Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Anne of Windy Poplars

Anne of Windy Poplars / Lucy Maud Montgomery
Toronto: McClelland Stewart, 1983, c1936.

This volume of the Anne series, #4 chronologically, was actually written much later than the others in the series. It was a 'fill in' book, designed to cover the gap between Anne's graduation from Redmond and engagement to Gilbert, and their marriage three years later. According to Elizabeth Waterston's Magic Island, when LM Montgomery came to write this one, she spent time rereading her earlier books to reacquaint herself with the girlishness of the young Anne, and to make sure she wouldn't contradict anything she'd written in the later books. She was a careful and precise writer, and spent a lot of time seeding events and characters between the books.

In this book, Anne has become principal of Summerside High School, and encounters a whole set of new characters. The style of the book is primarily epistolary, with Anne writing Gilbert amusing letters about her experiences in Summerside. There are also more traditionally narrative chapters interspersed, and a few visits home to Avonlea in the school breaks.

In this book Anne is going out into the world and finding her place as an independent woman. (As an aside I am not sure that the illustrator of the books I own ever really read the this one Anne is principal of the high school in the second largest city in PEI, not a teacher at a one room schoolhouse any longer.) One thing I did find a little odd about this one upon my reread was how little time Anne spends at Green Gables -- even when she goes home for her school breaks, she spends weeks staying with others, and going off to various places for weddings and so on. We hardly see Marilla and Rachel Lynde at all.

Summerside is full of entertaining characters -- her elderly landladies are the combination frequently found in LMM's work: Aunt Kate, a stern sister and Aunt Chatty, a dithery, sweet one. They are assisted by a distant relative as housekeeper, the practical Rebecca Dew. And of course, The Cat, Dusty Miller.

Anne also has to deal with the Pringles, the first family of the town who already have a grudge against her because she got the job they thought their male third cousin should have had. After much struggle and amusing coincidences Anne gets the upper hand and the Pringles swing around to support her. She also interacts with Little Elizabeth from next door, a frail, elfin child from next door who is being raised by her stern grandmother and cruel housekeeper, after being abandoned to their care by her absent father after her mother's death. Another important character is her prickly coworker Katherine Brooke. She is a dark, drab, miserably unhappy woman who hates teaching but must make her living. She has a sarcastic tongue which her students live in fear of. Of course, Anne eventually wins her over as well, after finding out her depressing back story -- the dual miracles of a Christmas trip and Green Gables turn Katherine around, giving her a happy ending of leaving teaching at the end of the year and getting a position as secretary to a "globe trotting MP".

The interesting thing about some of these characters is that they reflect aspects of LMM herself. As Elizabeth Waterston suggests, the repressed and lonely Little Elizabeth has the same situation that LMM grew up with, with the difference that Little Elizabeth has the happy ending of her father returning and taking her away with him, happily. Kathryn seems to personify LMM's unhappiness with her lot in life and the way in which societal expectations chafed her as well as being a kind of acknowledgement of her depressive states.

In any case, I've always been fond of this volume of the series but found on rereading that I wasn't as drawn in as previously. It uses lots of episodic chapters with stories of the people around Anne, which LMM does extremely well, but for myself, I could wish for a little more Green Gables in it. There is one lovely bit right near the beginning that I found just as charming as ever, though, and that was Anne stating in one of her first letters to Gilbert that this wouldn't be a love letter, as she had a scratchy pen, and obviously, love letters can not be written with a scratchy pen! But, having written with a fountain pen that didn't feed ink very easily, I know exactly what she meant ;)

Another enjoyable volume in this series, and because of its being written out of sequence it does have a bracing touch of the darker elements that LMM included in some of her later works. A worthy epistolary novel, and still dear to me.


  1. I didn't know about this being a fill-in book - how interesting! I read it for the first time last year and enjoyed it, though it wouldn't be my favourite of the series, I think. Oh dear, that cover, though! I've always been convinced that covers ought to reflect the contents properly, though I read recently that sometimes they got re-used for other books. Perhaps that happened here?!

  2. One of these days I am going to reread this series! It's been years since I read it!

  3. GeraniumCat - I'm glad to hear that you agree about covers...I wish the illustrators would get the basic facts down. Oh well! The book was still a delight. It has always been one of my preferred books in the series, but I was really surprised by how much I also liked the next one in the to come ;)

    Kailana - I know, I've been meaning to reread the whole series for ages. Don't think I've read them all together since I was a teenager (quite a long time ago now...)

  4. I've just started to go back and re-read the whole series curtesy of my e-reader and it's wonderful to find that i am enjoying them as much this time round as I did the first. Some years ago now I had a student who did her dissertation on the links between Anne and Montgomery herself which was a fascinating project to be involved with.

  5. I've not read beyone Anne of Green Gables, but I'd like to continue. I know what happens, because of a TV series I watched as a child and I think that's why I've not read on.

  6. Annie - I am finding it satisfying that they don't pale upon rereading like some childhood favourites do. That dissertation sounds intriguing; there were so many connections between LMM and all her heroines.

    Vintage Reading - the books have so much more in them than the tv series did :) I am enjoying reading them again for the way the people talk and the odd stories you hear of everyone around Anne, as well as her own life!

  7. I just finished Anne of Windy Poplars last night! I enjoyed it quite a lot, particularly hearing own's own voice in the letters. I'm struck by how episodic the books all are, and how they move through time very quickly. I'm not sure a YA author could do the same thing today.

  8. I love this one. I take it you would recommend Magic Island? Is there a better place to start for LMM biography?

  9. Dorothy - yes, I've been thinking about how quickly all the books move through time as well. Not really a modern technique: I'd be surprised to find a modern YA novel with a similar expanse of lifetime in it.

    Jenny - Glad to hear you love this one too! I do recommend Magic Island, for some information on LMM's life during the writing of each of her books -- mainly how her life circumstances affected her writing. Elizabeth Waterston and Mary Rubio edited all of LMM's journals and are the experts on her life. (And Waterston has just received the Order of Ontario as well)

    For a wonderful straight-ahead biography, I strongly recommend Mary Rubio's The Gift of Wings. Excellent resource.

  10. I haven't read the Anne books since I was a girl, but I still have these same mass market editions on one of my bookshelves. Perhaps someday I'll reread them. I don't think I ever knew that Windy Poplars was written later than the other books.

    I did just read The Blue Castle and absolutely loved it.

  11. Lesley - I LOVE The Blue Castle and it's probably the LMM book I've reread the most. It is such a comfort read!


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