Spinning off Marilla with Love: Why a beloved LM Montgomery character still beguiles
What author would choose to write about an already existing character?
The joy of writing fiction is inventing people, places and plots. Without these freedoms, writers risk making stories seem forced, unauthentic.
Louise Michalos felt that with the right character, she could draw a familiar audience yet create a fresh experience. In her debut novel, Marilla Before Anne, Michalos tells the story of Marilla Cuthbert, long before the spunky red-headed Anne arrives at Green Gables.
“I’m a new, unknown author, and because of that, I thought it would help to write about a character who already had an audience,” Michalos says. “And if I’m from the East Coast then it should be an East Coast character. Who better than Marilla Cuthbert?”
The reader sees a young and spirited Marilla grow into the cold and dour spinster from LM Montgomery’s classic. Marilla endures loss and tragedy in a time the roles of women were limited. Michalos demonstrates the grit and perseverance of these women, providing a sense of hope and belief in their ability to love, even after heartbreak.
This handling of characters appealed to Whitney Moran, managing editor of Nimbus Publishing and Vagrant Press. “I first heard of the project in September 2018,” says Moran. She gave a presentation on editing at the Sherbrooke Village Writer’s Camp where Michalos, one of the participants, spoke of a story she was working on. Moran was struck by how much Michalos cared for her characters, her ability to show a Marilla readers had never seen before.
Moran says the story is more than a prequel to Anne of Green Gables. It’s about strong women, the importance of their friendships, being there for each other as they bear burdens and live within the confines of their society.
It’s told with a uniquely Maritime voice. Some of the challenges Marilla faces were drawn from the story of Michalos’ own family. “[Women] kept the family going during tough times, pushing aside thoughts of themselves to maintain family and community.”
Moran expects varied reactions to Marilla. There will be purists who will not accept anything not written by Montgomery. There will also be avid Anne fans wanting to expand their collection. Marilla will also draw entirely new readers interested in a piece of historical fiction with a well told story about a young woman on Prince Edward Island. They may be persuaded to pick up other Anne titles, like millions of readers around the world.
A globally loved character with a steady readership for 113 years, Anne of Green Gables is part of school curricula in Japan. Many Japanese tourists visit Prince Edward Island each year to see Green Gables.
When asked about this universal appeal, Moran says, “I think Anne was before her time and we’re now just catching up.” The characters are believable and relatable, which keeps people reading. Their wisdom and insight make it hard to believe they were written so long ago.
“The original Anne books were commissioned as an example of how young ladies should behave,” says Michalos. Montgomery created Anne, a character willing to act outside those boundaries of expected protocols.
“Who hasn’t chosen to defy authority?” Michalos asks. “Especially for the sake of love.” In her book, Marilla does just that, paralleling the life of Anne, and she must face the consequences.
Regardless of where you are around the world, Anne has a humanness that can’t be denied. With Marilla Before Anne, Michalos has crafted an extension of that story and a character worthy of her own tale.