I have been really delighted by the fact that there are people reading this blog. Like, people besides my mom! I mean, I write this blog with my friends and family in mind because they know me and there is a lot of me in my interpretations of these books. So I love that my mom is my first subscriber. But it has been really exciting to see people reading my blog after finding it on search engines and through WordPress tags. Hi, strangers reading my blog! Would you like Diana to pour you a glass of
raspberry cordial current wine?
Anyway, today I saw a few hits from the search engine terms “When did Anne of Green Gables take place?” This is a question I’ve thought a lot about. Because LMM is not especially clear on dates until the last book in the series, which takes place during World War I. So I generally work backwards from there.
Rilla, the main character of the last book, Rilla of Ingleside (she is Anne’s youngest daughter), is fourteen years old in 1914. Which means she was born in 1900. Her oldest brother, Jem, is twenty-one when she is fourteen, so he was born in 1893.
Jem is born in the fifth book, Anne’s House of Dreams, roughly a year or so after Anne is married at the beginning of the story.
Book four, Anne of Windy Poplars, covers the three years she is engaged, so it begins roughly around 1889.
Book three, Anne of the Island, takes place during the four years she’s in college, beginning around 1885 (look at me, doing math!).
The second book, Anne of Avonlea, is a short period in Anne’s life, just about two years I think. Which makes Anne sixteen years old around 1883.
Therefore, when Anne is eleven years old at the beginning of Anne of Green Gables, it is some time in the late 1870s.
I sort of wonder if the time of the books isn’t a little ambiguous because LMM didn’t write them in order, so she never puts dates even when she includes, for example, a header on a letter that gives the day and month. But no years.
Here is what’s also sort of confusing about this. Puffed sleeves. In the first book, Anne is desperate for a dress with puffed sleeves. The thing is, puffed sleeves were NOT the fashion in the late 1870s.
For 1870s fashion (well, for most 19th century fashion), there are a number of primary sources available, including many fashion plates and magazines (Scripps College’s Denison Library has a really great database of them with images) as well as lovely examples of dresses in museum costume collections (the Met Costume Institute has an online searchable database with images also).
Another wonderfully useful source is art from the time, and for the 1870s you can’t do much better than paintings by French artist James Tissot, such as the 1877 The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth), in which we can see what was fashionable dress at the time-
As you can see from this painting, 1870s fashion was more of a party-in-the-back situation with elaborate bustles.
Puffed sleeves were, however, relatively fashionable when LMM published the novel in 1908. That is to say, puffed sleeves had been very much the height of fashion since around the 1890s (silhouettes start to change around 1908 to a much slimmer overall line with Empire waists and soon, raised hemlines). Here is an illustration of fashionable “Dinner Toilettes” from Harper’s Bazaar, 1895.
“This is a pretty narrow chair. How on earth are we going to fit our spectacular sleeves next to one another at the table?”
How fabulous are the bows on Leftie’s hem?
Anyway, so was LMM writing the puffed sleeves (which, P.S. I will talk more about them as they happen in the book) to appeal to her audience, purposefully using contemporary fashion in her story? Because I have a hard time believing she was unaware of the fact that puffed sleeves weren’t happening in the late 1870s.
Also, when Anne gets married, she mentions how she’d always dreamed of a wedding dress with huge puffed sleeves, but that the short ones she wears are also nice. BUT PUFFED SLEEVES WERE FASHIONABLE WHEN YOU GOT MARRIED IN 1892-ish, ANNE! Eleven-year-old Anne would have killed for this 1890s Worth wedding gown (in the Met Costume Institute Collection).
However, short sleeves would have been fashionable around the time LMM published Anne’s House of Dreams in 1917. Here is a lovely evening gown from around 1914 by Callot Soeurs, also in the Met Costume Institute collection.
So what was LMM up to when she writes about these fashions in the Anne books?
Where’s a Canadian Lit scholar when you need one?
EDITED TO ADD…!
Well, a Canadian Lit scholar has been located (Hi, Dr. B!) and as per her comment (in the comment section, if you care to read it) I now think the puffed sleeves make more sense. If Prince Edward Island was receiving fashion in a very delayed manner, third-hand from Boston via New York via Paris, then I wonder if the puffed sleeves in question aren’t more of a bell-shaped sleeve similar to the ones that were fashionable in the 1860s. Here’s an example from Godey’s Ladies Book, 1861.
Obviously women in a rural community wouldn’t wear crinolines.
In fact, I think there are passages in which Anne describes certain styles of puffs that are consistent with this era’s sleeve fashions. I’ll point them out as I come to them in the book. With pictures, of course!
What do you think?