So we finally come to The Great War. This has been slowly building for four or five books now, each book has had some hint about this major event and how it will effect the characters. If I’m to be honest, I don’t think I’ve read this book more then once or maybe twice. The first time I read it, I was very young and the character death really bothered me, so I didn’t re-read it very often if at all. Is that a spoiler? It’s war, the book is about WWI, I think it’s a given that one of the characters is going to die. However, I enjoyed it much more this time, even despite the heavy handed and melodramatic pronunciations as the war started and got worse. Seriously, there are not one, not two, but three premonitions from one character and of course you’ve got Walter’s Piper who shows up numerous times.
The book opens on Susan reading notes in the paper about the Blythe and Meredith families, completely ignoring the headline of some archduke who was assassinated. We move on to Rilla, not quite fifteen, a few weeks later as she prepares to head to her first dance. And it’s a marvelous dance, she even spends some time with the dreamy Kenneth Ford (son of Leslie from House of Dreams). However, all that is ruined, RUINED, as someone comes in to say that Britain has declared war on Germany. The dance continues afterwards, but of course it’s not the same. And then, well it’s the war, as told from the point of view of Rilla at home with her brothers and friends slowly joining up one by one to head out to the trenches. She adopts a war baby, which I’d completely forgotten about, organizes a Junior Red Cross, and does what she can to stay brave and true as the world turns inside out around her. It’s the everyday details that made me enjoy the book, from Susan’s exasperation with Woodrow Wilson as the US dallies about, to little Dog Monday waiting faithfully by the train, they give a pretty good look at life for these women.
One thing to note, apparently this book has been edited to remove some of the anti-German sentiment Montgomery wrote, and then it was added back in when a new edition was released in 2010. It looks like the version I have on my kindle is the newer version, per this site’s accounting of the differences. Though I ought to double check. I will say, the character of Whiskers on the Moon (whose real name escapes me) who is supposed to be a villain, is both more ridiculous then I remember and more sympathetic to this modern reader then Montgomery probably intended.
I do want to go into the timeline issue that this book raises though. Anne of Green Gables was originally supposed to be set in the lat 1890s to early 1900s, if only because Anne so desperately wanted the fashionable puffed sleeves. This deviant art page lays out the progression of women’s fashion from 1835 to 1901, you can see the puffed sleeves were fashionable during the 1890s, and they got larger as the decade moved on. The sleeves mentioned in Green Gables were so big women had to turn sideways to go through doorways, and later in the book (or possibly the beginning of Avonlea) they’re starting to go out of fashion, so we can probably put the book start right at 1897-1898. Unfortunately what this does is put Anne at 28 when WWI starts in 1914, placing us at the end of House of Dreams. Meaning that Montgomery should have had Gilbert go off with along with the other men in Anne’s life, if anyone was to go at all.
Clearly, this is not what Montgomery wanted to do. And if you look at the timeline of the publication, you can see that Anne of the Island was probably written prior to and during the very start of the war, it was published in 1915, and that’s when I think Montgomery needed to think about how to handle it. Anne’s House of Dreams (1917) is an attempt to cling to the pleasantness of life before the war, and the Rainbow Valley (1919) was her preparation to write about the war as she wrote the characters and planned out how they would react to the war. But this does mean that the timeline goes way off, pushing Anne of Green Gables back to 1976, where there were no puffed sleeves. I reconcile this by allowing a time loop to exist for Avonlea and Four Winds and all the inhabitants therein.
This does NOT excuse the terrible Sullivan production that was The Continuing Story though. We do not speak of that. I do think it explains why Anne kind of disappears as the books go on, to the point where she’s hardly mentioned in either this book or Rainbow Valley.
At any rate, this ends my re-read of these books. I did get my hands on The Blythes are Quoted, but that’s not really a re-read and so doesn’t count. I’ve really enjoyed doing this, and thank you all for coming along with me as I traipsed down memory lane. It’s been fun reading about the books, and finding out about the publishing timeline and the edits made to various books. The first four (chronologically, not publishing order) will forever be my favorites, but I’ve come to appreciate Rilla of Ingleside more then I first did.
My final note is to urge you to read this series if you haven’t already. They’re really good books, and considered classics for a reason.