Rilla of Ingleside is the last book (and one of the most
popular) in the
Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery, where the whole series ends
gorgeously in the context of World War I, in which Canada fought
for Britain. Anne's children were all grown up then, and every one of
her boys, from Jem and Walter to Shirley, as well as most of the boys
of Anne's old friends, fought in the war. Meanwhile, the girls took
up with the nursing, bandage-making, fund-raising, the work left by the men, and other
war duties for women. The four-year war made
everyone older and more mature, especially for Anne's youngest daughter Rilla, who turned
from a frivolous 15-year-old young girl to a responsible woman of 19.
A large part of this novel consists of Rilla's diaries during the war,
which recorded how the family and the village pulled through the war,
and the anxiety, heartbreaks, new duties, patriotism,
etc. accompanying it.
In the last chapter of Rainbow Valley, the author has hinted
on the upcoming war; but the actual WWI did not start until 8 years
later, when this story began. During these 8 years, Anne's
children, the manse children and Mary Vance had all grown up into young men and women,
most of them were receiving higher education in Queen's
Academy or Redmond, and love was sparking between many of them, in
particular Faith vs. Jem, Nan vs. Jerry, Mary Vance vs. some Miller
Douglas, and Una secretly loved Walter.
The marriage between the minister and Rosemary West went on well, and
the manse children much loved their stepmother and the little brother Bruce
brought by her, especially Una who had been fearing her father's
second marriage the most. Some new people had also come, from Susan's
pessimistic cousin Sophia to Rilla's teacher, Miss Oliver.
At the very beginning, the shadow of war had not reached Canada yet,
and Rilla had been an "abominably vain" belle with little ambition,
instead she loved to indulge in parties and beaux, much like the young
Scarlett in Gone with the Wind. Rilla loved Kenneth Ford,
the son of Leslie who had been Anne's friend from the House of Dreams
days, and in a party she met and danced with him, with some delightful
moments as well as some bitter embarrassments.
Just then, England declared war with Germany, and Rilla's world
tumbled overnight when many of the boys went to fight in the war.
Jem, Jerry and Robert Grant (Miss Oliver's lover) went first, then Ken, Miller Douglas, Walter, Carl and
Shirley left eventually, delayed for either physical or age reasons,
leaving their parents, sisters and pets heartbroken, although they
bore that with unusual strength. The most touching part was about
Jem's dog Monday, who stayed at the station from the day Jem left to
his coming back home, never stopped waiting for his master in the
whole four years. The girls continued their education while taking up
their share of war duties; in particular, Rilla organized a Junior Red
Cross, and also brought up a baby, called Jims by her, whose father
had gone to war and whose mother had died, with the help of books and
occasionally advice from her father, Susan and Mary Vance.
As the war dragged on, death and injuries inevitably happened on most
of the soldiers in the war: Jerry was serious wounded but got better soon, Jem was reported
"wounded and missing" for a long time until he managed to escape from
the prisoner camp, Carl lost one eye, Miller Douglas lost one leg, and
Walter was killed in action. Now that's the price of war! Having to
leave their sons and brothers was heartbreak enough for mothers and
sisters, and their injury or even death was almost devastating,
especially Walter's death had caused Anne to be sick with grief for a
long time, and the pain endured his loving sister Rilla and friend
Una was known by none other than themselves --- poor Una still did not
won Walter's love, so even the display of grief was forbidden to her
(Why are the sweetest people always be made the most unfortunate in
novels? I can only hope she will find someone else later in her life,
just like her stepmother)!
Yet somehow everyone bore their grief with much courage, though the
wounds in their hearts did not heal for a long time.
Anyway, after numerous victories and defeats, the war ended with the
well-known result, and everybody came home and continued their life.
Rilla had to give Jims back to his father who came back from the war with his
second wife, which marred her happiness somewhat, yet the sweetness of
the child's stepmother, as well as the money a generous old lady
left for the child, provided some consolation. As for her romance,
Rilla had always believed that Ken loved her, but could never be sure,
so when Ken finally came back and confirmed her beliefs, she was
fairly overflown with emotion; it was no more than the repetition of two short sentences
previously said when Rilla and Ken met in the party four years before,
but they really thrilled my heart, and made a beautiful and concise
ending for the long series.
In wartime people often display some aspects of their personality that
would have been permanently hidden without the war, and this novel
displayed the many different attitudes towards the war taken by
various people. Among the boys fighting in the war, Jem enlisted
finding it an exciting affair, Carl went into it in a cool,
business-like mood, and Walter refused to enlist at first due
to his distaste for dirty things and especially brutally killing other
human beings via weapons like bayonets, but eventually changed his
mind, deciding that he must stop the Germans doing such brutal things, and
became a most brave soldier, since his fear lies in his imagination,
not in real-world things like injury or death.
As for the folks at
home, Anne was like a typical mother, who was very reluctant to send
her precious sons to war and possibly death, but forced to by a sense
of duty; As a man, Gilbert had more interest in the war news, bored
things more calmly, and did not have any explicit objections to his
son joining the war, but it could be seen that he still felt much pain
over that; Susan changed from one totally indifferent in politics and
foreign matters to a gallant patriot in her sixties, who loved
commenting on war news, and had always been
optimistic and comforting; Susan's cousin Sophia kept being a dreadful
pessimist, who badly annoyed Susan despite her good intentions; Miss
Oliver was sometimes hopeful and sometimes as pessimistic as Sophia,
but she seemed to possess a talent in dreaming prophetic dreams
(isn't it superstition?); Mary Vance, who
kept her Douglas from the war at the beginning until she saw the
necessity, braggingly taught other girls her experiences on how to smile when
sending their beloved boys off, loftily gave a patriotic speech when Douglas
was reported losing a leg in combat, and started discussing practical matters
immediately after Douglas's return, had become a practical and strong-minded
woman under Miss Cornelia's influence, "whose zeal and patriotism had
taken some time to kindle but now burned with a glow as steady and
bright as any one's"; the other girls did as well in both war
duties and school work, and Faith even went to England as a V.A.D.
(Voluntary Aid Detachment, a kind of nursing in the war
The war affected local life significantly: besides having the men
going to war and the women engaging in various war duties, the
shortage of food also forced Susan to plant potatoes in the lawn, and every
family had to live economically. However, in other aspects life
continued mostly as normal, especially since Canada had not been a war
zone itself: the Blythe girls continued studying in the Redmond
school, election was held as normal, Gilbert bought an automobile for work, and other newfangled
things such as airplanes and motion pictures were also appearing, even
in the small village.
To summarize, this novel has a very thrilling storyline, while still
retaining much of the innocent beauty of the previous Anne books, thus
I think it is a must read for anyone who likes the Anne
series, especially for those interested in war stories describing life
back in the hometowns of the soldiers. It is a bit overly patriotic for me, when
my history books say that WWI was actually a mostly pointless war
where nations frantically grabbed for land and money at the far higher cost of
millions of lives; in particular the treatment of pacifists is a bit
too harsh (though I think even pacifists should fight to stop cruel
warmongers if they are not able to make W.M.P.s), but I hope the reader will forgive these
considering the time of writing.
This book is available in Project Gutenberg, #3796.