Tuesday, April 05, 2011
Rilla of Ingleside
Rilla of Ingleside / LM Montgomery
Toronto: Seal Bantam, 1985, c1921.
This is the last in my Anne of Green Gables series reread. I have always enjoyed this book, though the cover of my edition is not so hot. (I've been finding that my series has a strange set of covers!) Still, for some reason, I like this book. I'm not quite sure why, as Rilla herself is probably my least favourite of the Blythe children (except for Shirley -- I've never understood him, he feels like a changeling).
There are some issues for me, rereading this as an adult -- why does Rilla lisp like a little girl, especially in regards to Ken Ford? How come Rilla gets engaged secretly, raises an orphaned baby essentially on her own -- learning to finally like children -- and is happily a homebody who just wants to join the Auxiliary and take care of things, so unlike many of LMM's heroines? And what about Nan and Diana -- where is their book, the story of two modern, educated women?
Even so, this is a great read. It is different from the others; the small town gossip and funny incidents are leavened by the sudden upheaval of international events taking over everyone's lives with the arrival of World War I. I think it is one of her strongest books, due to the grappling with hard facts that the characters must experience. It is one of the only books written contemporaneously with WWI which shows the conditions of the home front, and it is marvellous at showing how life and its little dramas continue even during wartime. And it reveals how a generation lost their youth, both boys by joining up and girls by working to support war efforts as well as taking over the missing men's duties. Normal youthful escapades are subsumed under a focus on war-related activity.
This book concludes the sweeping panorama of Anne Shirley's life, unless you count the newly restored collection of short stories, The Blythes are Quoted, in which we get a glimpse into the life of the family after the war and its depredations. I've reviewed that book previously, so if you're interested, you can read about its status as a kind of sequel in my original review, when it was newly released in an edition restored by Benjamin Lefebvre. He has also just restored a new version of Rilla with all the darker bits put back in...but unfortunately I couldn't get my hands on it in time to read it as well as this familiar old one which I've just finished. I'll still get myself a copy, as it includes editorial notes, poems by LMM and many other wonderful additions.
In any case, Rilla of Ingleside takes us on a difficult journey, with two sections in particular still making me weep after all these rereads. How can a book about war not make a person cry? I wish the story had turned out a little more happily for all concerned, but it never gets overly sentimental. The practicality of Susan Baker, in the kitchen, and Mary Vance, in the town, counteracts any tendency toward sentimentality. We see the children of Ingleside and Rainbow Valley growing up, maturing, making life choices and becoming adults. It is almost a melancholy feeling, seeing Anne becoming the older generation, and getting the impression that she is fading, fading, and will be lost to us. At the same time, society itself is growing up in a way, faced with the horrors of war and the necessary adjustments both during the war years and afterward.
I think this is a very good book that deserves to be read by people who are not necessarily LMM fans; there is much to learn about Canada at a pivotal point in history, seasoned with humour and pathos.
*A 5 Hankie Read