The risk-taking and impulsive nature of Anne of Green Gables, one of Canada's most beloved literary characters, may have been a sign of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, according to a professor from the University of Guelph.

Helen Hoy makes the claim in a collection of scholarly essays about Lucy Maud Montgomery's most famous creation. Hoy's work was commented on in this week's edition of Maclean's magazine.

Hoy said she started seeing parallels between Anne and her own daughter Elizabeth, who suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome.

"Anne's positive features are among the strengths of people with fetal alcohol," she said. "Her verbal skill, her trusting friendliness, her flair for drama, her rich fantasy life, her storytelling. Those are all things that seem to emerge undamaged in people affected by fetal alcohol. But she also has the distractibility, obviously, the inattention, the poor judgment, the indiscriminate friendliness."

Hoy said her theory is not meant to ruin the book for readers.

"For me it's a way of showing how our readings change over time, just as our readings of social conditions change over time."

She said she understands that some people may think her idea is a little far-fetched. Others who have grown attached to the character have told her they do not want to think of Anne in that way. But Hoy said she hopes her interpretation can dispel some myths and help to show that people with fetal alcohol syndrome can still live complete lives.

"If it is a valid reading, the novel shows how that need not be a handicap," she said.

Although the book gives no indications of alcohol abuse in Anne's parents, Hoy said it is possible that some of the medicinal tonics that were given to women at the time could have contained alcohol and had harmful effects.