Anne was born to Walter Shirley and Bertha Shirley, both of whom were teachers. They died when she was three months old. She'd been transferred from home to home, either because her owner's relatives died or they didn't need her anymore. The first known person we know of Anne living with is Mrs. Thomas. When her husband died, she sent Anne back to the orphanage. The second known home Anne had was Mrs. Hammond's. She took Anne to an orphanage when Anne was 12 because Mr. Hammond died of a heart attack. Mrs. Hammond told Anne was all her fault becuase Anne had to take Mr. Hammond his lunch and she was late in doing so. It was not Anne's fault, but as she was so young, she let Mrs. Hammond talk her into thinking that it was her fault.
Anne was taken to the orphanage and looked after by Mrs. Cadbury, the owner of the orphanage. Mrs. Cadbury didn't like how Anne was imaginative, and told Anne that two families in Prince Edward Island wanted two little girls. Mrs. Cadbury decided that Anne was to be one of them. Anne is delighted by this and informs Mrs. Cadbury that she's always wanted to live there. Mrs. Cadbury makes a remark about Anne's imaginative mind and says that she hopes that Anne's new family will "shatter the dream world that she lives in".
Anne is taken by train to Prince Edward Island. About half an hour after her train arrives, she meets Matthew Cuthbert, a farmer who owns Green Gables. He takes Anne back to the house, where Anne meets Marilla, Matthew's younger sister. Marilla immediately notices Anne is not the boy they asked for. Matthew likes the orphan and convinces his sister to let her stay. Marilla disapproves of her imagination, although Matthew does not mind. She soon makes a "bosom friend" in Diana Barry, who would become her best friend for the rest of her life. When she meets Gilbert Blythe at school, she becomes angry and for the next few years, shuns his friendship. Matthew dies of heart failure when he receives a shocking notice from the bank.
Her second school teacher in Avonlea is Ms. Stacey, who becomes her close friend. She finds Anne a job when Anne is eighteen years old. Anne is all set to go, to get away from Gilbert Blythe's marriage intentions and by Diana's wedding ceremony. Anne feels that she isn't ready to grow up in that way yet, and becomes a teacher at a school for girls. She bonds with one in particular, Madeline Harris. Madeline stars in the school play Mary, Queen of Scots, in which Madeline has the title roll. She sees Gilbert when she is teaching at the school and finds out that he's engaged himself. Anne finds herself falling for Madeline's father, Captain Harris, who asks Anne to marry him during one winter night. Anne is very happy, and almost accepts, but she knows then that she's in love with Gilbert.
She returns to Avonlea, and learns from Minnie Mae, Diana's younger sister, that Gilbert is very sick. Gilbert, who has started medical school, got a very bad fever from a patient. He seems to be close to death, and Anne goes to see him, to show off her complete and published book. She dedicated part of the book to Gilbert, the inscription saying "To Gilbert: Who first inspired me with the idea in the first place". Marilla encourages Anne to go and see Gilbert, and she does. She tells Gilbert that she'd intended the book to be a wedding present, but Gilbert reveals his love for Anne again, saying he broke off the engagement. When Anne askes him why he did that, explaining that he was going to get well again, Gilbert says, "I did it because there's no one for me but you."
Gilbert askes Anne, after he's finished medical school, to go to New York with him. They've been engaged for years, but Anne gives in and says she'll go with Gilbert, but only to see if she likes it. Marilla has died at this point, so Anne no longer lives at Green Gables. While in New York, Anne tries to hone her writing skills, and goes to work for a publishing company. There she meets Jack Garrison Jr., a famous writer, whom she helps on a project. When he takes all the credit for it, Anne is outraged and demands to return home to Avonlea. Gilbert is soon drafted into WWI, but before he leaves, Anne and Gilbert are married at last in a private ceremony. When Gilbert doesn't keep up correspondence with Anne, she sets off on the journey of a lifetime to find him. On the way she meets Jack, who has a wife and son in tow. He reveals his love for Anne, and Anne tells him that she's married Gilbert.
Jack's wife is French, and when Jack runs off, she gives their son, Dominic, to Anne. Jack's wife is killed in an explosion soon after, and Anne befriends two singers. When she finds Jack, Jack agrees to help Anne find Gilbert. Jack again reveals his love for Anne, after they hear that it is possible that Gilbert is dead. Anne is about to relent when she sees her singer friends, who demand that she join them for a number. In the crowd of men, Gilbert, and soon Anne is running to him, crying and laughing. They take Dominic to a house where he'll be safe and Anne, Gilbert, and Jack take a train back to the States but on the way, Jack is shot.
After Jack dies, Gilbert and Anne decide to adopt Dominic and tell Diana and Fred (Diana's husband) of their plans. While in Europe, Anne and Fred had lodged together for months, looking after Dominic. Fred lost his leg in battle but Diana was just happy to have him home again. At the end, Anne and Gilbert tell Diana and Fred that they would love it if they kept and lived in Green Gables. Diana is shocked that Anne would say that, considering she loved it so much, but Anne was firm on the matter. Anne and Gilbert go off to the train station and get Dominic into the buggy with them. Gilbert suggests to Anne that they show Dominic some of their old haunts and off they run into the fields of Green Gables.