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.
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.
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.
Wednesday Nov. 23, 1921
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?