Friday, 9 November 2012

Books #86-91 The Anne Shirley Sequels by LM Montgomery

Anne Of Avonlea
Anne Of The Island
Anne's House Of Dreams
Anne Of Ingleside
Rainbow Valley
Rilla Of Ingleside

Seeing as I so much enjoyed Anne Of Green Gables, I thought I would read all the sequels, I haven't posted on the blog in a long time because I decided to write one big blogpost about all the books rather than 6 small ones as there isn't much to delve into about each book. Beware, for there be spoilers ahead!

Anne Of Avonlea

In Anne Of Avonlea, Anne sacrifices her chance to go to Redmond College from Queens in order to be a companion for surrogate mother Marilla, and somewhat implausibly at the age of 17 becomes the local schoolteacher. I say implausibly but all her fellow Queens students like Gilbert Blythe and Jane Andrews also become teachers, which implies historical accuracy. The book covers Anne's life between the ages of 17-19, her setting up of local conservation society A.V.I.S. and the arrival of the Keith twins who Marilla takes in the same way she once took in Anne. I was frustrated by the Keith twins, Davy as a character is a total mischief who leaps off the page,  but sister Dora barely exists as a character, and when if ever she is described is basically described as having no personality, and this continues throughout subsequent novels. Bizarrely, though she is entirely a character of fiction, I found this a bit cruel! And also from a writing point of view rather lazy, I would have appreciated some storyline for her. I also found the A.V.I.S. storylines and Anne's new adult friendships with her neighbours rather dull. 6/10

Anne Of The Island

In Anne Of The Island, Anne gets her chance to go to Redmond as Mrs Rachel Lynde becomes Marilla's companion. There she makes a new little set of female friends, moves into a house left vacant by sisters who go travelling, studies and for the first time courts a boy despite the readers annoyance that she isn't with true love Gilbert Blythe whilst Gilbert apparently courts someone else. I found I didn't take to Anne Of The Island much, I didn't like her companions, or the romance that was doomed to fail. I'm not sure why I pressed ahead with Anne's House Of Dreams but I did anyway and in the end I was glad I did. Anne is between 19-22 in this novel 6/10

Anne's House Of Dreams

Anne's House Of Dreams leaps ahead 3 years, she and Gilbert have been engaged but unable to marry until Gilbert finished medical school, so Anne spent 3 years teaching high school. This is where it gets complicated, Anne's House Of Dreams is the 4th published book, published in 1917, yet in 1936 Montgomery returned to her characters and wrote Anne Of Windy Poplars a novel covering this 3 year gap. It is the only one of the novels I have not read because I found, having read the stories to what felt like a fitting end, I didn't want to go backwards and couldn't get into it at all. I find, as I also especially found when this happened a second time that had I been a contemporary reader of the Anne novels I would have been massively irritated by this. The only reason I didn't include it in a chronological reading is because the first collection I bought didn't have it.
With regard to Anne's House Of Dreams, I really enjoyed this novel which covers Anne's first 2 years as a bride, and Gilbert's start as a popular young doctor in Glen St Mary, their having moved away from Avonlea. I loved their friendships with Captain Jim, Cornelia Bryant and Leslie Moore and especially how the Leslie Moore storyline turned out. I particularly loved this quote :
I've nothing to look forward to. Morning will come after morning - and he will not come back-he will never come back. Oh when I think I will never see him again I feel as if a great brutal hand had twisted itself among my heartstrings, and was wrenching them. Once long ago, I dreamed of love and I thought it would be beautiful and NOW it's like THIS
I do think Cornelia's story only turned out a certain way to avoid reader speculation she was a lesbian, considering how down on men she is with her humorous catchphrase "that is just like a man"

I liked how that for once Anne, for whom things have always turned out perfectly in the novels previously is finally touched by real tragedy, but, I grew annoyed by the fact that in this and subsequent novels, Marilla and Diana to whom Anne was so attached seem irrelevant and forgotten, which really doesn't seem likely for Anne. Anne only has one scene of note with Diana in the later novels, and Marilla's inevitable death through old age barely warrants a sentence. Her friendship with Leslie also seems to vanish later down the line, though Leslie's children feature. Often Anne or her children are mentioned in passing as having gone to Avonlea and that is all the reader gets. This is just frustrating for the reader who is attached to the established characters and doesn't ring true. 8/10

Anne Of Ingleside     

Anne Of Ingleside is a similar situation to that of Anne Of Windy Poplars, chronologically the sixth Anne Shirley novel it wasn't published til the 1930's a long while after Rainbow Valley which was the next published book after Anne's House Of Dreams in 1919. I read the 2 books in chronological order. In Anne Of Ingleside, Anne and Gilbert have moved to a bigger house and Anne is pregnant with her last child.
The couple already have Jem, Walter, twins Anne and Diana, and Shirley (a boy) her final child is named Bertha but known by her middle name Rilla after Marilla. Each section of the novel focuses on a different child, and their various pitfalls and scrapes. Diana is gullible and seems to pick the wrong friends, Anne (Nan) lets her imagination run away with her like her mother once did. Walter is teased for liking poetry, and is frightened by other children when Anne goes into labour and so forth. There are also some stories about Anne, the long standing difficulty of Gilbert's aunt outstaying her welcome, her quilting circle and the natural ups and downs of marriage.
What is also highlighted is that though Anne was first in her class at college, she has no career of her own following marriage and children and it seemed to me that it was important for Montgomery to highlight that, that a high intellect like Anne's has gone to waste through society rules. It also by nature of its style points out the loss of individual identity for women who are uniformly referred to by their husbands name : Mrs Marshall Elliott, Mrs Alec Davies, Mrs Dr. Blythe etc. Overall I enjoyed Anne Of Ingleside as much as House Of Dreams, and think it was a completely necessary reverse insertion into the Anne Shirley saga, which the series suffered without.  8/10

Rainbow Valley

I can only imagine that in its day, in 1919 when published, Rainbow Valley was massively unpopular with fans of Anne Shirley and the Blythe family. Having left off Anne's House Of Dreams in 1917 with Jem a toddler, Jem is now 13, so it's a massive leap forward in time, leaving the readers with this huge drought of knowledge of the last 13 years of the Blythe's. Fortunately, not being a contemporary reader I had read the later published Anne Of Ingleside covering this period.  
Additionally though the novel initially makes the appearance of being about the Blythe's 80% of the focus of the novel is on the Merediths, the motherless children of the new minister, their scrapes and the general scandal and gossip they cause by being inappropriately dressed or behaved for ministers children. The novel for lack of the Blythe's doesn't come unstuck though as Jerry, Faith and Una Meredith are lovable, engaging, characters.
However, it is to be noted that things which which would have been acceptable and unremarkable language in Montgomery's day are now offensive or have taken on new and inappropriate meanings which render the book eyebrow raising or dated in this day and age, something which most of the previous novels with the exception of "Ingleside" completely side-stepped. These include :

"If you aren't good a big black man will come and put you in a big black bag and take you away" (Ingleside)

"I do like spunk"

"Faith and Una had never had a muff"

"I've been working like a nigger all day"

To Montgomery's great credit, those remarks which are racist are mildly frowned upon by other characters, but it just goes to show how much the world and the English language has changed.
Despite not really conforming to expectation Rainbow Valley is enjoyable in its own right and more so for the knowledge that I had another novel in the sequence to go anyway. 7/10

Rilla Of Ingleside   

At the beginning of Rilla Of Ingleside, we have come full circle with most of Anne and Gilbert's children now attending Redmond or Queens like their parents before them with Gilbert and Anne in their early 50's by the end. Not academically minded, Rilla, 15, intends not to follow in their footsteps and to enjoy the rest of her teens as much as possible before settling to marriage.
But these ideas of frivolousness are swept away with the outbreak of World War One which sees many of the sons of Glen St Mary join the Army and sees Rilla burdened with Home Front responsibilities, and the worry of the survival of her brothers, friends and boyfriend.
Montgomery uses Rilla of Ingleside published in the 20's to reflect on the effect of the war on Canada and its young people making it a far more serious novel. Rilla is a likeable central character and surrounding characters remain intact, though twins Nan and Di hardly feature. At the end of the novel it feels like a fitting close to the stories of the Blythe's and I don't see how Montgomery could have continued it much further, though it is good that she went back and wrote Anne Of Ingleside as neither Rainbow Valley or this novel would have worked well without it.

There are further Avonlea stories in the Chronicles Of Avonlea short stories and later The Blythes Are Quoted, but I feel like that's enough now for me, and that in many senses the source has been bled dry.

Overall 8/10 

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