Lucy Maude Montgomery’s classic juvenile novel, “Anne of Green Gables,” has been produced as a new Netflix Original series that premiered in early July as "Anne with an E." One episode offers content that was not included in the beloved tale, which recounts the life of orphaned Anne Shirley (“Anne with an E”) who is taken in by two siblings who had wanted a boy to work on their farm. In the Netflix version, the cherished character Great Aunt Josephine Barry is portrayed as a lesbian.
In an interview with IndieWire, Moira Walley-Becket -- the creator of the show -- said, “Upon reading [the novel] again as an adult, I was wondering about Aunt Jo. In the book, she’s a spinster and she’s just a bit of a curmudgeon, and that’s kind of it. So, I’m like, ‘Well, she coming to the Barrys’ for a month and she’s grieving,’ that’s why I decided to justify why she’s there: Who is she grieving?”
Aunt Josephine is saddened, according to the Netflix version of events, because of the loss of Gertrude -- an unspoken “romantic” partner. Walley-Beckett added, “Although the term didn’t exist at the time, their relationship was a ‘Boston marriage,’ the cohabitation of two women independent of financial support from a man. While the Barrys merely saw this as a friendship, Josephine and Gertrude were in truth a lesbian couple.”
In a Netflix episode titled “Memory Has as Many Moods as The Temper,” which features Aunt Josephine’s annual gathering, IndieWire reported, “One of the roles many feminist “new women” like Aunt Josephine performed in that era was to promote social and cultural causes. For Aunt Jo, that aforementioned forum of acceptance took shape in the so-called queer soirée, a fabulous fete that Josephine and Gertrude held annually.”
In the past, others have tried to inject lesbian themes into the work of the author of “Anne of Green Gables.” When Prof. Laura Robinson speculated in an academic paper in 2000, Bosom Friends: Lesbian Desire in L. M. Montgomery's Anne Books," controversy arose when Robinson speculated that the Anne Shirley character had expressed lesbian longing for her friend, Diana Barry. Robinson suggested that “Anne of Green Gables” was "full of homo-erotic, sado-masochistic references", and that children had been thus exposed to lesbian references. Robinson became the subject of extensive media criticism.