Confessions of an Anne of Green Gables Snob Part 2
The Only Depiction of the Lives of Canadian Women during World War 1
Up until now, I never finished reading all of the Anne of Green Gables books. By the time I got to Anne’s House of Dreams, I was kind of burned out on the series, and I wasn’t that interested in “doing it all over again” with her children, which is the focus of the latter books. During the last few months, I’ve been periodically reading other books by L.M. Montgomery, and I’ve had Rilla of Ingleside downloaded for a while. I got interested in reading it when I found out it centered on the life of a teenage girl, which is typical for Montgomery’s novels, but this time, the setting is World War 1.
For most Americans, World War 2 looms much larger in our collective memory than World War 1, but for the British, it seems World War 1 does. Even though World War 1 killed a fraction of the British civilian population that Word War 2 did, because of the “Blitz”, the British lost more than twice as many active duty members as the second world war. Nearly 900,000 people, nearly all men, were killed. They truly lost a generation, and they still wear poppies every year to remember their World War 1 fallen on “Rembrance Day” in November.
Canada was not fully independent from the U.K. in those days, which meant that when the U.K. went to war, so did Canada, with the caveat that Canada could decide how much it was involved in the war. Regardless, many people still saw the U.K. as “the motherland”, so participate they did.
Rilla of Ingleside is the only book about Canadian women’s experiences during World War 1. It is also unusual in that it’s about a teenager during a war, which causes her to be thrust into situations that makes her seem quite older. Early on, she begins fostering the child of a soldier after its mother dies from illness. And of course, she has to cope with her brothers, her friends, and her boyfriends leaving home to fight. Minor personal deprivations occur in the story, but the main theme is the permanent changes and losses brought on by the war. Rilla is a young 15 year old at the beginning of the novel, and a 19 year old…who seems about 30…at the end.
As a reader of the book, of course, you know the Allies are ultimately going to win, but you also know the cost, particularly to the British, so you know some character will have to die for the book to be realistic, which is the central source of the dramatic tension in the book.
Ostensibly, Rilla is an adolescent novel, and of course it is often marketed to them, but it’s just as engaging for adult readers. While Rilla of Ingleside is not my favorite of L.M. Montgomery’s novels…so far, for me that honor goes to the Emily of New Moon series…I’m really glad I read Rilla, and because of its depiction of teenagers’ wartime experiences and also because it helped me better understand the complicated relationships between the Canada, the United Kingdom, and even the United States. Honestly, even though it’s more than 100 years old now, it should be required reading in both Canada and the United States.
Reading Rilla of Ingleside and the rest of the Anne of Green Gables Series
If you have just realized that you may have missed an Anne book here or there, or aren’t sure, here is the complete list. You can see that they were not written in the order they are set.
If you haven’t read Rainbow Valley, it’s helpful to do that before Rilla of Ingleside because many of the characters in Rilla are introduced in Rainbow Valley.
Anne of Green Gables (1908)
Anne of Avonlea (1909)
Anne of the Island (1915)
Anne of Windy Poplars (1936)
Anne’s House of Dreams (1917)
Anne of Ingleside (1939)
Rainbow Valley (1919)
Rilla of Ingleside (1921)
The Blythes Are Quoted (2009)
Books in the public domain in the U.S. as of this writing* and availably on Project Gutenberg are linked there. The rest of the books are linked to their Amazon.com pages above. Canada’s public domain laws are different from the U.S.’s; Canadian residents can download additional books at Faded Page. You should be able to find most, if not all of the books at your local public library, very likely through their e-book programs.
If you belong to the Brooklyn Public Library, available to all U.S. residents, click here to access their extensive L.M. Montgomery collection (use the button to the left of the screen to filter for Kindle, audiobooks, or other preferred formats).
*In 2021, all books released prior to and including 1925 are in the public domain in the U.S.