On reading, at last, Rilla of Ingleside

I can no longer claim that reading about grown-up Anne is boring, when that would clearly mean I, as a grown-up, must be boring too.

So I have had to come up with other reasons to avoid reading the final Anne book. Knowing what a chore it was for LMM to continue writing the Anne stories? That has served as a good reason to avoid them, for many years.

This bookmark has lived in the Anne books since before they were mine.  It's the same shade of blue as Rilla's cover.

This bookmark has lived in the Anne books since before they were mine. It’s the same shade of blue as Rilla’s cover.

She writes in her diary, in March 1919: “I began work on my tenth novel today. It is to be another ‘Anne’ story – and I fervently hope the last – dealing with her sons and daughters during the years of war. That will end Anne – and properly. For she belongs to the green, untroubled pastures and still waters of the world before the war.”

Knowing that it was such a chore for her to write them, I have felt a little guilty reading these later novels, rather like reading the published letters or diaries of an author who left explicit instructions that these things be kept private.

More than a year later, LMM is still obviously discontent with her project. In August 1920, she writes:

“Today I wrote the last chapter of “Rilla of Ingleside”. I don’t like the title. It is the choice of my publishers. I wanted to call it “Rilla-My-Rilla” or at least “Rilla Blythe”. The book is fairly good. It is the last of the Anne series. I am done with Anne forever – I swear it as a dark and deadly vow. I want to create a new heroine now – she is already in embryo in my mind – she has been christened for years. Her name is Emily. She has black hair and purplish gray eyes. I want to tell folks about her.”

But there are other reasons why I was avoiding this final book in the Anne series.

Not least of which is that I do not like to finish with an author’s works. I like to believe that there is another waiting to be read fresh.

This is silliness on my part. And a matter-of-fact woman, like Susan, would be quick to point out that I often forget the details of a book months after finishing it. I am no longer the young girl who could read a book and memorize sentences after a single reading; I now have more in common with my grandmother, who would pick up a pocketbook by a favourite writer in a bookstore, and debate whether or not she had read that one before, often buying it and reading a good chunk before realizing that she had, in fact, read it before, sometimes more than once.

A more solid reason for avoiding Rilla of Ingleside was the awareness of there being a great sadness therein.

Magic Island Waterston

A must-have for committed LMM fans

In Magic Island: The Fictions of L.M. Montgomery, Elizabeth Waterston writes: “But Frede had died, and partly because of this devastating loss, Rilla of Ingleside, even in its happiest moments is shadowed. As she finished her work on the novel, she had to pick up yet another cross. In May 1919, five monnths after Frede’s death, Ewan Macdonald’s dfirst major mental breakdown ocurred.”

And even though I hadn’t finished reading the Anne series, I had read Elizabeth Waterston’s book (if you love LMM’s novels and/or diaries, you will definitely want a copy of this on your shelves, alongside Mary Rubio’s biography of her or, if you are a dabbling-fan rather than a fervent-fan, Jane Urquhart’s slim biography).

So I knew that the war had profoundly affected LMM, as well as the strains and losses of her life on the home front.

I knew there would be a lot of this from Anne (er, Mrs. Blythe): “Life has been cut in two by the chasm of the war. What is ahead I don’t know – but it can’t be a bit like the past. I wonder if those of us who have lived half our lives in the old world will ever feel wholly at home in the new.”

Even when there are moments of happiness, they are (as Waterston warns) shadowed. “I could hear Jem’s whistle and Walter’s yodel, and the twin’s laughter, and for just a few blessed minutes I forgot about the guns on the western front, and had a little false, sweet happiness.”

LMM often used the troubles she had recorded in her diaries as a source for her fiction, even though she also worked very hard to keep her writing optimistic (even when — especially when — she struggled to find optimism in her everyday life). She was engaged in recopying her journals from the war years while she was writing what she called “Book Ten”.

So it’s particularly interesting to hear Rilla’s thoughts on keeping a diary: “I like to keep it up regularly, for father says a diary of the years of the war should be a very interesting thing to hand down to one’s children. The trouble is, I like to write a few personal things in this blessed old book that might not be exactly that I’d want my children to read. I feel that I shall be a far greater stickler for propriety in regard to them than I was for myself.”

Nonetheless, even though I knew that this volume was going to be sad, I was not prepared. See, I had misremembered the details surrouding the loss. I was expecting it to be the other son. (And when Dog Monday howled, I was even more convinced that it had been him. So I was truly surprised.) And, yet, I do understand that the novel was written to commerate a more general loss.  “Well, in a world where everything is being rent and torn what matters one more rending and tearing?”

Even just a few years after the war, it is interesting to hear the kinds of responses that readers had to Rilla of Ingleside.

Montgomery Journals Volume 2

Now, I love her journals as much as I love her novels (maybe more!)

Wednesday Nov. 23, 1921
Toronto On
I went to Oakwood where I gave readings to an audience of 1,300 boys and girls. I felt rather nervous for I had never read to boys before and did not know if I could appeal to them. I gave the story of Dog Monday from Rilla, arranged to form a continued reading and my audience seemed to like it very much. I autographed 91 books.

Friday Aug. 4, 1922
Four year ago today the world in which I spent my girlhood and young womanhood passed away forever in one sudden, overwhelming cataclysm. It seems impossible that it can be eight years. It seems as yesterday – it will always seem as yesterday – as the mountain always looks near though ever lengthening rules intervene. To me, those four years of agony seem an ever present thing. Yet in a letter I received the other day from a fifteen-year-old reader (who would of course be only seven when the war broke out) she told me how Rilla had made the years of the great war (which she only remembered dimly) “seems so real to her.” She belongs to a generation to which the Great War is only a name as well as all the other wards of the past.

Sunday, December 30, 1928
The Manse, Norval
The other letter was from a fanatic ‘pacifist’ in New Zealand who calls Rilla of Ingleside a “beastly book” because it “glorifies war”. God rest her simple mind. Can’t the poor moron realize the difference between offensive and defensive war. I wrote Rilla not to “glorify war” but to glorify the courage and patriotism and self-sacrifice it evoked. War is a hellish thing and some day it may be done away with – though human nature being what it is that day if for distant. But universal peace may come and may be a good thing. But there will no longer be any great literature or great art. Either these things are given by the high gods as a compensation – or else they are growths that have to be fertilized with blood.

I ran out of reasons to avoid reading Rilla. And now I think that I might as well give up on the resistance that insisted that I not read further in the series.

Either to The Blythes are Quoted (because wasn’t she done with Anne) or the Anne prequel that Budge Wilson wrote (Before Green Gables).

And, who knows, maybe I will finally read A Tangled Web, which is the last LMM book I have yet to read.

But, first, I feel as though I should read Emily of New Moon again. After all, her author was so keen to tell us about her.

Have you been reading along with the #greengablesreadalong or have you read LMM’s Anne books previously?

Have you ever been reluctant to finish a series because you wanted to imagine it going on and on?

2015-08-27T16:18:03+00:00

13 Comments

  1. […] is part of a more extensive project; this past summer, I also finally finished the last volume of the Anne books, which I had avoided for many years. Another summer, I finished the Sydney Taylor […]

  2. Sarah Emsley September 2, 2015 at 5:20 am - Reply

    Thanks to you and Kat for the link to this article! “I saw these stories as personal letters to me, words of advice and encouragement from authors who had once been little girls to little girls who would one day be authors.” I know many readers have felt the same while reading about Emily, Anne, Jo, Rebecca, Harriet, and Betsy. (I’d be curious to know how many of those readers are boys.) Now I’ve added Harriet the Spy to my reading list, along with Magic Island and Emily and — you’re quite right — probably all of LMM’s other books.

    • Buried In Print September 2, 2015 at 11:54 am - Reply

      It’s a great article, isn’t it. I just reread Harriet earlier this year and was struck by the fact that there was even more about writing in it than I had remembered from my last reread. I’m sure you will have great fun with your reading project(s)!

  3. Sarah Emsley August 31, 2015 at 6:05 am - Reply

    I understand your reasons for wanting to avoid books that Montgomery clearly didn’t want to write. The circumstances surrounding the creation of the Anne books are fascinating and I’d like to read more about this topic — thank you for recommending Magic Island, which I’ve just requested from the library. I’ll go back to Rubio’s biography and the journals as well. I love how the Green Gables Readalong has inspired me to add so many books to my reading list. Once I catch up with Rilla, which I haven’t reread yet, I think I might want to reread the Emily books. Thank you for raising these excellent questions about Montgomery’s attitude toward the later Anne books, and for quoting responses to Rilla.

    • Buried In Print September 1, 2015 at 1:58 pm - Reply

      Read-a-longs are great for adding to reading lists, aren’t they? Lindsey has done a great job of nudging us in the direction of reading more. (I’m afraid The Magic Island will have you adding all the rest of LMM’s books to your reading list or rereading list, because considering the works in context (especially with the new project you’re considering, about women and ambition) just makes for all-the-more-interesting reading.

  4. Kat August 30, 2015 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    Oh, I love reading about her journals! I have never found those, and though I did think about ordering them, I couldn’t justify it (perhaps they were very expensive)? Alas, the library doesn’t have them.

    I like all of the Anne books, including “Rilla”. Some prefer the Emily books, but I never warmed to Emily quite as much. I did read Emily of New Moon: Emily is very much like Anne and I prefer Anne!

    There is a great article at the New York Times by Perri Klass, in which she writes about girls’ lit and includes the Emily books, but not alas our Annes! http://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/17/books/stories-for-girls-about-girls-who-write-stories.html

    • Buried In Print September 1, 2015 at 1:55 pm - Reply

      I thoroughly enjoyed the article, Kat: thank you so much. Now I want to reread Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (which I have not read since I was a girl) and I definitely want to reread Emily now. (How satisfying, too, to find Harriet discussed in here too, as I just reread it a couple of months ago and was renewedly absorbed and impressed.)

      Somehow I could not stop my eyes from falling into the talk of the Betsy-Tacy books, and now I know how things end up for her, although I never did finish reading the series properly. (That serves me right, and such spoilers are the very impetus for me to finally begin to work through the later books in some series that I enjoyed years back but left unfinished.) Some years ago, I did begin rereading, but now I think I would need to begin with the first book again. How these projects do fold in on themselves at times!

      I have not yet repurchased the early volumes of LMM’s journals. When they were first edited, the publishers required that Waterston and Rubio edit them substantially, but now the first two volumes have been reissued, complete. Even those incomplete volumes were fascinating for me (the juxtraposition between her public and private lives) and perhaps you now would be able to find copies of those earlier two volumes (published then by Oxford University Press, with pastel covers, in contrast with the current and more sophisticated B&W covers on the new editions) at reduced rates.

  5. […] Montgomery does a wonderful job conveying to her readers what it was like on the home front during the First World War. And, as always, she is brilliant at mixing up the laughter with the tears (in this case, the tears with some laughter). If you want to read a review that includes some of Montgomery’s own thoughts about the book and the war, visit Buried In Print. […]

  6. Naomi MacKinnon August 27, 2015 at 10:33 am - Reply

    There is a sad tone to your review that, I think, fits well with this last book in the Anne series. I have known that her continuing with the series felt like a chore to her at times, but you would never know by reading the books.
    I love how you included material from her journals in this review – it’s so interesting and helps to put things in perspective.
    I have never heard of the Magic Island book – I’ll have to look into it (if I ever manage to finish Rubio’s biography, which is so good but so dense).

    • Buried In Print August 28, 2015 at 10:08 am - Reply

      There has been a collision of sad stories in my bedside stack lately, and this was just one of them. And, yes, looking up her journal entries for those years only added to the sense of weightiness of it. But, as you say, it’s fitting. On another note, have you read either Sharon Jenning’s Home Free or Caroline Stellings’ The Contest. Both of these children’s books are Anne-ish in some ways. Openly. Also, Pamela Porter’s novel in verse, I’ll Be Watching *felt* very LMM-ish to me (but there is not a single reference to it, just a feeling about the kind of story, on my part). And none is as sad as this story – that’s not why they came to mind, JSYK.

  7. raidergirl3 August 26, 2015 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    So many thoughts; I’ve been listening to any of the Anne books available at my library, and the different format does not lessen the experience at all. Each time, I fly through the book, unable to stop listening. I just finished Rainbow Valley yesterday! Rilla will be next.
    I personally loved the Budge Wilson book and felt she was true to the stories. I also bawled all the way through it, knowing that Anne had a better life ahead.

    Rilla, so much more than an Anne book. It really is a war book, but from the home front.
    Tangled Web. I just went back and read my review of it (http://raidergirl3-anadventureinreading.blogspot.ca/2010/07/book-tangled-web-by-lm-montgomery.html#idc-container) I quite enjoyed it, but I fear the last paragraph of your last new Maud will disappoint a bit… forewarned.

    I was always more Anne than Emily, but maybe I should reread Emily as well. My most exciting news is that my youngest, 12, is getting ready to read the Anne books when she finishes with the Owl series. We’ve been playing the Anne and Gilbert CD in the car together, and she is ready!
    Do you have the CDs from the musicals? excellent!

  8. kaggsysbookishramblings August 26, 2015 at 8:39 am - Reply

    I never progressed past the first one or two books in the series – I think she was not quite so popular over here when I was growing up, and I don’t even know if all the books are/were available. But it sounds like the later ones are most definitely worth reading, and very sad as you say. It’s always a stomach-churning moment when you read the last work of a favourite author – I felt like that about Richard Brautigan’s work when I re-read his books recently. Why can’t our favourites just write books forever?

    • Buried In Print August 28, 2015 at 9:58 am - Reply

      And here I was just teasing you about not having (yet) read any of Alice Munro, but I have not (yet) read any Brautigan. *sigh* So perhaps there is an up-side? For if they HAD kept writing forever, our TBR lists would be THAT much longer. And, oh, the bookshelves…oh, the neglected books there would be. (Which is, of course, not a problem now. *coughs*) As for Anne, my bet is that you’d prefer her Emily books anyhow. 🙂

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