Tuesday, March 08, 2011
Anne of Ingleside, and Rainbow Valley
Anne of Ingleside / LM Montgomery
Toronto: McClelland Bantam, 1983, c1939.
Anne of Ingleside is another of the "fill-in" books that LMM wrote to please her insatiable Anne fans. It was written after Rainbow Valley and set the stage for many of its events; LMM was a consummate professional and made sure that the storylines and the characters fit, with nothing out of place and foreshadowing tipped in to books written later but taking place earlier in the chronological storyline. This was actually the last book that LMM wrote, struggling through mental agonies in her own life, but finding relief through sitting down to write and finding herself in the company of her old Avonlea and Glen St. Mary folk again.
In this book, Anne is a mother of five. After the tragic death of her firstborn daughter in Anne's House of Dreams, she had a baby boy whose arrival caused great delight at the close of that novel. Now she has three sons and twin daughters, and during this book also gives birth to her final child, a daughter, Rilla. This is another 'episodic novel', in which Anne and Gilbert interact with the strange characters living around them.
The construction of the book is very well done, with difficult situations for Anne to face both at beginning and end, and a reference to her own writing ambitions at the centre. At the start, Gilbert's Aunt Mary Maria comes to stay, and is a bitter, critical, patronizing woman who drives them all batty. Finally, Anne tries kindness, throwing a party for her 55th birthday. Aunt Mary Maria takes this effort as an insult, with Anne revealing her age to all the other women, and departs (finally!) in high dudgeon. Near the end, Anne suffers terribly as she begins to think that Gilbert no longer loves her and is interested in his old university sweetheart Christine Stuart, who is visiting the area once more. This proves to be completely false, but Anne suffers agony throughout this experience.
The rest of the book focuses on her children and their trials and tribulations as they deal with other mean children or the mockery of the adult world. A greater strain of darkness, or reality, appears in this book. As Mary Waterston says in Magic Island, "This last novel shows a surprising ability to introduce, in however veiled a manner, several modern fields of interest: aging, family studies, child psychology, childhood bullying, dysfunctional marriage."
The opening of the novel, however, is quite lovely. Anne is back in Avonlea for Gilbert's father's funeral. Despite this sad occasion, Anne stays on for a week to visit, and meeting Mrs. Lynde and Marilla again, as well as seeing Anne and Diana become girls again as they take a day to themselves to throw off responsibility and ramble through the woods, is delightful. There is a sense of the melancholy of passing time in this novel, right from the beginning as parents die, children grow up, and Anne and Diana wonder if they might meet the ghosts of their former selves as they wander home through the Haunted Wood. It's quite a sophisticated novel -- it will never be one of my frequent re-reads, I don't think, but I did appreciate it more on this reading.
Rainbow Valley / LM Montgomery
Toronto: McClelland Bantam, 1988, c1923.
Rainbow Valley is ostensibly about Anne's children. And they are a huge part of this tale. However, another major element is the arrival of a new minister and his rag-tag family. Rev. Meredith is dreamy and inattentive, and his four children run wild. They only have an old aunt to care for the house and for themselves, and she isn't really up to the job. The Meredith children become close friends of the Blythe children, and the stories of their escapades from the bulk of the book. Through them we are given the avenue to learn about all the relationships in the town.
The Rev. Meredith also gives LMM scope to create a romantic storyline, something she excels at. Gilbert and Anne are long married and rather staid by this point, so LMM creates a story in which the widowed Reverend to fall in love with Rosemary West. Rosemary in turn falls in love with him, but lives with a severe, bossy sister Ellen who will not permit her to marry. Only through a very convoluted path and a final marriage opportunity for Ellen do Rosemary and Rev. Meredith find their happy ending.
Religion, as an institution, is a big part of this book. LMM comments on its importance to a community, and makes a few digs at her husband's own religious preoccupations, which only resonate now that we know so much about her personal life and struggles through her diaries and the academic study that has been done of her.
Much of this book reflects LMM's preoccupation with living as a minister's family. They are held to higher standards, with more social responsibility and often less income. Everyone feels they have a right to comment on the children's behaviour. As eldest daughter Faith says passionately at one point, "I'll never, never, never marry a minister, no matter how nice he is!" LMM seems to be focused on church life in this book, and is able to be severe, sarcastic, funny and respectful all at the same time. She skirts close to the edge of acceptability at times, to great effect. For example, the Meredith children befriend a runaway who has fled an abusive position as domestic servant, and discuss theology with her:
"Hell? What's that?"
"Why, it's where the devil lives," said Jerry. "You've heard of him -- you spoke about him."
"Oh, yes, but I didn't know he lived anywhere. I thought he just roamed around. Mr. Wiley used to mention hell when he was alive. He was always telling folks to go there. I thought it was some place over in New Brunswick where he come from."
While this one has never been one of my favourites, it is entertaining reading in parts. It's not as "Anne-ish" as one might expect from a book in this series, but I find that as the series goes on, Anne rather fades away into a motherly presence in the background. I'm glad that LMM returned to some of Anne's internal life in Anne of Ingleside. Sequels and prequels are not new to the movie business, but the difference is that LMM is such a skilled writer that her 'prequels' fit perfectly into the chronological reading of this series, with no false notes or missteps. She is a talented, skilled writer who has proven her enduring appeal, and I am glad that she is getting the critical appreciation that she deserves.