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 writer

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, though it soon 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, where 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


He 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. This results in 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 these are expelled 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 that insist that ADD/ADHD are recently 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?

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The first version of this post appeared May 1, 2015, and is updated now.

—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.


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