Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Rilla of Ingleside
Posted by JaneGS
I finally got around to rereading Rilla of Ingleside, the last in the Anne of Green Gables Series by Canadian author, L.M. Montgomery. Unlike the rest of the Anne books, I'd only read this one once, when I was about 15, and didn't much care for it. For one thing, Anne is in the shadows for most of the book. And for another, it is focused exclusively on WWI. Back when I was 15, I was definitely not interested in the least in WWI and wanted more Anne!
Time flies and people change. Now that we are in the midst of the centennial of the Great War, I am actively seeking out books about WWI and trying to wrap my head around it. I confess that I still have big gaps when it comes to understanding the flow of the war and the issues before and during it. I found Rilla of Ingleside to be a perfect introduction to the war.
Much of the novel is either extracts from Rilla's journal--she is Anne and Gilbert Blythe's youngest child, and is 15 in 1914--or conversations about the war, with Susan Baker, the Blythe's housekeeper, holding court in her kitchen about the latest news from the front.
In the course of the war, Rilla's three brothers, countless friends, and sweetheart join up, and she matures from a giddy, vain, flibbertigibbet to a lovely earnest, capable, caring woman. It's classic L.M. Montgomery, with starry eyes, toothsome cookery, bewitching glens and hollows and valleys and meadows, and apt quotations. It's full of small-town quirkiness, quaint charm, and spirited misunderstandings. It is sweet and funny and warm, but it is also poignant and patriotic and threaded with the tragedy of senseless destruction.
Much as I love historical fiction, I really valued the fact that Montgomery wrote this novel in 1921, just three years after the end of the war. I felt that she must've responded to the war in much the same way that the Blythe family did. Pouring over newspaper reports, studying maps, debating military strategy, praying that the lines would hold, raising the flag over victories, and working hard to keep the faith over defeats.
Rilla felt personal in a way that, much as I love the other Anne books, they do not. In reading Rilla, I feel like I had an insight into what Canadians living through the Great War thought and felt about it, how they responded to their role in the global conflict, and how they viewed not only England and France, but also the U.S. and its late involvement in the war.
Rereading Rilla now, I can fully understand why I didn't like it as a teenager. It wasn't what I wanted an Anne book to be. That said, I thought it was wonderful. Despite the sadness (and there are some very sad parts), Rilla is still definitely a feel-good book.
Final thought--I couldn't help but do the math and realize that if Rilla and Ken Ford, her sweetheart, do marry and have children right away, as expected, their children will be of age to march off to WWII in 1939-1945. L.M. Montgomery died in 1942 at the age of 68. Recently, it has been revealed that she suffered from depression and her death was possibly a suicide. I can't help but wonder if seeing the world enveloped in yet another catastrophic war after soldiering through the first one was too much to bear. I don't mean to end this post on a downer.
Rilla is a lovely, warm, uplifting novel from an author whose works shaped me into the person I am today. It's also a great way to get a handle on the outline of the Great War.
This is the first book in my Back to the Classics challenge for 2015, nicely fitting into the category of Classic Children's Book.