Thursday, April 09, 2009

Rilla of Ingleside

I loved this book, but it was depressing. Rilla of Ingleside spans the whole of World War I, and Rilla Blythe's coming-of-age. In a way, this doesn't feel like part of the series because the horrifying events in Europe are pressing down hard on the idyllic world we've come to know.

I appreciate how L.M. Montgomery, fresh from the experience of war felt the need to set it all down. The details of what it was like to be a Canadian woman watching and waiting are invaluable. This should be required reading for any WWI literature class. I was only peripherally aware that Canada was in the war for the duration, and it was an eye-opener to read of Canada's frustration at President Woodrow Wilson dragging his feet regarding the US entering the war.

The vilification of Mr. "Whiskers-on-the-moon" Pryor was a little hard to take. His pacifist stance was really quite brave, but L.M. Montgomery seems to regard him with contempt. He was saying much the same thing that many European intellectuals were espousing at that time. Although I know it was the feeling of the time, the patriotism was laid on really thick. Canada/England good, Germany bad.

Who else thinks that horrible bitchy Irene was the one who sent Walter the feather? I hated to see him go off to war. He was one of the few who saw the stark ugliness of it early on, and was terrified and revolted, as any sane and sensible person would be. But he joins up and then he becomes Canada's Rupert Brooke. His last letter to Rilla was profoundly depressing -- he'd swallowed the propaganda package whole. It reminded me of that song "The Scarlet Tide" on the Cold Mountain soundtrack: "Man goes beyond his own decision/gets caught up in the mechanism/of swindlers who act like kings/and brokers who break everything..." For the life of me, I couldn't see Walter's sacrifice as beautiful or inspiring. It was a shame.

I enjoyed reading about Rilla bringing home war-baby Jims in a soup tureen and raising him by Morgan's book, but with the awful world events swirling around her, I found it difficult to really focus on Rilla or develop a deep attachment, although she meets her challenges head-on and matures admirably during the course of the novel. Susan Baker had my undivided attention because she not only seemed to follow the war developments the most closely, she was fiercely articulate about them. For me, it is she and not Rilla who is the quintessential spirit of the women on the home front. Sadly, Anne seemed little more than a shadowy presence.

A minor but masterfully done scene was the one in which young Bruce Meredith "sacrifices" his beloved cat so that Jem can come home safely. It was chilling to see how the strain of war can take its toll on even the youngest of the watchers and waiters.

Rilla of Ingleside is dedicated to Frederica Campbell MacFarlane. According to the dedication, she was a great friend of Montgomery's. Has anyone read Montgomery's biography? How exactly did MacFarlane impact her life?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was horrified when I came to the scene of Bruce murdering his pet cat in a mawkish fit of religious lunacy. This is probably the most shocking, nauseating passage I have ever run across in literature. To make it worse, all of the adults in the story view his abhorrent behavior as heartwarming and wonderful. What was Montgomery thinking? She really went off the deep end with this. I think there's more than the stress of wartime going on here--the child is a psychopath and should be institutionalized.