Anne of Green Gables Has ADHD?

Anne Green Gables ADHD

Could Anne of Green Gables have ADHD?  How about Pastor Meredith?

We’ve all experienced it: While watching a movie, reading a book, or listening to a song, we recognize….ADHD. Even if the creator of that work had never heard of it.

My friend Penny H. recognized behaviors similar to her husband’s Inattentive-ADHD-type challenges while reading fictional literature. Specifically, in a book published in 1919, Rainbow Valley, by Lucy Maud Montgomery. It’s part of the Anne of Green Gables series. So much for ADHD being a “modern invention.”

Making this post even more timely:  The Netflix release of the Anne with an E series. Update: Then, two years after this post ran for the first time, a paper published the peer-reviewed Pediatric Annals draws similar conclusions. See the link below.

ADHD In Rainbow Valley?

By Penny H., guest essay

I like to read. I read a wide variety of books but enjoy biographies, history, and historical fiction quite a bit. Recently I was able to download the complete series of Anne of Green Gables, which I had never read or even seen as a movie or television show.

I didn’t quite know what to expect from these books, written by Lucy Maud Montgomery mostly in the early 1900s, but have found them pleasant reading.

What I never expected to discover was a thorough handling of a character with ADD so pronounced that he could be nothing else. (By ADD, I am using the older terminology to describe the Inattentive subtype of ADHD.)

 His name is John Meredith, a widowed Presbyterian preacher with four children.  He reminded me so much of my husband, who has ADD, that I was both astounded and amused.

Anne Green Gables ADHD

Pastor Meredith and Inattentive Type ADHD?

Rainbow Valley was written in 1919. It is set around 1910 or so. The town needs a new preacher and Meredith has been hired. Soon, though, it becomes evident that he has “issues.” He is an excellent preacher. Everyone says that is so. But he is a widower, and running his household is his elderly aunt, who appears to have some sort of dementia. Or maybe she’s just tired.

Whatever her challenges, she is not up to taking care of a household. She cooks about once a week and the rest of the week is “ditto” or leftovers. No one is teaching the girls how to take care of a house, cook, clean, or sew. They are all running wild. The father has his heart in the grave with his dead wife, but his mind is elsewhere.

“Moony and Absent-Minded”

At the beginning of the book, he is being described to Anne, who has been away. Her friend says the reason Meredith hadn’t gotten a “town” (to preach in before now) was that he was so “moony and absent-minded”. This is saying it nicely. (Moony is an old-fashioned term defined as “dreamy and unaware of one’s surroundings”).

The town is scandalized that the children are allowed to play in the neighboring Methodist cemetery. (The Presbyterians had gotten the land cheap for the preacher’s house.) But “he always has his nose in a book when he is home.”

He also:

  1. “Walks about in his study in a day-dream”
  2. Forgets to go to prayer meetings and officiate at weddings, where at one he turned up at the last minute in his carpet slippers.
  3. Reads the ceremony for a funeral without noticing the error until the bride faints and the groom giggles.

“He belongs to the sect of dreamers,” the Montgomery writes.

Anne Green Gables ADHD


Meredith Lived in a World of Distractions

Preacher Meredith loves his children dearly. But just can’t manage to pay much attention to them. He lived in a world of distractions. Though seeming to realize that things aren’t really going well, he can never seem to do anything to improve the situation. Or, he forgets about everything else as he gets hyper-focused reading a book, writing a sermon, or contemplating world history.

Meanwhile, the children do without adequate clothing, food, and supervision. The result is numerous incidents that could have gotten him fired from his job—and almost did multiple times.

Ultimately, the solution is for him to remarry someone who can take on all the things he is unable to do.  He refuses to consider taking on more help, even when another child stays with them for some time and takes on some of the things the aunt won’t do. He doesn’t want to hurt the aunt’s feelings.

What I find so interesting in this story is how many ADD traits Meredith displays.  Surely this character was based on a true-life person. 

The moony-ness, the hyper-focus, the inability to make needed changes, the difficulty of getting and keeping a job, all of these are characteristics my husband has as well as other people with ADD.

Meredith rarely seems to work himself up into strong emotion. Perhaps he expels them in the pulpit.  He almost by accident falls in with the woman he later marries. Even then, after she had rebuked him, his youngest daughter had to go ask her to reconsider.

Why Deprive People with ADHD of Answers?

Today, we read recent articles claiming that ADD/ADHD are invented syndromes made to sell drugs. I find it so frustrating that people who are so short-sighted (among other less favorable things I could call them) work so hard to make it difficult for people whose lives are tragically affected by ADD to get the medicine and care they need.

ADD/ADHD has probably been around in some form ever since humans developed a frontal lobe. I find it reassuring to see this confirmed in older writings and history.

Perhaps if Pastor Meredith had the option of treatment, his household, job situation, and life, in general, would have been better for the whole family.  He didn’t have that option back in the early 1900s, but we have it now. We should make it easier for people with ADD, not harder.

Anne Green Gables ADHD

Update:  “Anne With an E” Netflix Series

A reader comments:

Right now I’m watching the new Anne With An E series on Netflix. It’s magnificent!!!

Anne just went off into dreamland and let the pie burn, so I started searching for characters w ADHD.

Her vocabulary is truly that of a gifted child. She has learned so much without having been well-educated. Her imagination and the amount of speech she produces is that of a gifted child.

I can’t say any more, but I imagine her to be a twice-exceptional child, gifted with ADHD. I’ve known several of these children, but I don’t know much about Anne.

Does anybody have any other thoughts about Anne of Green Gables having ADHD?

A Published Paper: Anne of Green Gables and ADHD

Turns out. we weren’t the only ones wondering about Anne of Green Gables depicting common signs of ADHD.

Thanks to reader Regine for sharing this link:  Lucy Maude Montgomery and Anne of Green Gables: An Early Description of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.


Looking at literary characters for developmental disorders can give a glance into the past and offer evidence that disorders were present well before their modern diagnoses.

The character of Anne Shirley is an excellent example of this. She not only provides insight into the timeline of ADHD but also into the thought process of a person with ADHD.


Have you recognized ADHD in a book or movie character, or perhaps in song lyrics?

Please share in a comment.

The first version of this post appeared May 1, 2015

—Gina Pera


34 thoughts on “Anne of Green Gables Has ADHD?”

  1. John Kruse MD, PhD

    I think that Pippi Longstockings also certainly seems to display a host of ADHD characteristics, and if we extend our search to the comic strips, much of Dennis the Menace’s behavior fits well with an ADHD framework as well.

    1. Hi John,

      Yes! The early presentations I attended in the early days often used Dennis the Menace to illustrate ADHD.

      Unfortunate, as Dennis is a stereotype of only a subset of ADHD. And he’s a “menace” — hardly good PR for the diagnosis. 🙂

      Thanks for your comment,

  2. There are lots of minor ADHD-ish characters in English detective stories from the 20s-40s.

    They are often men who were admired and even heroic in wartime, but afterward didn’t seem to know what to do with themselves and got off course, or into trouble. Often they are drinkers, their wives are doing their best to keep things together.

    Sometimes they are prone to entrepreneurial dreams or money-making schemes that they can’t make work. I think this phenomenon of the warrior at a loss in peacetime was real and familiar to many in those days in England.

    Also in the same period there are recurring sorts of female characters who also seem ADHD-ish to me – unconventional, socially awkward (“gauche”), interesting and courageous, dressing in odd but practical ways, no good at “feminine wiles”, naive in some ways but direct and morally clear-sighted in a way that could be embarrassing for others. Amanda Fitton in Margery Allingham’s Campion books is one of these, in some ways at least.

    1. Hi Gillian,

      Thank you for your comment. I know the kind of female character you mean. 🙂

      I imagine there are also class distinctions?

      For example, I’ve often wondered if some degree of ADHD might be seen in the Bertie Wooster character—a good-humnored but sometimes distractible man who needed someone to organize him, dress him, take care of their things, arrange social calls, fix his mistakes, etc. Of course the same could be said of the upper-class women and their ladies’ maids, etc. At any rate, with a passel of people around taking care of one’s needs, it is lots easier to function day to day!

      The British Primogeniture Law was abolished in only 1925, right? So, I imagine that harsh if-prudent-on-some-level system created many men who were at loose ends with a “why try” attitude. What to do with oneself when one’s older brother has the money, lands, and home—and one is ill-suited for the parsonage? Gamble? Speculate? Become a Remittance Man?

      It’s interesting, trying to separate the threads.


    1. Hi Rohan,

      HA!! Penny will be delighted to read this, I’m sure.

      Thanks for sharing!

      I just want to correct a misinterpretation of Dr. George Still’s lectures on ADHD to the Royal College of Physicians in 1902 (and other times).

      When he used the term “abnormal defect in moral control”, he didn’t mean that these children were immoral.

      He meant that they often had trouble self-regulating their actions so as to be in accord with their values.


  3. Anne with an “E” is an exceptional TV adaptation of the original Anne of Green Gables books, but much liberty has been taken with the story to make it more dramatic. Anne is much more aggressive, prone to anger not as forceful in the books. She has a right to it, but it’s not in the books.

    Other scenes that would have been delightful to have in the show have been left out for some reason. Anne of Green Gable fans have been pretty disappointed with it.

    I really enjoy it, though, knowing that they are going to be taking liberties with the story line and just enjoying it for what it’s worth.

    The ADD minister I wrote about above doesn’t come along until after Anne is married with children that match the general ages of the children in the story. I don’t expect to see that character portrayed in the TV show, alas.

    1. Oh, thanks, Penny. I was starting to wonder if I remembered Anne all wrong.

      Why does Hollywood have to add a layer of aggression to everything these days. sigh.


  4. Lois Ballard

    Right now I’m watching the new Anne With An E series on Netflix. It’s magnificent!!!

    Anne just went off into dreamland and let the pie burn, so I started searching for characters w ADHD.

    Her vocabulary is truly that of a gifted child. She has learned so much without having been well-educated. Her imagination and the amount of speech she produces is that of a gifted child.

    I can’t say any more, but I imagine her to be a twice-exceptional child, gifted with ADHD. I’ve known several of these children, but I don’t know much about Anne.

    Does anybody have any other thoughts about Anne With An E?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Lois. I have the show in my Netflix queue but haven’t watched it yet.

      Maybe others will weigh in. I’ll share on my Facebook page.


  5. I have often heard it suggested by a variety of individuals- friends, anonymous entities on the internet, and certainly through my own observation- that Sherlock Holmes would have very likely being diagnosed with ADHD (among other things) were he a real person today.

    His highly perceptive sensory system, need for constant “stimuli” to his brain either by way of an intriguing case or by substance use during interim periods of quietude, his tendency to be easily bored, as well as easily distracted by some minor detail which just so happens to be an invaluable clue, and the enviable light switch like shift into hyperfocus could all be rather striking characteristics of untreated ADHD.

    Sherlock embraces these qualities and learns how to direct them constructively towards solving mysteries, a rather nice portrayal of how one can tap into this “disorder” to actually give him an unparalleled edge to his sleuthing. Of course he struggIes in other areas: social interactions, infuriating boredom which lends itself to impulsive and often dangerous alternatives, and of course the substance use.

    1. HI Samantha,

      You make a very good case. I’ve wondered the same of Sherlock. And I agree that, were he not so functional, he might have been diagnosed with ADHD and, most likely, bi-polar. But I haven’t read the books lately, only seen the movies and TV shows.

      For me, Jeremy Brett’s is the quintessential Sherlock Holmes. And he took the role quite seriously, perhaps too seriously (from

      “Holmes’ obsessive and depressive personality fascinated and frightened Brett. In many ways Holmes’ personality resembled the actor’s own, with outbursts of passionate energy followed by periods of lethargy. It became difficult for him to let go of Holmes after work. He had always been told that the only way for an actor to stay sane was for him to leave his part behind at the end of the day, but Brett started dreaming about Holmes, and the dreams turned into nightmares.”


      “Some actors fear if they play Sherlock Holmes for a very long run the character will steal their soul, leave no corner for the original inhabitant”, he once said, but: “Holmes has become the dark side of the moon for me. He is moody and solitary and underneath I am really sociable and gregarious. It has all got too dangerous”.

      Another fictional sleuth, Hercule Poirot, falls into the same “down” effect when he is not working on a case. And his “little gray cells” come alive when a new case presents itself. He is anything but ADHD, being so orderly in his habits. But then again, he is a fictional character. 🙂

      I always found Holmes, the way Brett played him anyway, to be more manic-depressive (bi-polar disorder), with some ADHD overtones, but it’s hard to say if that was the role’s effect on Brett or vice-versa:

      “In the latter part of 1986, Brett exhibited wild mood swings that alarmed his family and friends, who persuaded him to seek diagnosis and treatment for manic depression. Brett was given lithium tablets to fight his manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder. He suspected that he would never be cured, and would have to live with his condition, look for the signs of his disorder, and then deal with it. He wanted to return to work, to play Holmes again.”

      Thanks for your comment.


    2. Betsy Davenport

      And let us not forget that Sherlock Holmes injected cocaine or some such stimulant.

  6. The character Geissler from Growth of the Soil (Knut Hamsun, Norway, 1919). Geissler is well-liked, and he always has grand ideas and big plans, but they never seem to work out. Sometimes, for a day or two, he manages to inspire others and create something beautiful, but his own life is never quite what he wants it to be. Near the end, he describes himself as “the fog,” everywhere and nowhere, full of ideas but without the lightning to carry them through.

    1. Hi Josie,

      Very interesting. Thanks for contributing to our “ADHD canon.” 🙂

      “Fog” and “big ideas that never work out” — two giant clues….


  7. My youngest son has ADHD and he shares a lot in common with Tigger in AA Milne’s ״Winnie the Pooh” series and Calvin of “Calvin and Hobbes. “

    1. Hi!

      Having been diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, I had to take initiative in the diagnpsi process. A friend of mine had taken some time off of school to deal with “mental health issues” which were actually intricately related to his previously undiagnosed ADHD.

      Upon his return he had brought several books for me to read. Though I was dubious at first, before long I was reading what was essentially the story of my life. My friend continued to loan me literature and direct me to websites with relevant information.

      I proceed to research adult ADHD and in the process stumbled upon a website (sorry I can’t remember which one) intended for the parents of childish with ADHD. This website basically broke down the various sub-types of ADHD as Winnie the Pooh characters! Tigger is most obvious falling into the typical “hyperactive” subtype with whicb we are so familiar.

      But the site went on to discuss other characters such as Piglet who presents with his fidgety nature and predisposition to anxiety, Eyor with his apathetic departure from being present-minded while preoccupied with depression, Rabbit who has a short fuse, obsesses over his garden (hi there hyperfocus!) and is prone to emotional outbursts.

      And we can’t forget about Pooh himself, a classic representation of the absent-minded “inattentive” subtype. I wish I could remember the site, but I found it quite interesting. Thought it was intended for children, I certainly appreciated it.

  8. wilfred mann

    The American Psychiatric Association highlighted micronutrients as an effective treatment for mental illness this month. My own doctor recommended Hardy Nutritonal’s Daily Essential Nutrients (an affordable micronutrient supplement) YEARS ago, and I have been successful and med-free ever since. It’s great to see the medical professional industry rally behind a natural supplement for mental wellbeing.

    You can read more about the practical use of micronutrients in this news article: or on this popular natural health blog: As someone who both uses Daily Essential Nutrients and works in the medical industry, I personally believe we should strive to get the word out about viable, affordable, natural treatments like this.

    1. Hi Wilfred,

      Thanks for your comment, and the link. I’ve communicated with Bonnie Kaplan. Very interesting work. And of course Julia Rucklidge.

      I agree…it is insane to me that nutritional status is seldom, if ever, considered, at least in the way medicine is practiced in the U.S.

      The argument seems to be that we don’t have accurate ways of measuring deficiencies. But there is much that is “ballpark” in medicine, so I find that a red herring. I think MDs just don’t understand minerals and vitamins and have bought the line that “we get all we need from a well-balanced diet.” (How many Americans have a well-balanced diet?)

      You might be interested in this study I posted earlier, about nutrient supplementation improving ADHd functioning (from Julia Rucklidge):


  9. Gina, Gina!

    The Anne of Green Gables series is a huge part of my life! Like a warm dish of comfort food, a security blanket, or a worry stone, I have returned to the series time and again when I needed to shut out the world and breathe in the simple tales of love life and adventure. I’m so happy to see that you have enjoyed them.

    Onto John Meredith. He is so quintessentially ADHD I cannot believe I never really thought of it (of course, Mary Vance, the cod fish caper, and worrying about poor Rosemary West always distracted me from it)! Of course he is, he literally couldn’t be anything else. He is hyper focus personified. In the clutch, such as when Carl is so sick, he “wakes up” as Mary Vance so rightly termed it. It is no wonder that he can talk for hours about the Kaiser, finer points of religion, and still have enough sensitivity to care about the seemingly insignificant woes of small children. Good eye, Gina! This was a joy to read!

    1. Hi René,

      I really appreciate your furthering the discussion. My friend Penny, who wrote the piece, will be delighted.

      I, too, loved Anne of Green Gables as a girl. Later, when writing a travel story on Eastern Canada, I made sure to visit Prince Edward Island and visit the related sites:

      Thanks so much for your comment,

  10. Jillian Jiggs (stories by Phoebe Gilman) is the consummate example of the combined ADHD subtype. (“Jillian, Jillian, Jillian Jiggs! It looks like your room has been lived in by pigs!” “Later, I promise, as soon as I’m through, I’ll clean up my room, I promise, I do!”) The stories reveal Jillian’s strengths and her challenges.

    I would particularly recommend them to any parent with ADHD, as a great way to start a conversation about mom’s/dad’s challenges with a younger child.

    1. LOVE Jillian Jiggs. Read it over and over to my eldest when she was little, who was a carbon copy of lovely Jillian. My dear girl knew she was just like her too.

  11. Gina, I’m reading S.E. Hinton’s _The Outsiders_ with my 7th graders right now.

    The book’s protagonist, Ponyboy Curtis, a dreamer who “digs books and clouds and sunsets,” bemoans his poor planning skills at the start, realizing how he might have avoided getting jumped by a rival gang: “If I had thought about it, I could have called [big brother] Darry and he would have come by on his way home and picked me up, or Two-Bit Mathews— one of our gang— would have come to get me in his car if I had asked him, but sometimes I just don’t use my head. It drives my brother Darry nuts when I do stuff like that, ’cause I’m supposed to be smart; I make good grades and have a high IQ and everything, but I don’t use my head. Besides, I like walking.” Future glasses, anyone?

    His older brother, Sodapop (remember Rob Lowe in the movie?), “never cracks a book at all” and dropped out of high school because, as he explains it, “I’m dumb. The only things I was passing anyway were auto mechanics and gym.” Soda could have driven Ponyboy to the movies, “or walked along, [but] Soda just can’t sit still long enough to enjoy a movie”.

    Ponyboy also mentions that Two-Bit “doesn’t really want or need half the things he swipes from stores. He just thinks it’s fun [stimulating?] to swipe everything that isn’t nailed down. I can understand why Sodapop and Steve [another gang buddy] get into drag races and fights so much, though— both of them have too much energy, too much feeling, with no way to blow it off.” Sounds like half my boys in middle school without recess, but that caught my eye, too.

    1. Hi Meg,

      Thanks for your comment, with so many specific examples.

      So interesting….


  12. Gina,
    Having not read or seen the book in well over 40 years, l thank you for jogging my memory, that it was a surgery. It’s amazing what details I can remember, His co-workers, his inner being really not changing throughout. The “teacher” (that is the role I saw her being) who assisted him and whom he had a very strong attraction towards, and his “in his mind” relationship with Algernon the mouse, who seemed to him to be more like him than anything or anyone else. And his loneliness.
    Despite remembering that much from that one book, when it came to other studying, it was a different story. It took me about 3 times as long as others to read, complete and retain school assignments all the way through the present. It is a struggle to learn something totally new. But I have managed. The real struggle is getting people to understand the difference between the struggling learner and the one who eventually over learns the subject, not because I want to show off, if that were even possible, but because U feel I have to, just to survive.
    Thanks again for all you do.

    1. Eloquently said, Paul.

      Not TMI at all.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

  13. I’ve always thought that “Flowers for Algernon” was a perfect description of how I dreamed I could be, when I was young, (grade school) with the help of a pill. It also described how many people respond to people who are able to do things better than is “acceptable”, based on who they were thought to be. As well as other story lines.

    Decades later, after being diagnosed and living through much of the same. I am amazed at how the book was so personal for me when I had no idea I had ADHD. Now, many decades later, how true it rings from a viewpoint of one who lived through life undiagnosed until my early 50’s. I have no idea if the author, who’s name I don’t recall, has ADD. But it was as if it was written for me.

    1. Hi Paul,

      How very interesting. I remember reading that book in junior high, a book that apparently has unfortunately been banned in some areas.

      I also remember the film based upon it, Charly.

      You sparked my curiosity about the author, Daniel Keyes, and here’s what I found in Wikipedia:

      The ideas for Flowers for Algernon developed over a period of 14 years and were inspired by numerous events in Keyes’ life, starting in 1945 with Keyes’s personal conflict with his parents who were pushing him through a pre-medical education in spite of his desire to pursue a writing career. Keyes felt that his education was driving a wedge between him and his parents and this led him to wonder what would happen if it were possible to increase a person’s intelligence.

      A pivotal moment occurred in 1957 while Keyes was teaching English to students with special needs; one of them asked him if it would be possible to be put into a regular class if he worked hard and became smart.

      Keyes also witnessed the dramatic progress of another learning-disabled student who regressed after he was removed from regular lessons. Keyes said that “When he came back to school, he had lost it all. He could not read. He reverted to what he had been. It was a heart-breaker.”

      Different characters in the book were also based on people in Keyes’s life. The character of Algernon was inspired by a university dissection class, and the name was inspired by the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne. Nemur and Strauss, the scientists who develop the intelligence-enhancing surgery in the story, were based on professors Keyes met while studying psychoanalysis in graduate school.

      Thanks for your comment.

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