Yesterday I blogged on Anne of Green Gables, today I am looking at the eighth book in the series, Rilla of Ingleside. It was published in 1921, thirteen years after Anne of Green Gables in 1908. Some people say that L. M. Montgomery only wrote sequels to Anne of Green Gables because a contract with her publisher required it, and consequently the rest of the books aren’t as good. Perhaps none of the other books have the spark of Anne of Green Gables, but I think they have a charm of their own as they cover Anne’s growing and grown years, her marriage, the birth and childhood of her children. In this library they are all shelved in the children’s section, but I have certainly enjoyed them and gained much from them as an adult.
Rilla of Ingleside has the distinction of being one of the saddest fiction books I have ever read. It is set during World War I as Anne has become middle-aged and discovers a few grey hairs. Her children are grown or nearly grown with her youngest, Rilla, just turning fifteen. Because the Anne of Green Gables series was first written over a hundred years ago it is also historical fiction with an authenticity that modern books set in the past can only hope to match. The characters travel by horse and buggy because that is the only possibility. Marilla and Anne wash and dry the dishes by hand and then “scald” the dish-towels because there are no automatic washing machines lurking behind the scenes. Most importantly for Rilla of Ingleside, L. M. Montgomery lived through the exact events she described and probably based much of the book on diaries she kept at the time. These details give the book an immediacy that some historical fiction lacks. The women characters are busy with knitting socks, running Red Cross drives and rationing, while the men disappear off to war one by one, sometimes forever.
When we are looking back on the history of almost one hundred years ago, there seems an inevitability to it. Of course the Germans didn’t win WWI. Of course the war ran from 1914 to 1918 and of course the Americans entered the war in 1917. When L. M. Montgomery was a young mother in 1914 there was nothing inevitable about it. She was terrified that the Germans would win (what this would have meant for Canada is uncertain). The characters of Rilla of Ingleside wait with anticipation and often dread for the newspaper to arrive. One of the events recounted with horror is the Battle of Verdun in 1916. I had heard of this battle but was vague about the details. I looked it up online – a luxury Montgomery couldn’t imagine when they had to wait three or four days for printed news. I tried to put myself in their place and tried to imagine the unimaginable–that a battle was raging that caused almost 700,000 battlefield deaths. Such a thing had never happened before. The young men fighting and dying at Verdun were born in 1900 or earlier. Today in 2012 they would almost certainly be dead, but their suffering and early deaths still matter. Rilla and her family were also convinced that the war had to mean something important.
A minor character Mr. Meredith says of the war, “I think it is the price humanity must pay for some blessing–some advance great enough to be worth the price–which we may not live to see but which our children’s children will inherit. ” Now we are up to the children’s children’s children’s children, but I am not sure if we can claim that humanity has gained a great blessing from the slaughter of World War I. Rilla’s brother, Walter, challenges that “We must make it impossible for such things to happen again while the world lasts.” This book was written before the slaughter of World War II, so sadly, I think that Walter would consider that we have not lived up to his challenge.
Check the WRL catalog for Rilla of Ingleside.