Monday, September 13, 2010

30 Posts in 30 Days: Day 13: A fictional book

(I assume this means a fictional book that I like or that's had an influence on me?) When I started thinking about favourite works of fiction, my mind turned to a recent conversation on Pamela's blog, A Fresh Start, where we talked about Anne of Green Gables & the friendship between Anne & Diana.

I read Anne of Green Gables when I was 8, & over the next few years, devoured just about everything else that L.M. Montgomery had written. Anne is her most famous work, of course, and of course I love it -- but some of my favourite novels of hers are non-Anne books. I struggled to pare down my list of favourites, & ultimately came up with these two:

Rilla of Ingleside: OK, technically, this is the last book of the Anne series (was, anyway, until a recently discovered manuscript was published as "The Blythes Are Quoted")(still haven't read that one yet). But it's actually about Anne's children -- and, in particular, her daughter, Rilla, who is turning 15 just as the First World War is breaking out. At the beginning of the book, Rilla is the spoiled youngest child of her family, with no ambitions for her life except to have fun. All that changes the night of Rilla's first grown-up party, a dance at the lighthouse, when the outbreak of war is announced. The book follows the Blythe family through the next four rollercoaster years of the war, as Rilla grows up, matures, adopts a "war baby," and waits for her brothers, friends & lover to come home again.

It's been noted that this is the only contemporary novel about the First World War written by a Canadian woman, from the perspective of a Canadian woman and "the home front." I think I learned more about the war from this book than any history text. I've often thought it would make a fabulous movie or TV mini-series. I think my favourite character is Susan Baker, the housekeeper, who provides some of the most memorable (I think) images in the book -- sticking her knitting needle through a map of Europe in exasperation with the Kaiser, refusing to submit to "Borden's time" (the introduction of daylight savings time) vs "God's time," the image of her running up the flag & saluting it, saying, "You are worth it," when the Armistice is finally announced.

The Blue Castle: Our heroine, Valancy Stirling, is 29-year-old "old maid" who lives a dreary life in Ontario's Muskoka district (this is the only Montgomery book set entirely outside of Prince Edward Island) with her domineering mother & cousin. After learning she only has months to live, she decides to make the most of the time she has left -- shocking her staid extended family in the process. I won't give away all the plot details, but suffice to say there is romance, as well as plot twists & turns along the way to the ultimate happy ending.

On the face of it, this is a sort of contrived novel (published in 1926). But in many respects (& like many of Montgomery's books), it's a bit of a feminist fairy tale, with a strong heroine who defies the social conventions of her time & place. Who among us wouldn't love to go to a family party, tell all our insufferable relatives exactly what we think of them, shove our wedding ring in the face of a more popular cousin, and then go off on our merry way to live out the rest of our days in a charming cottage on an island with the handsome rogue of our dreams? This Google books edition comes with an introductory essay that puts the novel into the context of Montgomery's life & times.

Side note: I didn't remember, until I looked up the plot summary on Wikipedia (if you go there, be alert to spoilers!), that one of the characters, Cissy Gay, has a baby that dies. Anne of Green Gables herself, of course, loses her first child, a little girl named Joy, in Anne's House of Dreams -- it's not quite clear if she is stillborn or dies shortly after birth. As I blogged some time ago, the author's second son was stillborn.

Have you read either (or both) of these books? What do you think? What are your Montgomery favourites?


  1. I like this post. : ) Rilla seemed like an afterthought in the series when I first read it (around age 12), but now it's certainly in my top 4 of the series (Green Gables, Island, Rainbow Valley, Rilla). It's a very strong war story and reminds me how much more involved other countries were in WW1 and how great the casualties were. (I like Susan's comments on Wilson's interminable letter-writing.) I really do need to go back and read Montgomery's other books. The covers of the two you've mentioned are so similar! Classic 1970s/1980s "young adult romance" covers, with the strong-willed heroine in the foreground, usually in some natural setting, and a suitor standing in the background, looking yearningly at her. (Anne of the Island also has such a cover, at least in my boxed set.)

    You didn't ask for least favorites, but mine are Anne of Ingleside (too cutesy, although the last chapters are rather dark and bitter), and Windy Poplars, which is so boring in its epistolary style and cutesy love letters, except for Rebecca Dew. I like all of Montgomery's comical, cynical older women. I wasn't surprised to learn that these novels really were the afterthoughts. They stand out like sore thumbs. And Anne in the Avonlea book is kind of high-handed, especially toward Diana in the picnic scene.

    There's an Anne cartoon program that runs on PBS, often right after one of the girls' shows. I'm too much of a literary purist to really enjoy it, especially because Gilbert looks like a dork and Anne's nose is not at all pretty!

  2. I too devoured all of the Anne books and Rilla was one of them. It's been so long though, that I can't even remember the plotline. I just added it to my list of books to read. Thanks for reminding me! I have such fond memories of that series.

  3. I loved Rilla when I read the book years ago. I'll have to put it on my list of things to read again because I too cannot remember the plotline. I was just reading short stories to my Grandma and picked up one of L.M. Montgomery's books. I loved reading some of her stories again. :)

  4. I don't know if I ever read Rilla, but I will have to put it on my list!

    Love love the Blue Castle - it's my favourite L.M. :) I also enjoy Jane and Emily. My mom's favourite was Anne though.

  5. Oh, I was hoping you'd mention The Blue Castle. I have a first edition.

    You know, as much as I love the Anne series, I did not remember that she lost her first baby.

  6. Thanks for posting about The Blue Castle - I can't believe I never discovered it in childhood but will have to check it out now.

    My favorite Anne books: Green Gables and Island.