I had a nostalgic bit of sadness when I learned of the death of actor Jonathan Crombie, who played Gilbert Blythe in the 1985 TV adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. The actor passed away on April 15 of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 48. I looked him up on IMDb and learned that he’s had several other roles over the years, although none quite as defining as his role as Gilbert, and that his mother’s name was Shirley Ann.
Anyhow, it was funny to think of how an actor I haven’t thought about in years triggered so many feels when I learned of his death. But you know what they say, you never really forget your first love. Even if you only ever meet him between the pages of the book—and later via Betamax video. And that person, for me was Gilbert Blythe, played so endearingly by Crombie, may he rest in peace.
I think I’ve mentioned before that Gilbert was my first ever book boyfriend, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who fell hard and fast for him in Anne of Green Gables. I also rooted for him in Anne of Avonlea and all the books thereafter (let’s not talk about Roy Gardiner!) and kept on loving him even when they stopped being about him and Anne. So in honor of the late, great Jonathan Crombie and the immortal charm of Gilbert Blythe, I’ve decided to revisit the reasons why Gilbert wasn’t just book boyfriend material—he was the book boyfriend before that even was a thing.
1. He is cocky but not obnoxious, no matter what Anne Shirley thinks.
Even as a schoolboy, Gilbert is popular with the ladies, and he knows it. He taught me that sometimes the reason a boy teases you is because he not-so-secretly likes you. And though Anne declares all-out-war on him after the “Carrots” incident, he never retaliates, even though he makes sure to keep her attention by being worthy competition.
2. He apologizes when he’s wrong.
Immediately after the “Carrots” incident, he waited until Anne got out of detention for breaking a slate over his head and apologized. And over the years he kept trying to make it up to her, ever looking for an opportunity to earn her forgiveness.
3. He stays on the sweet side of stalking.
Unfortunately for Gilbert, Facebook and other social media sites were not available on Prince Edward Island in the early 20th century, so he had to follow his ladylove the old-fashioned way—on foot. Which meant he frequently got caught staring at her longingly, though he made this lame attempt to hide when she spotted him:
4. He’s a gentleman.
Let’s not even count the fact that the worst Gilbert seems to be able to do to Anne is ignore her on maybe one or two occasions after she insults him time and time again. He’s forever offering her rides home, waiting on her to offer his compliments, and so on. Plus, he takes his hat off to greet a lady (as he does in the scene below for Marilla) and is kind to the poor girls who wear their hearts out on him waiting for him to forget about Anne and notice them.
5. He’s a good listener.
How many times does Anne make an off-hand comment that Gilbert picks up on and reminds her of later? How often does he encourage her to share her feelings and worries with him? Throughout the series, when things go wrong, it’s Anne who freezes Gilbert out, and not the other way around. Even when he’s frustrated, he still wants to talk things over and hear what she has to say.
6. He’s supportive.
Anne might consider Gilbert her fiercest competition, and she may be unwilling to give him an inch, but he always looks happy when things work out for her—even when that means showing him up. He even tells her he’ll support her, encouraging her to live her dreams and basically doing everything he can to make sure she gets what she wants and receives the accolades he believes are due her.
7. He’s self-sacrificing.
After Matthew’s death (Sob! I cried so many buckets over that scene, both when reading the book and watching the movie!), Gilbert gives up his post as teacher at the Avonlea school to take Anne’s post at the Carmody school so that Anne can teach in his stead and thereby stay in town and take care of Marilla. This means additional expenses for him and harder work studying to be a doctor via correspondence. And when Anne doesn’t know what to say after he tells her what he’s done, he kindly assures her that she doesn’t need to say anything at all! Winning moment: when he brushes her hair away from her face and tenderly calls her Carrots.
8. He loves long and true.
Gilbert’s crush on Anne is evident from the very beginning. And he perseveres in his admiration and support of her even when she freezes him out and is downright insulting. And hey, by the time Book 8, Rilla of Ingleside, comes along, all the Blythe children are grown up and have endured hardships of their own, but you still get glimpses of the solid unit Gilbert and Anne make, much of it being due to Gilbert’s stalwart steadiness and enduring love for his wife.
In the Anne of Green Gables movie (and I won’t even go into all the other movies that follow it), Jonathan Crombie portrayed this with heart-melting earnestness and a masterful command of the Look of Longing, which had women and girls sighing the world over and hoping that one day a guy would look at them the way Gilbert looks at Anne.
Here are a few photos that illustrate my point:
RIP, Jonathan Crombie. You will always be Gilbert Blythe in my heart.
All photos from Anne of Green Gables (1985) courtesy of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).