery’s story will take place every two years.

Woster does not believe the change represents a drop in the fandom of PEI’s favourite fictional heroine. “It might feel that way, but there’s still a lot more to learn and discuss about Anne.”

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