The “Buxom Blonde” Controversy of 2013

Guest post by Melanie Fishbane

“Yes, it’s red,” she said resignedly. “Now you see why I can’t be perfectly happy. Nobody could who had red hair…I cannot imagine that red hair away…It will be my lifelong sorrow.”

Well, even if Anne had been happier as a “buxom blonde,” it seems that her fans have a definite opinion about her lifelong sorrow.

When Josie Leavitt’s piece on how the cover on a recent Anne of Green Gables e-book collection could ruin a book went viral, it caused an international reaction that was so intense that it might have had Anne rethink her stand on red hair. The new edition, released in November under Amazon’s CreateSpace self-publishing operation, featured a blonde woman probably in her early 20s, dressed like a farm girl out of a 1980s jeans ad, and leaning over provocatively.

CBC Radio was one of the first to pick up the story on their show “As it Happens,” which aired on the 6 February, and featured Mary Beth Cavert, who had some interesting things to say about how Montgomery felt about the cover. I loved it when she joked about meeting Gilbert behind the hay stacks and if Montgomery had had an iPhone she would have “pitched it.”

After that everything from the local newspaper to the evening news, you couldn’t escape this story. Even This Hour Has 22 Minutes (a satirical news hour program on CBC) wrote a hilarious sketch that led to some troubling hair dye issues. It even drowned out another amusing anecdotal story on Boing Boing that suggested that a middle-aged Anne of Ingleside had herpes. (A week later CBC tried to rekindle the flame, but it seems that being blonde was more controversial than having an STD.)

Interestingly, this cover is just one of many odd Anne covers surfacing online through digital channels. Many of Montgomery’s books are now in the public domain so any e-book publisher can slap on a cover and use it. I suspect that CreateSpace didn’t make a conscious decision about what cover to use, but was most likely blind merchandising without awareness of what kind of kerfuffle it could create. Perhaps it just so happened that the blonde beat out the three-year-old in the red-poppied garden because it just made a better news story.

At the last Montgomery conference, L.M. Montgomery and Cultural Memory, there was a lot of discussion around how Montgomery and Anne are remembered as part of our cultural Canadian consciousness. And while some articles, such as The Toronto Star, used a stock photo from Kevin Sullivan’s version of Anne played by Megan Follows as a way to compare our collectively approved version of Anne to the blasphemous one, what seems clear is that the public has a very specific idea of who Anne Shirley is and woe betide anyone that re-imagines her otherwise.

The public wants the image of a red-headed dreamy and deviant orphan girl looking out to the precipices of what will be, because that is the Anne people remember from their childhood. And memory is more precious than e-book sales.

One thought on “The “Buxom Blonde” Controversy of 2013”

Comments are closed.