It’s simple enough for the first few books, because it’s mentioned, and the passage of her birthdays is commemorated.
But then, there’s a little hiccup that occurs in the timing right around book #4! And past book 5, her age isn’t really mentioned, until book 8, and at that point, the accounting is all wrong and inconsistent.
So, let’s do the math ourselves:
*Keep in mind, Anne’s birthday is in March.
Anne of Green Gables
She’s 11 when she shows up at Green Gables, and the first book ends when she’s 16 and a half.
Anne of Avonlea
She’s 16 and a half when the second book opens, and she spends two years in that book as a teacher.
Anne of the Island
Book three: it’s when Anne goes to college. She’s 18 at the start, she’s 22 at the end. Midway through, when Anne is 20, it mentions for the first time what Marilla’s age is. She was 60 at that time, so she is exactly 40 years older than Anne. This is important for later!!
Anne of Windy Poplars
Book four: this takes place right after book #3, chronologically … and the book lasts for 3 years as Anne works as a principal in Summerside … so it goes from age 22 to age 25 … so far, so good … but wait for the next part …
Anne’s House of Dreams
Book five: this is where it gets tricky! In the beginning of this book, it’s mentioned that Anne is 25, but what always messed me up is that it also says: “It’s been 3 years since we last saw her” (it says this in the first chapter). I took that to mean that possibly Anne was in fact 28! She’s 25 when we last saw her in Book 4, so add 3 more years. However, “three years since we last saw her” actually refers to book 3, when Anne was 22 at the end. Book five was in fact written like 2 decades BEFORE book 4! Book 4 wasn’t thought of when Book 5 was being written. That’s why it says, ‘it’s been three years’ (since Book 3) but it’s actually been no time at all since Book 4 ended.
And how old is Anne throughout Book 5? The book starts with her wedding to Gilbert in August, and the two of them moving to Four Winds harbor, and Anne is 25. The following June, Anne gives birth to little Joy, who dies within a day. Anne would have turned 26 the preceding March. The following summer (it doesn’t mention exactly what month; but it is stated that Little Joy would have been over a year old), Anne gives birth to Jem. So she is 27 at that point. In the fall of that year – maybe October – Anne and Gilbert and Jem (and don’t forget Susan Baker) move out of the House of Dreams and into their new home in the village. And by the way, it is hinted that Anne is already pregnant (with a boy that turns out to be Walter) as they’re moving out. That’s where the book ends … so Anne is still 27; around 27 and a half.
Anne of Ingleside
Book 6: At the start of this book, baby Jem, who was just 2 to 4 months old at the end of Book 5, is around 6 years old and has started going to school – has been going for almost a full year. It is not the start of the school-year, but rather the following spring — so in March, Anne would have her 34th birthday. Within a few months of the start of the book, she gives birth, in July, for the seventh time! This last baby is called Rilla (short for Bertha Marilla). By the end of the book, Rilla has just turned six. So Book 6 encompasses 6 years of material, and Anne would be 40 at the end. The book ends in August or September.
Book 7: picks up in May of the next year, and Rilla is still six – almost seven in July. We know that Rilla is six because she is referred to as six during the open scene, plus about two weeks later, when Mary Vance chases her with codfish through the village, her six-year-old pride is referred to. Anne’s March birthday has passed, so she is now 41. The twins, Nan and Di (I always hated their nicknames), are 10, and Jem is 13 (will turn 14 in the summer). It’s also been 13 years since Miss Cornelia got married, which happened at the end of Book 5, right around when Jem was born. Book 7 lasts 2 years and a few months (it ends in September). Anne grows from age 41 to age 43. Also, Marilla’s age is mentioned once again. She is 85 at the start of the book. BUT! Something’s wrong with the accounting here. If Marilla is 85, then Anne ought to be 45 (as per the notes from Anne of the Island). But she was exactly 27 and a few spare months when she gave birth to Jem, who is now 13 – but close enough to 14 that Anne has already celebrated her March birthday. 27 + 14 is just 41. So I believe that in fact, Marilla ought to now have been only 81. Now, before moving on to the last book, let’s also account for the ages of the Meredith kids, since the book really focuses more on them than Anne’s children, plus they remain important for Book #8. At the start of Rainbow Valley, when Jem is 13, the Merediths are introduced with Jerry being 12, Faith being 11, Una 10, and Carl 9 (their ages go up like the steps on a staircase, says Miss Cornelia.)
Rilla of Ingleside
Book 8: the last book 😦 And it centers around the last child, Rilla. At the very start of the book, Rilla is now 14 – a few weeks from turning 15 in July (July 1914). Since Anne had already had her 34th birthday in March of the year when she gave birth to Rilla, then she would be 49 at this point. Also, Jem is stated to be 21 years old. However, Jem’s birthday is also in July or summer-time (see Anne’s House of Dreams) and he must be turning 22 right along as Rilla turns 15. That’s the only way it works out, because Jem and Rilla are seven years apart. Anne gave birth to Jem at age 27, so adding 22 gives you 49. Remember, Anne’s birthday is in March, so she’s going to turn 49 even while Jem is still 21.
But here we run into a problem! Because, in the second year of the book — we know it’s February 1916, because it happens just after the Parliament buildings in Ottawa were burned — this girl called Miranda gets married. Anne gives Miranda her own old wedding veil to wear for the wedding, and says, ‘It is twenty-four years since I was a bride at old Green Gables.’ Well, if you refer back to Anne’s House of Dreams, Anne gets married in August, and she is 25 years old. So this is implying, therefore, that Anne is 49 (25+24) in February 1916 (and presumably about to turn 50 in March?) Right? Wrong! See, we know that Rilla turned 15 in July 1914, and when Rilla was born in 1899, Jem had already attended school as a six-year-old for a whole year and was turning seven himself (this is at the start of Anne of Ingleside); we know, from Rainbow Valley, that when Jem was 13, Rilla was 6. Those two are seven years apart. Since we know from Book 5 that Jem was born two years after Anne got married at age 25, and she was therefore 27 at Jem’s birth, we therefore also know that Anne was 34 when she gave birth to Rilla (seven years older), and so therefore, in fact, since Rilla is sixteen years old in February 1916, that pegs Jem at 23 years of age, and so THEREFORE … at this point, it’s been 25 years since Anne was a bride. Anne is therefore 50 already at this point, and about to turn 51 in fact, because she was already 49 during the first year of the war. The accounting of the ages that author does at this point is simply wrong.
A few other things are wrong with the accounting of the dates and ages. When the book has progressed as far as spring 1917, Bruce Meredith is established as being 9 years of age, almost 10. Bruce is the child of John Meredith and Rosemary West, whose romance is narrated in the previous book. Well, there’s something wrong. If Bruce turns 10 in spring or summer 1917, that means he was born in spring/summer 1907. So let’s work backwards a bit. Since Rilla turned 15 in July 1914, we know she was born in July, 1899. In spring/summer 1907, therefore, Rilla would have been still 7 years of age — about to turn 8. The book ‘Rainbow Valley’ begins in the spring during which Rilla is 6 — so it would have been the year before, 1906. Well …. Rainbow Valley spans over two years, and John Meredith and Rosemary West don’t get engaged until the very end, with the double wedding (since Rosemary’s sister Ellen was also getting married) scheduled for September — that would be September 1908. Do you hear that, Rosemary and John Meredith were just getting married in September 1908, and you know with saintly Reverend Meredith, there would have been no child out of wedlock. The earliest their son Bruce Meredith could have been born was, roughly, summer 1909. Therefore, in spring 1917, when it is said of Bruce Meredith that he is about to turn 10, the oldest he actually could be turning was 8!
Continuing on like this (and this next one is HUGE problem), in the opening chapters of this book we also learn that Shirley — Anne’s child who is mentioned least of them all — is 16. To reiterate, this is summer 1914. In the third year of the book (spring 1917), Shirley announces that since he just turned 18 last Monday, he now wants to enlist in the army like his older brothers. Now, this is obviously wrong. Many things in life have ambiguity, and very little is ever black-and-white, but this is one such case: you simply cannot already be 16 in summer 1914, and then not turn 18 until spring 1917. But let’s to simplify things assume that the second age-marker is correct, i.e., Shirley turns 18 in spring 1917. If that’s the case, then he turned 16 in spring 1915, and therefore he turned 15 in spring 1914, and therefore … are you spotting the problem? Because Rilla turns 15 in herself in July 1914! Rilla turns 15 just 3-4 months after Shirley does? First of all, this is another unambiguous part of life: it’s impossible. Any two consecutive children that the same mom gives birth to have to be nine months apart at least, am I right or am I right? Unless the first kid was premature and in that case, the parents have bigger problems on their hands than having a second kid right away. Second of all, we know that Anne was very sick after Shirley was born and say in bed for weeks and weeks; so even the 9-month scenario isn’t plausible, because there’s no way Anne got pregnant with Rilla right after giving birth to Shirley. This is all just plain wrong. I think that the truth is that Shirley was indeed 16 at the start of the book (June 1914); and let’s say he really does enlist in spring 1917; well, he hasn’t ‘just turned’ 18 when he does so, that is all. He’s actually turned 19 (or way more realistically, he’s been 19 for a while) and you know, because Walter had died, and because Jem was already in the trenches, for the sake of him mom, he didn’t enlist immediately upon coming of age.
We also learn in the opening chapters of Rilla of Ingleside that Walter is 20; and Faith is 19. This kind of checks out, because that makes Faith two years younger than Jem, which checks out with the hierarchy in Rainbow Valley — except Jem is turning 22, so Faith needs to hurry up and have her birthday so that things remain in sync. Although it’s not explicitly mentioned, the twins Nan and Di should be 18 at the beginning. In the second year of the war, it is mentioned that Carl Meredith has just turned 18. At that point, Rilla is 16, so it checks out — in Rainbow Valley, Carl is 9 while Rilla is about to turn 7. They are just two years apart. The book opens on June 28, 1914. It last till the war ends in November, 1918, when Anne was 53. But the book continues as soldiers are returning home, months after the war ended. So she might even have turned 54 by the time the book closes.
Anne is born in 1865?
And this last book is also what clues us into the years when the Anne of Green Gables book take place. Book 8 starts in 1914 – on the very day, in fact, the news of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand is being reported (June 28, 1914). This is the only point in the whole book series, I believe, in which a date from the real world is included, cluing us in to when the action occurs (well, except that after this point, so many real-world events are included — Italy declared war! Sinking of the Lusitania. Battle of the Marne and so on — that you can exactly figure out what month and year it is). Rilla’s fifteenth birthday was in July, 1914, so she was born in 1899. If Anne was 34 at that point, then Anne herself was born in 1865. Oh, wow, the end of the Civil War. If Anne was 11 when she first meets Marilla and Matthew in Green Gables, then Book #1 starts in 1876. Incidentally, Lucy Maud Montgomery herself was born two years before that! So she ended up being 9 years younger than her most famous character.
Though I suspect originally Anne and Lucy Maud Montgomery maybe were vaguely supposed to be the same age (Anne is sort of based off the author, per the biography Gift of Wings). L.M. Montgomery started writing the books and had already published two or three of them before World War 1 ever started. When that War started, and she decided it would form part of the arc of the book series, that is when Anne’s age had to be adjusted backwards to accommodate the new time span.