Rainbow Valley is the seventh book in the eight-book series Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. This book is a much underrated one in the series, mostly because neither Anne nor her children are the main players here; rather, the story is mostly about the new minister of the Presbyterian church, Mr. Meredith, his four motherless children named Jerry, Faith, Una and Carl, as well as an orphan, Mary Vance, who was found by these "manse children" in a barn and later adopted by Miss Cornelia (who had been Mrs. Marshall Elliott for about 14 years by then, but her friends still preferred the old name). Anne's children only appears as the manse children's playmates (thankfully Nan and Di finally had some worthy playmates at last, after their misadventures on that in Anne of Ingleside; but this book and the rest does not contain enough about them even to tell them apart!), and Anne herself appears only occasionally, usually in some discussion with Miss Cornelia. In my opinion, although the book may be accused of not really being an "Anne book" (which I personally do not agree; I think the fact that this book provides the necessary characters for the next, Rilla of Ingleside, is enough of a reason to make it an integral part of the series), it is still a very lovely book by its own right, and its warmness and sweetness nicely complements the previous one, Anne of Ingleside, which also focuses on the life of young children, but concerns itself more with the chilly troubles of real life.

The story began with Anne's return from a trip to Europe, which had been promised by Gilbert at the end of the last book. During the time they were abroad, the village finally settled on a new minister, Mr. Meredith, who was a widow with four children aged between 9 and 12. Mr. Meredith was a very good man and preached beautifully, but he indulged in theological matters way too much, often neglecting his duties as a father. Old Aunt Martha, who was a cousin of Mr. Meredith's mother, insisted on being the housekeeper, but she cooked terribly, was too old to be able to do much house-cleaning, and was of even less help as far as mental matters go. The manse children were all very kind-hearted, but with no one to teach them propriety, these children got into scrapes constantly, which caused much danger for their father's career and much trouble for his supporters such as Miss Cornelia in defending him. Nevertheless, the manse children and the Ingleside children (mostly the elder four, namely Jem, Walter, Nan and Di) soon became good friends, and their favorite place, Rainbow Valley, named by Walter back in the Anne of Ingleside days, thus became the book's title.

One day, the manse children discovered Mary Vance, a 12-year-old orphan run away from her place after being starved and abused, kindly saved her from starvation (of course, coming from such a cook as Aunt Martha, no quality could to be expected), gave her some clothes, and let her stay at the manse. Mary had not been a bad girl, and she was quite grateful, but her roughness could not be denied. The absent-minded minister knew nothing about the matter, so after seeing a funny episode involving Mary and Rilla (Anne's youngest daughter, about 7 years old then), Miss Cornelia intervened and decided to send her to an orphan asylum, lest her bad habits such as swearing affect the manse children negatively. Mary was very sorry to leave them, but shy and sympathetic Una understood her, and successfully pled Miss Cornelia to adopt her instead. Mary proved to suit Miss Cornelia perfectly: her capable hands helped aging Cornelia much, her food and clothes became even better than the manse children, her bad habits of lying and swearing vanished in the new environment, and by-and-by kind-hearted, frank, sophisticated and gossipy Mary (almost a Cornelia-clone, I have to say) became a messenger between the manse children and the gossiping society which they often offended unknowingly.

Meanwhile, the lively manse children kept getting into scrapes, and when trying to get out of a previous scrape, they often got into new ones, similar to bad children trying to cover up a sin with another. To save the situation and their father's career, they organized a "Good Conduct Club", in which they voluntarily punished themselves if they did something wrong or hurting their father; their intentions were good, but they often punished themselves overly hard, causing Una to faint in church and Carl to catch pneumonia, which resulted in some dangerous moments and even more gossip.

Seeing his children's struggles without a mother's help, the minister felt the need to find a stepmother for his children, but he could not hurry, for he was wise enough to see that he must marry one he loved, and his love to his first wife Cecilia had never really faded. One day he met Rosemary West, the music teacher for the Blythe girls, and love sparked at once between them --- a love with more warmness and responsibility than ardor, for Rosemary also had a first lover who died long ago before marriage, but it was beautiful nevertheless --- but Rosemary could not leave her elder sister Ellen alone, so she had to say "no" when the minister proposed to her. The love seemed so utterly hopeless, at least to the minister, and one day he talked his agony aloud to himself after one more mischief by Carl. Una heard and understood her, so she hid her misgivings arising from Mary Vance's dire predictions about stepmothers, and told Rosemary that the minister still loved her. Meanwhile, Ellen was again on good terms with her old lover, Norman Douglas, a man whose frankness and generosity and intelligence much overshadowed his lack of piety and roughness of manner for politics-loving Ellen, so both pairs happily married at the end, without fear of leaving the other alone.

Among the four manse children, the boys were fairly ordinary: eldest Jerry was just the "big brother" type who led his younger siblings in everything, especially those concerning the "Good Conduct Club"; the youngest Carl, a great insect-lover, was much loved and "cuddled" by his sisters. However, the two girls have very distinctive personalities, and in my opinion they are the most endearing ones of the younger generation in the series, although Walter and Nan (as the fanciful one in Anne of Ingleside) come very close. The elder one, Faith, was an intelligent and spunky tomboy who much reminded me of the "Naughty Nan" in Little Men. Her frankness and generosity made her the greatest trouble-maker in the family, yet even the most malicious gossips could not deny her good intent. In order to defend her father against gossips, she delivered an unexpected speech in the church for once, and wrote a long and funny explanation to the local newspaper for the second time, both giving her friends much material for laughter and others even more sources of gossip. In contrast, The younger one, Una, was much like Beth in Little Women: shy, sensitive and sweet, who did many heart-touching things in the background for Mary Vance, her father and others. Indeed, the second-last chapter in which she decided to ask Rosemary to marry her father in spite of Mary Vance's dire conviction that stepmothers will inevitably turn her father against her, is one of the most touching parts of the whole series, and I have reread it numerous times. What's more, she was not painted as a little angel, but did have her little faults, such as her envy to Mary Vance's good clothes after she was adopted, which made her delightfully human.

The relationship between Ellen and Rosemary West was some food for thought. Both had rather sad experiences of romance: Ellen had a quarrel with the then-young Norman Douglas, and Rosemary's engaged lover died as mentioned above; and after their mother's death, the sorrow would have been unbearable without the sisterly bond and the promise that they will never leave each other. However, when each saw a new prospect for love in this story, the promise much impeded their search for happiness, for neither could marry and leave the other alone in the world with a good conscience --- a typical deadlock situation. This particular case had a nice ending almost by magic, but such situations are rather hard to deal with in general.

When all is said and done, I much recommend this book despite its un-Anne-ness. If you like sweet and lovely stories about pre-teen children, you will probably like this one. Even if you are so hard-core in reading about Anne only that you want to skip this one, chances are that you need to read this anyway to fully enjoy the next book "Rilla of Ingleside", which no Anne-lover probably wants to miss, and in time you may fall in love with this one in spite of yourself.

This book is available in Project Gutenberg, #5343.

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