‘Anne with an E’ Redeems Gilbert Blythe and Green Gables

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The Famous Slate Scene
In ‘Anne with an E’, Gilbert offers Anne friendship and crosses the line because of frustration with her response, instead of being a straight up jerk. Screen captures from ‘Anne with an E’ by CBC and Netflix.

Anne of Green Gables has been close to people’s hearts around the world since L. M. Montgomery (Lucy Maud Montgomery) published it over one hundred years ago. While entertaining, Anne has never spoken to me as she spoke millions.

This has always surprised me a bit. After all, Anne was the girl who was different, who didn’t fit in, just like I was. She found a place of acceptance yet remained true to herself. She seems like the perfect heroine, yet I could never connect with her for one simple reason: Her fairy tale relationship with Gilbert Blythe that could never exist in the real world.

While I have watched video adaptations of Anne, they also never stayed with me. So it was for light entertainment and without the strong attachment that many have to their version of Anne that I came to Netflix’s Anne with an E (called Anne by CBC in Canada) by creator Moira Walley-Beckett of Breaking Bad.

Anne with an E has strong fans and haters, regardless of their attachment to Anne Shirley, or the lack thereof. Some feel it goes too far off-book, some that it dips too deeply into that which Montgomery simply slipped over the surface of. I disagree. After all, at the end of the day, we need stories and people who could exist, and AmyBeth McNulty’s Anne seems real to me. But I am getting ahead of myself. To explain why Anne with an E works for me, I first need to dive into why the Anne of Green Gables books never did. I can do that best by looking at Anne and Gilbert, which I will do in detail below.

There are some light spoilers in this article, but as the story of Anne Shirley is over one hundred years old, so you can safely read this post, and still enjoy the book. I was careful not to give away too much about the new CBC/Netflix show, so it shouldn’t spoil that either. I will go through my thoughts on Montgomery’s Anne and Walley-Beckett’s/McNulty’s Anne and then her relationship with Gilbert. For me, the Gilbert story line colored the entirety of these two Anne worlds, though I didn’t know why until halfway through Anne with an E season one.

Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, a Heroine Before Her Time

Illustrations from 1908 Anne of Green Gable
Illustrations from a print of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ from 1908 offers a glimpse at Anne as Montgomery may have seen her. By M. A. and W. A. J. Claus [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons Files Matthew Cuthbert, Who’s That? and I Hate You!
Anne is age 11 in 1876, per the ages of her sons in later books, when the first book takes place. Montgomery was 2 in 1876, so she has some reference of what it was like in 1876, a much better reference than we have today. Plus the setting is based on the area she grew up in. Because of this, there are certain themes Montgomery puts through her books which we often miss or misunderstand today, over 100 years later.

Orphan Life In The Late 1800s

The first theme is the undertone to Anne’s brutal life before Green Gables. These are mentioned in passing, with the assumption that everyone has some idea of the challenges of an orphan in the time. This is simply not true today, as we don’t have any experience with life over 100 years ago.

The casual attitude of whipping children and Anne’s strong feelings on the matter is one such undertone. Katie Maurice, the imaginary friend of Anne’s youth is another example. Finally, Anne’s habit of losing herself in her imagination when she should be doing other things coupled with her ability to snap into action mode in an emergency (such as Minnie May’s sickness) shows the surface cracks of a child deeply wounded by her orphan life. These cracks are ones many people see if they care to look.

The book, written mostly from Anne’s viewpoint, shows her strong positive spirit, her ability to push past dark memories, chooses not to dive into these cracks. Additionally, the beautiful backdrop of the story coupled with Anne’s obvious love for the world she lives in gives the story a positive, hopeful message, making it easy for readers today to see a sugarcoated version of Anne if they wish to do so.

Red Haired, Green Eyed Witch

Anne with an E Title Screen
The opening credits of ‘Anne with an E’ gives the feeling of a bit of magic but in a good way. Blue-eyed ‘Anne with an E’ does not face the witch prejudice green-eyed ‘Anne of Green Gables’ does. Screen capture from ‘Anne with an E’ by CBC and Netflix.

But there is a second thread we simply don’t see these days in the form of Anne’s red hair and green eyes.

We know she doesn’t like them, and the interaction with Rachel Lynde shows that red hair was not in fashion at that time. What we don’t realize is the prejudice against red hair, especially when coupled with green eyes, during Anne’s days. As a society, we judge people based on their appearance, the color of their skin, where they are from, the religion they believe in. In Anne’s day, not only was she made an orphan at six months old, but she was born with the red hair and green eyes that mark a witch.

Less than a hundred years before, the witch hunts were still in full swing, and a few years after that, the last witch trial in the US was held, showing a strong prejudice against those believed to be witches. Next time you read the book, count the number of times Anne was called “little witch” in the first book before her eyes turned to gray and her hair darkened to auburn. In this way, Anne is both much more purposefully empowering and much darker than many people today realize.

Anne, a Worthy Heroine

All in all, Montgomery’s Anne is a worthy heroine for many girls, for we all feel different, alone, and unwanted at some point. Anne shows how to be yourself while finding your place in the world. She doesn’t land in one of her grand dreams, but that is okay, she has a good life despite a troubled start. Regardless of our tendency to sugarcoat Anne’s story today, Montgomery wrote a story with dark roots. But with all this, she never pulled me in as she should have. Why? Because of Gilbert Blythe.

Montgomery’s Gilbert Blythe, Paper Thin

Gilbert Blythe Illustrations from 1908 Anne of Green Gable
Two years after Anne smacked Gilbert with a slate, Gilbert rescues Anne on the lake. He asks for her forgiveness, and she still refuses to talk to him. By M. A. and W. A. J. Claus [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons Files Thwack! and He Pulled Close to the Pile and Extended His Hand
Montgomery’s Gilbert was supposed to be Anne’s equivalent to the book version of Harry Potter‘s Ginny. Gilbert was to be Anne’s equal, someone who got her and could relate to her trials and tribulations while still being a strong individual. But instead, he came across to me more like the movie version of Ginny, put there to fulfill the love interest but without the substance. If you swoon at the mere mention of Gilbert Blythe and can think of no better real-world romance that could happen to you, please read what I say below with an open mind. It doesn’t take away from your fairy tale of Gilbert, just layers it with an appreciation for how it is a fairy tale.

Who Is Gilbert without Anne?

Gilbert Blythe was meant to be Anne Shirley’s soul mate, in love with her from the first moment he sets eyes on her, and someone who keeps up with her intellect. Further, he is supposed to embrace her for her brains without feeling threatened by her. On all these accounts, he serves his purpose in Anne’s life. My problem with Gilbert is not how he serves the story, but how the story fails to serve him.

Gilbert is introduced to us as a popular boastful boy who learns to be a better person through five years of watching the girl he loves and being steadfastly ignored by her. We learn dreadfully little about him in this time, and the moment Anne decides to put her pride away, Gilbert comes running to her with open arms. I know for a fact that if you ignore a boy’s attempts to get your attention for five or so years, he will lose the desire for your attention. I even knew this as a preteen. Gilbert is put into the first book as nothing more than an object, a device to serve Anne’s story needs, to give her someone to walk away with in the last chapter. This set of a number of examples I don’t agree with.

Her Pride and The Long-Suffering Man

Popular in books, movies, and television shows targeted towards women, the long-suffering man (or boy, in this case) always sets my teeth on edge. How can it be okay to be casually and persistently mean to another human being, then expect admiration for it? No, if you spitefully ignore someone for five years or even one year, when you know it hurts them, you are walking away from that relationship forever.

The reason for Anne’s behavior was simply pride. Prideful behavior is not something that should be encouraged. I get that he violated her space and that she pushes back physically with her slate. I agree that she was justified in her actions. But the reason given for her actions is not setting boundaries and walking away from a boy who will not respect her space. Her reasoning is that he called her carrots, and embarrassed her when she was daydreaming, ignoring all around her when she should have been paying attention to her school work. I am not forgiving his behavior, but her reaction endures me to neither Anne nor her relationship with Gilbert.

In the end, this theme that runs very much in the background of the story ruins Anne of Green Gables for me. Gilbert remains to be a blank slate with the sole purpose of furthering Anne’s story with no consideration to his own story. His character is as thin as the paper it is written on.

Actor Lucas Jade Zumann on the set of Anne with an E, becomes Gilbert onscreen. An actor’s job is to be a blank slate and become the character he plays. Thankfully, Zumann’s Gilbert is a character worth becoming instead of a blank slate.

Lost in Time

Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, including Gilbert, is much more complicated than the adaptions of Anne that have come out in the last 50 to 75 years, as the subtlety of the times written between the pages have been lost with the fact that we didn’t live in the late 1800s or the early 1900s. As a result, it feels that both Anne and Gilbert has been slowly watered down, sugarcoating Montgomery’s original intent. The different adaptions often further the story dilution due to this layer of the story lost in time.

The whimsical positive message of hope and a love of life are critical to Anne’s enduring legacy. We need to stay true to Montgomery’s intentions, but at the same time, we want to preserve the other side of Anne, the knowledge of Anne’s harsh early life that would have been known to all when it was written but is becoming less real the further from that time we get.

Walley-Beckett’s Anne with an E, Reading Between the Lines

The imagery of Anne with an E is beautiful and unique. The show is filmed with handheld cameras, using only natural light. After watching the show for this article (multiple times), I find myself wanting to know exactly how the scenes are filmed, and exactly how many takes of each scene are used to make a single scene, and how do they string along the multiple dialog and film takes to make them seem like they are one seamless scene. It is gorgeous, and while some will see darkness in the use of natural light, I see a connection to nature we have simply lost touch with, a feeling we should remember is natural and can be as upbeat to the artificial light and worlds we surround ourselves with today. The filming and imagery are truly beautiful, wonderful, and inviting.

The Story Undertones in the Light of Day

Screenshot of Anne Smiling
Anne taking delight in the world around her. Screen capture from ‘Anne with an E’ by CBC and Netflix.

Walley-Beckett likes to read between the pages in her works, something sorely needed for Anne of Green Gables, a story where these undertones, over 100 years later, has lost much of their context.

Today, it takes more than the following passage to let us know the truth of indebted servitude of orphans in Anne’s time, or “in service” as they were referred to at the time:

“Were those women–Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Hammond–good to you?” asked Marilla, looking at Anne out of the corner of her eye.

“O-o-o-h,” faltered Anne. Her sensitive little face suddenly flushed scarlet and embarrassment sat on her brow. “Oh, they meant to be–I know they meant to be just as good and kind as possible. And when people mean to be good to you, you don’t mind very much when they’re not quite–always. They had a good deal to worry them, you know. It’s very trying to have a drunken husband, you see; and it must be very trying to have twins three times in succession, don’t you think? But I feel sure they meant to be good to me.”
Anne of Green Gables, Chapter 5, Anne’s History

Walley-Beckett’s Anne brings the missing context to life for us, and there are those who find this level of realism not to their liking. I get this, we all want our fairy tales to be real, but what good are dreams if they include fantasies that make our goals unreachable? After all, the beauty of Anne is her will to overcome the darkness thrown in front of her and see through to the light. I’ve read review after review about how it is great that Anne with an E deals with this one issue, this other issue, or this third issue, but why did it have to go dark on those other issues when it was not needed. In every case, whatever issue being praised represented the issue the review author was most familiar with, while the author lacks full knowledge of the issues they criticized in Anne with an E.

A Real Anne Shirley, Cracks and All

Scene of Anne in the Depths of Dispair
Anne feels deeply, both pleasure and pain. Screen capture from ‘Anne with an E’ by CBC and Netflix.

Wally-Beckett’s Anne, played by Amybeth McNulty, shows an Anne who throws herself into everything she does, an Anne who feels deeply, and who is a bit too much for some people. In short, McNulty is also the first screen Anne I have seen who represents the Anne that Montgomery writes about:

‘”I hope no great sorrow ever will come to you, Anne,” said Gilbert, who could not connect the idea of sorrow with the vivid, joyous creature beside him, unwitting that those who can soar to the highest heights can also plunge to the deepest depths, at that the natures which enjoy most keenly are those which also suffer most sharply.’
Anne of the Island, Chapter 6, In the Park

While some may find Anne moodier than they imagine their Anne to be, I found this new Anne completely refreshing. Like most of the characters in Green Gables, Anne is lovable, but only after you get through her outer layers to see the true soul shining inside. Wally-Beckett does not try to shine Anne up, as so often happens when our favorite books come to a screen. Instead, she looks at the undertones of the book and tries to bring them out in the light of day, enhancing Anne as a character and making her feel real. This enriches Anne more than any shine could.

An Eighteenth Century Story for a Twentieth Century Audience

Anne with an E has some changes from the book. These changes seem to follow three types, those that highlight an undertone of the story, those that make the character in question richer before the story starts, and those that directly challenge the undertones of the story. Changes that bring out the undertones leave the lost subtlety behind. Changes pulled from the time period instead of the story fall into making the characters and environment richer. Changes that directly challenge the undertones come from the different norms we hold as a society and want to teach our children.

Scene of Anne in Puffs Sleeves
Anne and her adopted family. This scene, taken straight from the book, is much richer because of Anne’s and Mathew’s added backstories. Screen capture from ‘Anne with an E’ by CBC and Netflix.

Harsh Realities Not Wished Away

Anne herself is an example of bringing out the subtle undertones of the book. McNulty’s Anne is abused, and often barely holding herself together. Like the book, she mostly looks at the good parts of life, even when it comes crashing down on her. Despite this, her imagination is shown to have been cultivated as a defense mechanism. I’ve read reviews critical of this, stating that if feels like twentieth century’s PTSD. However, just because society refused to acknowledge certain issues at a given time in history does not mean that we, as humans, are fundamentally different. Nor does this take away from the beauty of Anne’s imagination. Instead, it makes the person she becomes all the more beautiful, as she takes the best of a bad childhood, and turns it for good.

Beauty Hidden Underneath The Surface

In making the characters richer, Mrs. Rachel Lynde is written as the busybody she is, and at first, you get a glance of what she appears to be on the outside. Yet, she does not change into the caring person she truly is over the course of the book, she has the caring in her from the start. Anne with an E shows her layers from the start. Another example is the added scenes that give a better sense of the dangers of being an orphan in the late 1890s which the show takes place in, depending on how you set the time of the books.. These represent a strong departure from the original story but in keeping with the overall theme of the book that we would otherwise miss in today’s world.

A Better Acceptance Message

Some people pick up instantly on the changes to the story that challenge societal norms that have changed, while others glide over them unaware. Wally-Beckett looks at the story in retrospect, and adds elements that we can appreciate, but made no sense to the reader in 1909, as our society had two world wars, globalization, and the technological revolution between their knowledge and ours. For example, in the second episode, a paperboy is heard calling “Extra, extra, scientists predict greenhouse effect.” This terminology is out of place for 1800 and 1908. But, it makes it easier for us to relate to the story today. This shift introduces a purposeful awareness of progressive ideals, instead of an accidental take on them originally written, and gets away from a tendency to go back to the societal norms of the time at the end. I expect these changes will become more pronounced as the series progresses.

Walley-Beckett’s Gilbert Blythe, Major Change Is Not Always Bad

Scene from when Gilbert and Anne first run into each other.
Gilbert meets Anne, Anne doesn’t really meet Gilbert.  Screen capture from ‘Anne with an E’ by CBC and Netflix.

Despite my instant connection with McNulty’s Anne, the first few episodes had me worried that Wally-Beckett’s Green Gables was too much Breaking Bad inspired, too dark, and would end with Anne breaking instead of triumphing, that the characters were being changed too much, and that Wally-Beckett would go too far off story. Then Gilbert Blythe, played by Lucas Jade Zumann, walked in, and I reevaluated my bias on all the story changes, small and large.

As I had said before, Gilbert has always been the stumbling point in the story to me, too unbelievable for me to suspend belief. Anne would likely never look toward Gilbert, and if she did, Gilbert would likely turn away from her. At the same time, there are certain aspects of him that have to stay the same, or he would not be a soulmate for Anne. I knew this storyline would have to change in just the right way, or I could never fully get into the show.

A Gilbert Blythe with Depth

Gilbert’s entrance is, shall we say, noticeable. As in the books, he is popular, and confidence. Unlike the books, he is also shown to be kind and noble. His fault is not a boastful attitude in need of a smackdown, as it is when we first meet Montgomery’s Gilbert. Instead, it is an honest desire to help, and an unawareness of the danger of nobility. By the time Anne hits Gilbert with her slate, I actually like this Gilbert. He is aware that Anne is different from anyone he knows and is drawn to parts of Anne that others feel make her too different. He has picked up that Anne is having a hard time, but fails to understand exactly what this means for her. Gilbert appears to genuinely want to be a friend to Anne. Yet he fails to understand what she needs, ignoring her signs to back off only because he is unfamiliar with these needs. His frustration and lack of understanding leads him astray, not his arrogance. I want him to reverse course before it is too late. This being the story it is, he does not, and Anne pushes back physically, with force. I did not instantly find Zumann’s Gilbert unbearable or unbelievable, a step in the right direction. McNulty’s Anne continued to charm me, though I continued to have reservations about the changes, right up until the scene below.

This scene may appear charming to you, with an odd mix of sexual tension for two young teens as well as a teacher and a student. To understand the full effect, imagine trying to live your life under the gaze of Gilbert’s eyes day in and day out when you don’t want to.

A Reality Unkown to Most

This spelling bee scene disarmed me, unhinged me, and took me back to over half a lifetime ago. Anne had physically set her boundaries. Gilbert, not being a complete idiot, respects the physical boundaries. However, he is still trying to reach her, trying to make amends. At the same time, when they are in the same room together, he gives her no space to breathe, taking her completely in with his eyes. Zumann uses his eyes well in playing the part of Gilbert in this scene and in the series, which leads me to wonder if he has first-hand experience with this kind of situation. He takes in her body, mind, and soul, and leaves nowhere for her to hide. For her part, Anne interacts with Gilbert to the extent required by the social structure put around them, and no more. She offers him nothing, and will not offer him anything as long as he gives her no room to breathe.

This scene, which I was completely unprepared for, gave me pause and caused me to reevaluate my interpretation of Wally-Beckett’s Green Gables. It did not solve the Gilbert problem. You see, I know the natural end to this situation. It is impossible not to feel … something … when under that strong and persistent of a gaze, especially if you feel yourself an outcast, and therefore unworthy of that kind of attention. But any appreciation of his attention will be mingled with resentment, for it feels that he is stealing who you are from you. This is especially true in those awkward years between a girl and a woman, you don’t really know who you are yet, and he is taking everything you think you might know about yourself from you before you can really claim who you are. To have the person you are growing into stolen from you before you can even become that person is something most people cannot relate to, but apparently, Walley-Beckett can relate and can get McNulty and Zumann act their parts so well that it made me feel that I was Anne, instead of simply watching or even just relating to her.

A Bend in the Road, Will It Come Back Around?

If Gilbert continues to steal looks at Anne every chance he gets, she will build a wall around him, and hide as much of herself from him as she can. Further, she will never look at him or try to learn who he is behind those eyes. To do so would be to render herself even more vulnerable. This leads us back to my original problem with Gilbert. By the time there is any chance that Anne will even consider what Gilbert feels like, he will have moved on, still stealing looks, but no longer with the intense desire behind them for more. By that point, she will have learned to build a wall so strong around her that all he will see is the outermost part of her soul, combined with the most broken parts she cannot hide from the constant gaze of his eyes. Something has to happen, to pull his gaze off her not because of lack of interest, but because something else needs his attention. At the same time, something has to pull her attention to him that has nothing to do with his desire for her to look his way. And this has to happen within months, not within years. This means going way off story as it was originally written. Fortunately, this happens, and it gives them the chance to start to learn how to interact with each other in a more balanced, give and take, way. The change is perhaps a bit forceful, but then again, the interactions between the two need a bit of force to escape the path it is on. It also leaves Zumann’s Gilbert’s story a complete mystery to me, left with a non-promise and an unknown.

Gilbert's Last Scene of Season One
Gilbert’s non-promise to Anne last we see him in season one. Screen capture from ‘Anne with an E’ by CBC and Netflix.

The words from the spelling bee scene describe Montgomery’s Anne and Gilbert: amorous, gorgeous, ostracize, haughty, callous, penitent, intentions, persevere, and engagement. Given the layers of meaning Wally-Beckett gives in her work, it is possible that it will be for McNulty’s Anne and Zumann’s Gilbert as well, but with a realistic story line instead of a fairy tale. I look forward to finding out.

Anne with an E, Reality Is Better than Fairy Tales

Gilbert’s storyline and how it hit me despite deep changes gave me pause to look at the other changes more closely. Regardless of how well I liked the changes, each and every change served a purpose that enriched the world Anne lives in (at least up to the season cliffhanger that has not played out yet). It builds the story and makes the characters richer, either through giving them more backstory or facing truths that we like to ignore in our fairy tales. Fairy tales have their place, but in the end, it is better to have our stories connected with reality.

Some Stories are Worth Revisiting

Scene of Marilla reaching out to Anne
Marilla’s relationship takes a slightly different path than the book and results in a stronger bond between Anne and Marilla. Screen capture from Anne with an E by CBC and Netflix.

Anne with an E is not Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. In some ways, it shows what she put down over 100 years ago, and we misread, even though it is updated for this century. For example, a character calls Anne a “trollop” instead of a “witch”. Very few people watching Anne with an E would understand the meaning of witch in Anne’s time, so Wally-Beckett uses a word with the meaning of it today, which shows the discrimination Anne faced.

The other thing about Wally-Beckett’s changes is they reinforce the socially accepted behavior of today, not of the late 1800s. Looking deeper into some of the beliefs of the time, I am okay with this. I don’t want my daughter to think she has to become a housewife, for example. Instead, I want here to make the choice that will make her most happy. That is not to say I love all the changes made by Wally-Beckett, but that is to be expected. All in all, I can appreciate her take on things, especially in making them both more plausible, and more relevant to today. For example, I love her take on Katie Maurice, a character most people do not really understand.

Is Anne with an E Really Dark?

Wally-Beckett’s Anne with an E has been called dark and gritty. Some people don’t like seeing Anne traumatic past, or exactly what it takes for Anne to overcome it. They feel that there are scenes that are violent just for the sake of being violent, or it takes away from the magic of Anne. They feel the slate scene added more force than was needed (which, having been in a similar situation at a similar age, I fully support Anne’s need to use whatever force she needs). They feel Wally-Beckett added outside danger where it was unneeded, and in their rose colored glasses, unrealistic. I disagree on almost all counts. We often seek comfort in having our fictional orphan lives tragic but not too tragic, just glance at the comic books to see numerous examples of this. We want to see people triumph against the odds, but we do not want the bad to be too bad. So we ignore the parts we wish didn’t exist. But this doesn’t make the world better for those who have no choice but to live that which we don’t want to see.

It also makes it harder for us to truly understand and help people if they need our help and act out because of the damage they have suffered. Anne’s traumatic past is much more realistic in Anne with an E. The long-term effects of it are as well. The slate scene shows her slamming the slate against Gilbert’s cheek instead of his head, slightly more forcefully than normal. This, again, does not bug me. When a girl feels the need to set boundaries, she should not be concerned with being too forceful, she should be concerned with making clear what her space needs are. McNulty’s Anne was not excessive in her response. The other dark/gritty elements have grown on me, as I have seen how they build the story. (Though I have not made up my mind about the changes to Mathew’s character, we will see what next season brings.) It is worth noting that the most gritty, gripping, and the intense scene came directly off of the pages of Anne of Green Gables.

Minnie May is Sick Scene
Anne saves Minnie May’s Life using methods often used at the time, not just medicine. Screen capture from ‘Anne with an E’ by CBC and Netflix.

This is not Breaking Bad, despite what some have written about it being so. The Avonlea world is just more realistic, where people hold tight to the way they think things should be, and Anne changes their views slowly and painfully instead of simply have it happen off screen. This is more real, and more useful to girls who may need to do the same themselves. And I would show this to my girl, just as soon as she says she is ready to watch Beauty and the Beast. I would rather have the talks that come from Anne with an E than the talks that come from Beauty and the Beast. Anne with an E can be intense, but it is not violent in a bad way, and the violent scenes are not too violent nor do they glorify violence. There is one story line about sex, but at age six, my daughter and I have long started talking about where babies come from.

For a complete look at the age appropriateness of Anne with an E, please check out 10 Things American Parents Should Know About ‘Anne With an E’ or Just Plain ‘Anne’ in Canada.

Check Out Anne with an E  for a Real Spin on Anne Shirley

I’ve talked quite a bit about Gilbert’s storyline, but at the end of the day, this is Anne’s story, not Gilbert’s story. We are given a broken lead, who, despite massive odds against her, manages to turn her life around and become a happy person true herself instead of what society thinks she will become or should become. Anne has her dragons to slay, but she needs to slay them herself. If you ask me, this is the best role model I could give my girl.

Is it the Anne Montgomery originally intended? Not completely. Is it the Anne she would write if she was alive today? I think possibly.

If you have not seen Anne with an E, watch it on Netflix. If you have not read Anne of Green Gables, you can read the first book for free on Wikia. If you have watched Anne with an E or even just part of it and disliked the changes, I ask you to consider what I have said, then decide what version of the fairy tale you want.

The fan video above shows the Anne in ‘Anne with an E’ during season one. If it shows a girl you would like to get to know or one you can relate to, then give the show a watch.

To the Show Actors, Producers, and Creator

If you are AmyBeth McNulty or Lucas Jade Zumann, you play the defining versions of Anne and Gilbert for me. You have fixed Anne of Green Gables for me. Thank you.

If you are Netflix or CBC, please bring the show back for a second season. It is one that will only grow a stronger fan base as time goes on – you don’t want a Firefly on your hands, do you?

And if you are Wally-Beckett, thank you for a wonderful show. I am trusting you to keep the happy ending, even if it is a different happy ending. Plus, I really would love to know how you make the show with the handheld cameras from all the different angles and make them all feel like one take. Also, these are the three characters I want to learn more about the most next season:

Diana Barry

Scene when Diana and Anne reunite
Anne and Diana reunite after Anne saves Minnie May’s life. Diana seems in love with Anne at times. Screen capture from ‘Anne with an E’ by CBC and Netflix.

For the screen time Diana has, she is remarkably similar to the book, rarely going off the beaten path except in the very beginning, where we get to see her friendship with Anne start to grow instead of being instantaneous. For Anne, her relationship with Diana is a dream fulfilled, based on her lack of friends before Green Gables, a real friend instead of a reflection in the window pane. There is nothing more for her in her refusal to look at boys than her fear of giving herself up and losing her independence. But even reading the books, there seems to be something more from Diana’s side. You have redone Marilla to better support Anne’s path to Gilbert, as Gilbert was changed quite a bit to make him more realistic. Josephine Barry, who in the original book, also supported Anne’s path towards Gilbert, now has a backstory that could support Diana being truer to herself.

Jane Andrews

Scene of Jane with her family
Jane with her family. Will Jane want to be a woman of independent means based on her family’s influence? Screen capture from ‘Anne with an E’ by CBC and Netflix.

In the books, Jane wants independence (before she falls in love and gets married in a later book) because her father shows the worst side of the social construct of the time, being controlling with money and his wife. Jane wants to make sure she doesn’t have to live in the trap her mom is in. In Anne with an E, Jane’s mother was changed to push Jane towards financial independence and her brother has a makeover into a bully that her father would likely produce. Both changes seem likely to be the product of the book version of her father. Jane is perhaps the most traditional version of feminism in Anne’s world, if she was given the space to explore it.

Anne and her three close friends in the book, Diana, Jane, Ruby (who already got some extra attention from you) make a wide array of interesting female role models for girls today. Anne is an outcast and learns to be true to herself even when society doesn’t think she should. Diana seems to be in love with Anne, even in the original book. Jane, knowing the dangers of being at the mercy of a man, seeks to be independence, and Ruby wants the traditional life society wants to thrust upon all four girls. The range these four can show girls today is wonderful, no matter what they have to overcome or what want in their lives.

Charlie Sloane

School room scene of Gilbert and Charlie
Charlie and Gilbert look at Anne. Will they be rivals for her attention at some point as they are in the books? Screen capture from ‘Anne with an E’ by CBC and Netflix.

Charlie was never flushed out to my satisfaction in the books. Yet, he comes into play a few times in the original story. Charlie is turned down by Anne while Gilbert eventually marries Anne. In the first season, Charlie seems to both like Anne and be more influenced by the people around him than Gilbert is. With Gilbert’s new story line, I am curious to see how Charlie changes as well. I would like to see Charlie made into a full character that both supports the main stories in Anne’s world, and is an interesting character as well.

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24 thoughts on “‘Anne with an E’ Redeems Gilbert Blythe and Green Gables

  1. Thank God I’m not the only one who likes the changes with Anne with an E. This review made me happy. Looking forward for your next thought when season 2 is up!!!

  2. Agree with what is said about the natural lighting. That Lake of Shining Waters was not just glittering but showed the reflection of the trees and sky as if there was a world under the water (like in a certain Inuyasha movie). Agree with the extra layers that all the characters have compared with the books.

    RE: “But any appreciation of his attention will be mingled with resentment, for it feels that he is stealing who you are from you. This is especially true in those awkward years between a girl and a woman, you don’t really know who you are yet, and he is taking everything you think you might know about yourself from you before you can really claim who you are.”

    Wow! Never really thought of it that way. Never really paid attention or cared about people staring at me – but have read about various groups who figured people taking pictures of them was stealing their souls and had friends who complained about strangers staring at them whom I thought were being ridiculous. I never understood until your explanation how frightening always having 20/20 vision could be! Staring feels less invasive when distances look like Group of Seven paintings.

    RE: “Something has to happen, to pull his gaze off her not because of lack of interest, but because something else needs his attention. At the same time, something has to pull her attention to him that has nothing to do with his desire for her to look his way. And this has to happen within months, not within years.” / “Gilbert is put into the first book as nothing more than an object, a device to serve Anne’s story needs, to give her someone to walk away with in the last chapter.”

    That explains why Gilbert’s father died – to pull his gaze off of Anne (though Jerry’s au revoir indicates this ploy was only momentarily successful) and to pull Anne to Gilbert. They needed to make up before Gilbert left for him to want to come back, though they are likely to have plenty of reasons to fall out later. Juxaposed with Claire Jennings’s earlier quote, and all the details Anne Heads (and the others) have been giving about LMM’s personal life, you get the impression that LMM wanted to give Anne a love interest but felt that she was not ready to have a serious boyfriend. LMM needed Gilbert for certain things but did not know what to do with him the rest of the time. Anne’s unrealistically long grudge serves the purpose of keeping them apart until they are ready to get together. These days, instead of the one long grudge, one has a series of falling outs and misunderstandings.

    Gilbert likes to see himself as a knight in shining armour, which sounds romantic until you realise that it casts Anne into the role of damsel in distress – rather than as an independant woman who can usually take care of herself. Even Marilla is more comfortable with the giving of charity than the taking of it, which is why it needs to be love rather than charity. Being a doctor is part of the knight urge, but that urge needs to be tempered.

    RE: “Wally-Beckett looks at the story in retrospect, and adds elements that we can appreciate, but made no sense to the reader in 1909, as our society had two world wars, globalization, and the technological revolution between their knowledge and ours.”

    Wasn’t there the war of 1812, the Red River Rebellion, the other Riel rebellion, the view of Canada as a British colony constantly at risk of being annexed by the States – Canada as a country of hewers of wood drawers of water with the raw materials shipped elsewhere to be made into finished products – and when did the industrial revolution happen? In fairness, most of the technological changes were limited to the cities. Trollop (in use from 1610), doxy, dock girl, fallen woman etc were words used at that time. One of the podcasts looked up global warming and it barely made it into the time period. Buddy was in use starting in 1850 and bud 1851.

    RE Diana – Diana says that she would rather read than do needlework, but that her mother would rather she do needlework than read and that her mother usually wins out. Diana likes Anne because Anne has a freedom that she will never completely have – Diana’s path has already been chosen for her. Anne is a corrupting influence on Diana because she questions everything – even things that Mrs Barry preferred that were not questioned. The rumour is that Jerry has a crush on Diana, though, unless Minnie Mae needs saving again, …

    “An old handbook on etiquette earnestly enjoins all young ladies who desire to be pleasing in the eyes of men to “avoid a light rollicking manner, and to cultivate a sweet plaintiveness, as of hidden sorrow bravely borne.” It also declares that if any young lady has a robust frame, she must be careful to dissemble it, for it is in her frailty that woman can make her greatest appeal to man. No man wishes to marry an Amazon. It also earnestly commends a piece of sewing to be ever in the hand of the young lady who would attract the opposite sex! The use of large words or any show of learning or of unseemly intelligence is to be carefully avoided.”

    http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/mcclung/times/times.html

    Bud the Spud

  3. Hi Vaudree,
    Thank you for the thoughtful and well thought out comment.

    I really do love the lighting, and would love to get a closer look at how they put the show together.

    Re: Gilbert watching Anne. I am glad to give you some new insights. I’ve never thought about photographs as stealing the soul as quite the same thing, not sure why. I’ve always respected that, but thought that came more from a cultural standpoint. But I don’t know much about the reasons behind it, so I could be wrong. A constant gaze is not necessarily frightening, if physical boundaries have been put in place, and you know they will be respected. It is, however, uncomfortable, and unwanted. Like being forced to have a conversation with someone you really don’t want to.

    Re: LMM’s Gilbert. I think you are right that she did not know what to do with him. I get the feeling he was the character she had the least personal experience with, and at the same time, was a product of the social constructs of the time, even if she didn’t like them (which I get the feeling she did not). I just have a hard time thinking that one long grudge would have really happened with the results, even in those days, but maybe I am wrong.

    Re: Gilbert’s father’s death. It momentarily pulled Gilbert’s gaze off Anne, and allowed her to accept him enough that when it returned, it was not completely unwanted, before, as you said, he left to give him reason to come back. It feels a bit too convenient to me, but then again, I can’t think of another way to really go about doing it.

    Re: Gilbert as knight in shining armor. I agree.

    Re: 1909 state of mind. Most, if not all, of Wally-Beckett’s terms used, have some context in the time. I’m trusting the Anne of Green Gable’s wiki page to get the year she comes to Green Gables right, which is based on event in later books. That said, on screen adaptations always seem to move the timeline forward a bit for some reason, and Wally-Beckett has stated her Anne story starts in 1896. That shift would put the greenhouse reference barely in usage. The words she uses are just not necessarily the worlds that would have carried the most wait in the late 1800s, instead of the words that carry a similar meaning if we hear them today. Lost in time, if you will.

    As far as wars and such, I am an American, and am therefore was not as educated on Canadian wars, but yes, there were various wars throughout history. That said, the two world wars drastically changed the world, and within the last 100 or so years, globalization has made the world much smaller. As far as the technological revolutions go, there were two before Anne’s time looking back into the 1600s, one during Anne’s time, which is easier to see in retrospect, and two since (according Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_revolution, thought there are varying views on the information revolution we are currently in and if it is really a single revolution or not). The revolutions are starting to happen more often, with a shift in culture and knowledge with each one, resulting in a loss of culture, as well as a different understanding of the culture that is passed on. The net result is that the world is getting to be a much smaller place, for better or for worst. Again, to be clear, my Canadian History is light, as I was never taught it, so only know what I have self-taught myself.

    Re Diana. I had an interesting conversation on twitter where the other person felt that both Anne and Diana were queer, and that by looking at Anne as straight, I was doing her a disservice. I agree with Anne being the freedom that Diana is pulled to, that said, I did read her as in love with Anne. This seems to be an area with broad interpretations base on where you are coming from. Rather it is a questioning of things around her, or that she doesn’t fit into the box put around her, I still find Diana interesting, and want to learn more about her. Diana certainly is aware of etiquette of her day, and tend to try to live up to it. In the books, she is aware that her figure is not ideal (that hasn’t changed much in the last hundred or so year).

    Thanks for the video, I enjoyed it. I am glad you liked the article, and thank you for your added thoughts.

  4. I can’t wait for the next season! I am beyond disappointed there were only seven episodes in the first. I loved your article and completely ‘smitten’ as Anne would say with this Netflix version. I sure hope the wait won’t be long and that more episodes will be in the next season.

  5. I’m from Montreal so sorry for my bad English. I see no mention of the French Canadian Aymeric Jett Montaz playing Jerry Baynard. Yet he is in all episodes except one. I think it’s important to show how orphans were mistreated at the time but lets not forget how French children did not have the same possibilities as English kids did. It’s important to see where Jerry comes from and why he could never go to school. I can’t wait to see in season 2 what the writer has in mind for this character…

    1. Hi Cyndy,

      No worries about your English, it is good, and so much better than my French.

      Please know that my omission of Aymeric Jett Montaz’s Jerry Baynard was no more than an omission of spoilers, not a lack of interest in the wonderful and wonderfully played Jerry. You see, in the States, there has been heavy press about ‘Anne with an E’ being a dark, gritty, Breaking Bad take on Anne Shirley, which I wanted to counter without ruining the show for those who have not watched it. As you pointed out, this impression is simply not true. Given that this was not designed to be a complete look at the series, but instead designed to have no real spoilers (some light context around Gilbert mainly), it would be hard to talk about Jerry’s character at all without giving away plot lines best discovered in watching the show. (Instead, I used Rachel Lynde as an example of character development only because she was a known character, though I think Jerry is a better example of why this kind of change is good.)

      Additionally, he did not make it into my list of people to learn more about next season only because I concentrated on people I felt had not been expanded upon much from the original book, trusting Wally-Beckett would continue to develop the characters she has already started developing.

      I think it speaks volumes of the difference in opportunities French Canadians had compared to English Canadians in this time period by the mere fact that the character Jerry is based upon was only mentioned a total of eight times in the first book, and always only in passing as a way to further Anne’s story, despite the fact that he sometimes ate meals with Anne’s family. As an American of English/Irish decent, I look forward to learning more about him, and as an extension, French Canadians for the time, as the series continues.

  6. Interesting article! I don’t plan on watching the show (I never watch any shows based on L.M. Montgomery’s books) so it was nice to read some info on it. A few quibbles though:

    Anne of Green Gables isn’t really set in the 1870s; it’s set in the 1890s (the puffed sleeves, electric lights and other details prove this). Montgomery reset the books’ timeline around book 6 or so when she decided she wanted to have Anne’s children fight in WWI.

    The whole redhead and green eyes thing is romanticized and overblown to make Anne more of an underdog. There are tons of red haired and/or green eyed heroines in books from this era and women dyed their hair red quite a lot. Black hair was much more associated with witches and evil than red, as illustrations from old books show (the popular conception of witches was based on old antisemitic images) so it doesn’t make sense that Anne would want black hair as she does in the book if she was trying to escape witch associations.

    Gilbert was based on one of Montgomery’s closest friends from her school days, so I would guess she had at least as much familiarity with him as the other characters. Anne’s refusal to talk to Gilbert after he makes fun of her hair color is usually assumed to be based on a boy who froze Montgomery out when they were children after she joked about his red hair, btw.

    I’m surprised you read Diana as in love with Anne. I don’t think there’s anything but oldschool friendship intended there, but if we look at it as wlw, Anne seems *way* more likely to be in love with Diana than the other way around. Especially in the first book where she cries and talks about hating Diana’s future husband, asks for a lock of her hair, etc. Later it’s also Diana who falls in love and gets engaged first, which Anne isn’t very happy about.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment Misha.

      “Anne of Green Gables isn’t really set in the 1870s; it’s set in the 1890s (the puffed sleeves, electric lights and other details prove this). Montgomery reset the books’ timeline around book 6 or so when she decided she wanted to have Anne’s children fight in WWI.”

      Thanks for the explanation on this. Within the first book, I had a hard time placing the time for the article and decided to go with the times as set by the Anne of Green Gables Wiki, which aged back from where Anne’s children were in WWI. Anne with an E is set in the 1890s, per the BCB Anne website, so I will clarify this point in the article. Electric lights and similar did not seem to be present in the first book. The Puff Sleeves were, but I was unaware of their exact age. Thank you for the clarification.

      “The whole redhead and green eyes thing is romanticized and overblown to make Anne more of an underdog.”

      It doesn’t change the number of times Anne was called a Witch in the first book, nor the fact that in the later books, witch stories are woven into the books (granted, romanticized stories), nor that in a later book, one of her children is told Anne is a witch because she has red hair. This eases up over the course of the books some, but as Anne with an E is based on the first book, it is what I look at.

      “Gilbert was based on one of Montgomery’s closest friends from her school days”

      This explains why I almost like Gilbert after the first book more. If there was more of Gilbert’s personality in the first book, I might have a different view. I am also keenly aware that I am giving the same criticism of Montgomery’s Gilbert that she gave to Charlotte Bronte’s men. It should be noted that Montgomery’s work is heavily influenced by Bronte and that despite my criticism of Montgomery’s Gilbert, her work is of interest to me as well. Regardless of the basis of the freeze out by Gilbert, it detracts dramatically from my interpretation of Gilbert throughout the books, as the end result seems unrealistic to me.

      “I’m surprised you read Diana as in love with Anne.”

      I didn’t when I was a kid, only on a reread as an adult who had found love (with a man). It seems that This aspect of both Anne and Diana can be read very broadly for different people. I find this more powerful than the intended relationship to me. When one creates art, the meaning of that art often gets changed from the intended based on the life experiences of the people absorbing the work. Yes, Anne does the romantic gestures you talk about, and yes, Diana marries first, as soon as it becomes obvious that Anne will leave Green Gables and move away from Diana. But it is Diana who has the subtilty of love to me.

      In this reading, I am pretty sure I put myself at odds with most everyone’s reading of Anne and Diana’s relationship. Of course, I am pretty sure I am putting myself at odds with people’s reading of Gilbert, as well. The wonderful thing about works of fiction is we can all read them differently, and still enjoy them.

  7. Great article! As a first time reader of the books only now, I’m a tad disappointed with Gilbert’s underdone presence in the first book. I take the book as pure fantasy, really. Anne’s high level of popularity at school also seeming as unrealistic as Gilbert maintaining affection for Anne over years of being severely snubbed.
    In regards to everyone’s interpretations on whether Anne and/or Dianna were in love with each other or not, does anyone have much info on what were the norm, or permissible, expressions of affection between females in that era?
    As homosexuality was condemned, I wonder if such culture then enabled broader forms of affection and friendship between women, under the illusion that homosexuality was so far from likely that such romance was “safe” to express. If so, it’s possible that gestures which were allowable then might now be read (or recognised) as queer?
    Anne in the book often mentions her predilection for “romantic” gestures and thoughts – romance then being a concept apparently more inclusive of the idealised view of life and non-sexual, compared to how we tend to think of it more now. As such, the declarations of love that Diana gives her on pretty notepaper, and the lock of hair Anne takes, can be read as “romantic” in the Anne-sense.

    Such a lot of interesting issues within this story and the amazing Anne With an E interpretation!

  8. “I know for a fact that if you ignore a boy’s attempts to get your attention for five or so years, he will lose the desire for your attention.”

    Having seen relationships develop in this way, and even including longer periods of one party ignoring the other, I know for a fact that what is unrealistic for some, happens for others. I personally found the books and their characters far more relatable than the so-called more “realistic” portrayals of the Anne with an E series. I suppose, “to each his own” is appropriate here. Now at least, there appears to be an Anne for everyone.

  9. Hello, Claire!

    I loved your article and completely agree with your assessments on the book and new show.

    I’m curious what your thoughts are on season 2 now that it is out on Netflix.

    Thank you for putting so eloquently into words my thoughts and feelings on this show.

  10. You know, I actually do like Gilbert better after reading this! I think Lucas Zumann is great and does so well in the role as it was written for him, but I wasn’t sure about the writing itself. I remember reading a review that called. Him a “smug yet woke littl Lothario” and it was kind of like, well….yeah! But I think I agree with you; he has more depth here and that’s great.

    I’m curious about whether you’ve watched or posted about season 2 yet because I have some definite feelings!

  11. I loved your view on Anne and Gilbert as well as Anne’s time period. AWAE Anne & Gilbert are the first two I’ve really connected with as well (don’t remember much of the book, it’s been years since I read it). I agree with everything you said in your article, it’s so nice to know that other people like what the show has done with Anne re: showing the impact of her trauma and using her imagination as a coping mechanism.

    For me, another great aspect of AWAE is the fact that they treat Anne’s emotions with respect and are 100% sincere about it. In the 80s movies, I always got the feeling that we’re meant to laugh at Anne because of how over the top she is (this might have been in the book as well), but in AWAE it’s played straight. When Anne & Diana can’t be friends anymore in ep 5, their goodbye scene felt so real and raw because the show treated it as seriously as Anne did. The show (at least to me) treated it as a romantic couple breaking up), and the scene itself kind of visually paralleled Matthew and Jeanie’s earlier scene. By taking Anne’s dramatics seriously, the show has also become more textually romantic with Anne and Diana. I read Anne as bisexual and Diana as a lesbian in the show.

    I’m thrilled that you view Diana as a lesbian. This is also the first adaptation where Diana has really resonated with me (the 80s movie version was just too dumb for me). As a lesbian, a lot of Diana’s reactions rang true to me. For example, she is immediately fond of Anne and just is always so happy to see her, she lights up when they’re together. She has shown no real interest in boys, no huge crushes like Ruby Gillis or any of the other girls. Her assumption that she will marry a man especially rang true for me, since before I realized I was a lesbian I assumed I was attracted to men and that I would marry one simply because society kept telling me I would. When they are forced to not be friends anymore, Diana is devastated. Anne is devastated as well but Diana’s devastation feels like it comes from a different place than Anne’s, who hates to lose her best (and only) friend.

    Season 2 is even more sapphic in regards to Diana & Anne’s relationship. I’ve only watched up to ep 5 so far but the way that Anne always makes Diana be the brave knight and Diana accepts happily just reads as lesbian to me (I’m mainly referring to the boat scene where Diana kisses Anne’s brow and the opening scene of s2 ep5 where Anne makes Diana be a prince and Diana looks very happy to be playing a prince and romancing the girls. She looks very at ease in that role, and didn’t object at all when Anne chose her as the prince).
    Also the way Diana and Anne compliment each other reads as very wlw to me. And one thing that really struck me is how Diana is nearly always almost in tears when declaring her love for Anne, like she loves her so much she can’t contain it.

    Anyway, love your article, you made very good points and I agree wholeheartedly.

    1. I forgot to add that it feels very intentional that Diana has not really shown an interest in boys, as there have been multiple opportunities to have her show an interest and they haven’t taken it. Like for instance in s2 during her conversation with Jerry, she doesn’t say anything flirtatious in response to his flirting and laughs it off, then doesn’t mention it again. I really hope that the CBC & Netflix will let Wally-Beckett explore lesbian Diana Barry.

  12. Hi Claire,
    I really love your writing. Did you watch Anne season 2? Please write an article about season 2 as well

  13. Greetings from Germany! I absolutely loved your article and all the aspects you referred to and would love to read a second one about season 2, especially about the Anne Gilbert relationship. Thanks very much!

  14. Having a great love of the books and the 80’s mini series I am not sure I can get behind your reasoning on much of your review, or for that matter, any review where traumatized Anne is “more realistic” and more “accurate to the time” and “not a fairytale”. Anne in the new series is “the heroine”. Period. Full stop. She will bring change come hell or high water. Matthew and Marilla send her away? So what? She’s a survivor. What the books and the OG miniseries do so well is show how Avonlea changes Anne as much as Anne changes Avonlea. In the new series the show makes excuses for Anne’s behaviour by alluding to trauma and PTSD. Her flights of fancy are “coping mechanisms”. Her treatment of Gilbert is justified because he “stared too long” and tried to steal her soul and invaded her space. (Forget for a moment that Gilbert himself is just a child! He has no more concept of himself as Anne does of herself.)

    Anne has faults. She is vain. (her hair, her nose) She is melodramatic. (pretty much every scene) She is prone to distraction. (the mouse in the sauce, ben hur) She is rude. (Rachel Lynde, Gilbert) She places too much stock on her fantasy future, rather than the good things she has. (again Gilbert) She can hold a grudge to her detriment.(Rachel Lynde, Gilbert) Impulsiveness (taking Josie Pye’s dare) Anne does have an air of entitlement through out the books and the OG series. Through out the books Anne still struggles with these issues even though we see her become more self aware and watch her thaw toward certain characters. In AWAE all of these faults are excused or encouraged because of her backstory which actually nulls her relatability and demonizes Avonlea as a product of the time rather than a place Anne falls in love with. I don’t want to relate to Anne because of her victimhood. The best stories are the heart in conflict with itself. Montgomery shows us with Anne that the world is oft unfriendly and difficult. We need not make it worse for ourselves.

  15. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your commentary, as I had also found myself disappointed with the lack of Gilbert in the books. It seems oddly strange for a relationship to be able to develop from a nearly missing character or as you said one who is “paper thin.”

    I’m curious to see if you’ve watched the Anne with an E finale? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the development of Gilbert, and then consequently his and Anne’s budding relationship!

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