I haven’t been reading much of late, and so it’s taken me a while to get through this novel. Unfortunately the episodic nature of the Anne books, particularly this one, means that while it reads well in this periodic manner I’m kind of iffy on things that happened in the earlier sections of the book as it’s starting to meld with other Anne books. This was the last book Montgomery had published in her lifetime, though apparently there was a collection of short stories recently published that I’d never even heard of and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it.
This book takes place over six years and as I mentioned is episodic in nature as I follows the Blythe children through their early years and for the most part Anne simply plays the role of saintly, understanding mother. There is a brief Anne story near the end, but Anne as an active player in these books is slowly phased out during this novel. I know there are a few who don’t like that, but I don’t mind as I think Montgomery is at her strongest when dealing with children and their many foibles.
I really find it amusing how little influence Gilbert seems to have in the novel. He seems to exist simply to go doctor the people and give the Blythe family standing in the community. This is most obvious when you look at the names of the children; James Mathew, Walter, Anne (Nan) and Diana, Shirley, and Bertha Marilla (Rilla). Every single one of those names come from Anne’s life (the names Walter and Bertha were the names of her parents), apparently Gilbert didn’t want to name any of the children. Clearly Anne is very much in charge there, which makes the last story, where Anne fears that Gilbert doesn’t love her, a teeny bit ridiculous.
I do want to talk about the Jenny Penny problem though. Jenny Penny is a character who features in one of Di’s stories. Poor little Diana is show to be more then a little gullible, and she loves herself some storytellers. Unfortunately she falls prey to two little girls who take advantage of this. Both stories paint those girls in very unflattering lights as liars who make-up lies about their lives, or in the case of Jenny Penny exaggerate their circumstances to make their home life seem better. For all that these girls are painted as villains who take advantage of little gullible Di Blythe my sympathies lie very much with poor Jenny Penny who is the first little girl to so entrance Di. Honestly, out of all the children that Montgomery has in this novel, Jenny Penny might be the closest to Anne Shirley in her nature. She’s an orphan, though being raised by her uncle, and the fanciful tales she spins are very much about making her home more beautiful and her family kinder. Her family is poor, and you can see very much just how aware she is of the poverty in her attempts to be a lady and make herself a little better. Unfortunately that poverty is a strike against her, and while Montgomery paints a sad picture of this poor impoverished girl, there is a snobbishness about it as we the reader are given room to mock this little girl trying to rise about her lot in life. After Di spends a rather frightful night over at the Penny’s house the mention of a fine toothed comb is brought up many, many times in the book as a reference to the house. It’s a very stark contrast to the snobbishness of Rachel Lynde, who warned heavily against the Cuthberts adopting a child of unknown origin, being proven wrong in Anne of Green Gables. I can’t help but think that the time difference between the writing of these two novels is to blame for this, Anne of Green Gables being Montgomery’s first novel and Anne of Ingleside being her one of her last.
There are heavy hints throughout the book of the disaster that is to come in World War I, which is featured in Rilla of Ingleside, and knowing that this book was written after that one makes the poignancy of some of these stories a bit stronger. As I’ve been looking more into the publishing dates and the timeline of these books, I’ve become more fascinated by how World War I influenced Montgomery. I think in many ways, this novel was written as an escape from the impending World War II and a return to a time before war shocked the world.
Overall, very enjoyable.