Best-sellers are always a better guide to the state of mind of the reading public than the condition of fiction at the time. And the public state of mind – mercifully – is unstable. Books that sold in millions fifty years ago are forgotten today. Who reads Anne of Green Gables now? It is still in print (Harrap £4.95); it was televised as a period piece by the BBC a few years ago. I doubt, though, if you will find her – or any of the ten further ‘Anne’ books – on many library or bookshop shelves. But from the time of publication in 1908 Anne was a popular icon in Canada and the United States; and she had a good run for her money over here – the 1925 English edition sold over a million.
Anne is a red-haired insufferably garrulous eleven-year old who is landed on a middle-aged rural Canadian couple who had advertised for a boy orphan as, they fondly imagined, an extra hand around the farm. Instead they get Anne, who has a winsome line in all-out appreciation of nature and a