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Farewell to my first love

A few weeks ago my heart was broken. Not just mine, but countless women around the world, particularly of my vintage, were devastated to learn that Canadian actor Jonathan Crombie had died.

News like this is tragic enough, especially when you consider Crombie was only 48, but what makes the news so significant is that he was my, and many other’s, first love.

For me Crombie was synonymous with one of the much loved characters he played – Gilbert Blythe in the Anne of Green Gables movies of the 80s.

I can’t remember whether I read the books first or saw the movies first, but I was addicted to both as a child and teenager.

Anne of Green Gables was written in 1908 and has stood the test of time. Full of life lessons, everyday adventure, romance, drama and heartbreak, it recounts the adventures of Anne Shirley, an 11-year-old orphan girl.

Anne is mistakenly sent to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a middle-aged brother and sister who had intended to adopt a boy to help them on their farm in Prince Edward Island. The novel recounts how Anne makes her way with the Cuthberts, in school, and within the town, and the sequels follow her life thereafter.

Anne was intelligent, misunderstood, plucky, fiery, awkward looking, talkative and precocious at times but above all she was imaginative, loyal and passionate. I would have been the same age as Anne when I first read the book and it was as if I had found my own ‘kindred spirit’ in those pages.

To this day I’m obsessed with the idea of “radiantly lovely” cherry trees in full bloom and on my travels I’m always on the lookout for avenues of overhanging apple trees reminiscent of Anne’s “White Way of Delight”.

Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea are one of the few books I have read over and over again. So much so that the 1925 edition I read from as a child is too fragile, from overuse, for the pages to be turned.

Anne is an unmatched literary heroine but she represents only half the appeal of the books.

It’s Gilbert Blythe who really captured our hearts. Gilbert is a handsome classmate who tried to get Anne’s attention on her first day at school by pulling her hair and calling her “Carrots” (unaware of her sensitivity about her red hair). Anne reacted by refusing to have anything to do with him for the next few years. Although Gilbert repeatedly apologised, Anne rebuffed him for years.

However, Gilbert never abandoned his quest for her friendship (and eventually, love). Anne had unknowingly forgiven him when he had saved her from drowning, but had only just let her pride down when he gave up his job as teacher at the Avonlea school for her, to enable her to live at Green Gables with Marilla.

Selfless, smart, handsome, persistent and confident, Gilbert in many ways outshines the likes of Mr Darcy – and that’s saying something.

When Anne refuses his proposal, he replies: “Your friendship can’t satisfy me, Anne. I want your love”.

Gilbert Blythe you were and always will be my first love and thank you Jonathan Crombie for doing justice to L.M. Montgomery’s character.

We could all learn a little from Gilbert – pursue your dreams, persist and never settle for anything less than true love and a life of adventure. Farewell and thank you and here’s my final nod to Crombie’s Gilbert.

Anne Shirley: “I’ve made up my mind to go to my grave unwept, unhonoured and unsung.” 
Gilbert Blythe: “But not unpublished.” Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story (film)

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