Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Rilla of Ingleside

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.


  1. What a great Back to the Classics book. I started reading about WWI last year, but somehow missed this book. I'm glad to know of another book to read that talks about that war. Great review!

  2. I've been wanting to re-read this as well, for the Great War connection. I read through some of the earlier books in the series, meaning to finish with this one. But I got bogged down in Rainbow Valley & gave up. You've inspired me to try again!

  3. Superb commentary on this book Jane.

    I have never read the Anne of Green Gables Series. It sounds as if this one was different from the rest and that would no doubt cause all sorts of reactions.

    Your thoughts on L.M. Montgomery death are very interesting. To some extent this despair effected so many. Some advocates for a brighter future viewed World War I as the last terrible hurdle for humanity to surmount before things were going to get a lot better. The advent of World War II was devastating in terms of that hope.

  4. I first read this book as a teen and I liked it actually, though at the time I wasn't keen on the book that preceded it, Rainbow Valley, as there was even less of Anne in that one. I connected with Rilla better than her older siblings, too. I agree with you, there are definite differences from the rest of the book, a more poignant read due to it being set in wartime, and more tears shed, by both the characters and me!

  5. Such a lovely review! Rilla of Ingleside was my first Anne book. I read it when I was around 13 or 14 and I remember the heartache I carried around with me for a few days after I was done with it. I don't think I was aware at the time that this book was a part of a series...in fact, that it was the END of a series!

    Only two years ago I read through the entire series from beginning to end. And I can say that Rilla of Ingleside is by far my favourite. To me it felt more complete and wholesome. Less airy fairy. (Though I did enjoy that other books a great deal!)

    By the way, I am really enjoying your posts and am looking to reading more from you. I am very glad you stopped by my blog. Yours is a lovely discovery! :)

  6. Oh, yes...I'd wanted to say this, but forgot to do so.... If you're in the mood for books that give you an idea of how things were during WW I I would recommend Dance the Moon Down by R L Bartram. This give you a beautiful, in-depth view of the women during the time of the War.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Saari. I will check out Dance the Moon Down. Mutual appreciation society--I am enjoying your blog as well!