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