Update in the “Pause”

Thank you All for your good thoughts and optimism. My surgery is on Friday and I cannot wait to have my eyeball back in good working order!

With age-related cataracts, both eyes are usually done one after the other, but in my case only my right eye has a cataract. It will be interesting to see how this will effect my overall eyesight without glasses. At present, I don’t wear them to read. I won’t be fully recovered for a month.

At any rate, the books are piling up and calling my name!

IMG_5231 (2)

 

 

 

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Under the Greewood Tree or The Mellstock Quire, Thomas Hardy (1872)

This story of the Mellstock Quire and its old established west-gallery musicians,…is intended to be a fairly true picture, at first hand of the personages, ways and customs which were common among such orchestral bodies in the villages of fifty or sixty years ago….One is inclined to regret the displacement of these ecclesiastical bandsmen…by installing a single artist….Under the old plan, from half a dozen to ten full-grown players and singers, were officially occupied with the Sunday routine, and concerned in trying their best to make it an artistic outcome of the combined musical taste of the congregation. Thomas Hardy, Introduction

 

greenwoodUnder the Greenwood Tree concerns the fate of a group of church musicians, the Mellstock parish choir, who have been informed by the vicar of their parish, Mr Maybold, that he intends to replace them with a single organist, Fancy Day, who is also the new school teacher. The vicar wants the small village to keep up with the times, which means changing the traditional musical accompaniment to Sunday services with the more modern barrel organ. This is devastating to the musicians, some of whom come from families who have been church musicians for generations. In a last ditch effort to plead their case, they descend upon the vicar to negotiate, but the organ has been purchased and modernity has descended upon the little village.

Times have changed from the times they used to be…People don’t care much about us nowserpent! I’ve been thinking we must be almost the last left in the county of the old string players? Barrel-organs and the things next door to ‘em that you blow wi’ your foot, have come in terrible of late years….They should have stuck to strings as we did, and kept out of clarinets, and done away with serpents. If you’d thrive in musical religion, stick to strings…Strings be safe soul-lifters….

The story unfolds on Christmas Eve as the quire makes the many-hour trek through the night to the church. Hardy introduces us to a wonderful cast of characters including cantankerous old Reuben Dewy, frail young Thomas Leaf and Dewy’s grandson, Dick. When the group reaches the schoolyard near the church their playing rouses Fancy who comes to a window. This vision sparks the interest of Dick, who is quickly smitten. As the days turn into weeks he is in constant rumination on the details of her dress, her thoughts, aching over snippets of conversations, essentially embodying the hopes and fears of young romance.

Fancy’s interest in him grows, but her father is not impressed with the working class Dewy and forbids their marriage. Enter the iconic single woman of the town who people call a witch, whom Fancy visits for advice. She gives Fancy instructions on how to change her father’s mind and with success. The book ends with their marriage.

This is a wonderful pastoral tale of tradition versus progress, yet the fight is not so passionate, as the men of the quire understand they will lose in the end. Bargaining with the vicar to finish out the year before the organ takes over, he gives them only until Michaelmas. During this time they feel the changes coming on and know their days as musicians are numbered. And as Fancy gets to know the musicians and especially as her affection for Dick grows, she assures them she will NOT play the organ. But she can’t thwart progress either and the day comes for her debut.

The old choir, with humbled hearts, no longer took their seats in the gallery as heretofore, but were scattered about with their wives in different parts of the church. Having nothing to do with conducting the service for almost the first time in their lives, they all felt awkward, out of place, abashed, and inconvenienced by their hands.

Progress always has a human toll and while I ached for these musicians having to face a changing world, I was also impressed by their acceptance of the that reality.

Hardy’s prose in this early work is not without lengthy detailed descriptive passages that are unnecessary to the narrative. But there are other aspects of Hardy’s writing that I find quite beautiful and creative. In fact, in his opening paragraph where he describes the land surrounding the village he cleverly infuses his description of nature with musical description, being obviously a main point of the novel. This beginning paragraph will remain a favorite of mine for a long time.

To dwellers in a wood almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature. At the passing of the breeze the fir-trees sob and moan no less distinctly than they rock; the holly whistles as it battles with itself; the ash hisses amid its quiverings; the beech rustles while its flat boughs rise and fall. And winter, which modifies the note of such trees as shed their leaves, does not destroy its individuality.

________________

My Edition
Title: Under the Greenwood Tree or The Mellstock Quire
Author: Thomas Hardy
Publisher: Macmillan and Co., Limited
Device: Hardcover
Year: 1872
Pages: 273
Full plot summary

Looking Toward 2018

bikebook

 

I don’t have a great desire to do a recap of 2017. I want to look forward. But I do want to mention two things that were important to me this year:

  1. Favorite books of 2017: I am making myself choose only four, three classics and one historical novel, even though it is an impossible task! Dracula, Northanger Abbey, House of Mirth, and Radio Girls.
  2. “Enriched by reading the reviews” of other bloggers’ books is one of the ways I would characterize this year as well as reading your comments on mine.

Number 2 brings me to my plans for 2018. I am going to concentrate on what I would call the foundational classics I have not yet read, like Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and books by Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot and Oscar Wilde. I want to read Rebecca and find out why it is on so many top ten list of favorites. And maybe I’ll tackle a Woolf.

And I want to read some American foundational classics like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Moby Dick and books by Willa Cather and Henry James. Maybe do some traveling with Charley. Louisa May Alcott wrote so many other books besides Little Women…time to dust some off? And I want to find out more about Sarah Orne Jewett whose The Country of the Pointed Firs I so enjoyed in 2016.

 

 

In order to help with these deficiencies, I am taking part in a number of (overlapping) challenges, including Roof Beam Reader’s TBR, Back to the Classics and the Victorian Reading Challenge. These will also help me with my Classics Club list.

Since I can’t deny my attraction to the 19th century, I am also going to read more historical fiction that takes place in that time period, so I have signed up for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

The second emphasis for the year is to expand my awareness outside the UK and US by concentrating on Reading all Around the World that I neglected last year,  participate in the European Reading Challenge and Doing Dewey’s Nonfiction Challenge. I can’t promise I will stay out of the 19th and early 20th centuries with these challenges, however, but more history and different perspectives and experiences is always a good thing!

I am also doing a personal challenge on the American Civil War with thanks to Jillian who helped me craft the categories.

Good gracious, this is a lot! And I know there will be readalongs and other events throughout the year that I will participate in…well, a good way to stay out of trouble!

I wish you all a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen (1817) #AustenInAugustRBR

northabbey2

….there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them….

 

Catherine Morland is seventeen when she accompanies her wealthy neighbor Mrs. Allen to Bath where her husband has been ordered to take in the healing waters for his gout. Catherine has lived a happy, physically active, carefree, but insulated life with her large family; her imagination developed through the mostly Gothic books she reads. She has never had a suitor, “never seen one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibility,” never “having inspired one real passion….” On her first excursion away from her family and the familiarity of village life, Bath exposes her to the complex society of her peers and widens her perspective on friendship and romance, with comical, frustrating and finally, joyful, results.

I really enjoyed reading this book, although it often had me on the edge of my seat. Austen puts poor Catherine through the ringer with her gullibility and worldly inexperience. She is completely unprepared morally to doubt the sincerity of Isabella Thorpe, the first ‘friend’ she meets at Bath and was not only goaded and duped several times by Isabella and her brother John, even her brother James took advantage of her naiveté. Catherine makes all kinds of gaffes in her friendship with Henry and Eleanor Tilney and could not stand up for herself in other situations and yet, I felt myself pulling for her after each blunder and felt relieved when she found the strength of character to make her own decisions. It is a good thing this is a short novel because it was all I could do to keep from going to the back pages and skimming the end!

One of the more interesting aspects of this book for me concerned Bath as a destination, not for healing, but for socializing during ‘the season.’ When I visited Bath and toured the Roman Baths, I do not remember this aspect of its history being told to us, just that it was an important example of Roman architecture and culture that capitalized on the therapeutic properties of the water. In Northanger Abbey, I do not recall the mention of anyone beside Mr. Allen in Catherine’s sphere who went for that reason. The young people met in the Pump Room, the Upper and Lower Rooms at the “fashionable hours” for tea, for meals, to socialize and to plan trips to the theater and outings throughout the countryside. That Austen herself lived for a time in Bath explains how she created the atmosphere and the details of the variety of people who would have spent time here.

Another aspect of the book I enjoyed is the intensity with which Catherine becomes obsessed with a well-known Gothic novel, called The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe to the extent she cannot put it down eschewing social engagements and asking her friends if they have read it. Of course, they had and Isabella recites a list of other ‘horrid novels’ Catherine will enjoy after she finishes Udolpho. “…but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”* Catherine is hooked.

Austen uses the haunted house aspect of The Mysteries of Udolpho as the lens throughnorthabbey which Catherine imagines Henry Tilney’s home. After she befriends Henry’s sister, Eleanor, and is invited to their home for an extended stay, Catherine’s obsession becomes fodder for a great bit of teasing by Henry when it is mentioned they live in an abbey. Catherine is excited to think “it is a fine old place, just like what one reads about.” Henry asks her if she has a stout heart and “nerves fit for sliding panels and tapestry?” She is not concerned since the home has never been uninhabited for years with the family coming back unawares and without giving notice “as generally happens.” Henry leads her on with a definitive description of a haunted house:

…you must be aware that when a young lady is introduced into a dwelling of this kind, she is always lodged apart from the rest of the family. While they snugly repair to their own end of the home, she is formally conducted by Dorothy the ancient housekeeper up a different staircase, and along many gloomy passages, into an apartment never used since some cousin or kin died in it about twenty years before. Can you stand such a ceremony as this? Will not your mind misgive you, when you find yourself in this gloomy chamber—too lofty and extensive for you, with only the feeble rays of a single lamp to take in its size—its walls hung with tapestry exhibiting figures as large as life, and the bed of dark green stuff or purple velvet, presenting even a funereal appearance?

How fearfully will you examine the furniture of your apartment!—And what will you discern?—Not tables, toilettes, wardrobes, or drawers, but on one side perhaps the remains of a broken lute, on the other a ponderous chest which no efforts can open, and over the fire-place the portrait of some handsome warrior, whose features will so incomprehensibly strike you, that you will not be able to withdraw your eyes from it. Dorothy meanwhile, no less struck by your appearance, gazes on you in great agitation, and drops a few unintelligible hints. To raise your spirits, moreover, she gives you reason to suppose that the part of the abbey you inhabit is undoubtedly haunted, and informs you that you will not have a single domestic within call.

(This passage goes on, reminding me of the Haunting of Hill House and just about any horror book or movie with a haunted house I have ever seen. It can’t be a coincidence)?

Henry continues highlighting every stereotypical element of a haunted house, forcing Catherine to insist she is not afraid. And so with this conversation fresh in her mind and her obsession firmly implanted into her imagination, she is lead to her room. Where, of course, she experiences almost everything Henry just described.

However, the days pass and most of what originally scared her finds a reasonable explanation in the light of day. Though many angst-filled events conspire to keep Henry and Catherine apart, it was a relief to finally end the book knowing they would be together.

_________________

*As I was doing a little research about this novel, I came across some discussions of that list of ‘horrid novels’ Isabella mentioned above. It was thought Austen made up the titles until they were rediscovered in the early 20th century. Valancourt Books is publishing them all in affordable new editions.

My Edition
Title: Northanger Abbey
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Penguin Books
Device: Paperback
Year: 1817, 1972
Pages: 252
Full plot summary

Challenges: Classics Club, #AusteninAugustRBR, TBR

What I am Reading in March (and it’s not what I thought)!

Two things happened over the last week that completely derailed my carefully planned out reading life for the next several months: I wrote up my review of L. M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, and had to admit the pull of images and text from my reading of The War of the Worlds has not and will not stop.

Firstly, I just have to know more about the woman, L. M. Montgomery. While I enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables series, The Emily books really struck home for me. But there is something about The Blue Castle that is calling me to learn more about Montgomery herself. So, I decided I will read one more novel, The Story Girl, since she said it was her best work (and although she was still a fairly young writer when she said that, I wonder if she ever changed her mind?). Then I will spend a month, either April or May, concentrating on her letters and journals and maybe a biography or two. I am not sure what I am looking for, but this desire to know more has become too insistent to ignore.

Secondly, more H. G. Wells? This attraction totally blind-sided me. Although The War of the Worlds is on my Classics Club reading list it wasn’t something I planned on reading so soon after joining up. It happened to fall on my list as the January Spin #11. And if they had chosen another number….?!

But I loved it! I can honestly say I was enthralled, sucked in, drawn along with the Narrator in each twist and turn of his journey. The narrative was so good, the social commentary on how a catastrophe affects people, fascinating. The scenes of Martian destruction created pictures in my mind I can’t forget. So, yes, I decided to read more this month. I never considered myself to be a science fiction kind of a gal…I blame good writing!

My projected reading list for March, which I am declaring “My March Month of (Mostly) Sci Fi” looks like this:

H. G. Wells:
The Invisible Man
The Time Machine
The Island of Dr. Moreau

About Wells:
H. G. Wells: Another Kind of Life, by Michael Sherborne
Aspects of a Life, by Anthony West (Wells’ son)

Jules Verne:
Journey to the Center of the Earth (Wells’ contemporary)

(And thank you to Jo Wass for suggestions for this reading list).

Little Women, because I must stay on some kind of track for the Classics Club and to better participate in Susan Bailey’s wonderful blog, Louisa May Alcott is my Passion. I have a feeling somewhere down the road I will have a Louisa May Alcott month, but let’s stay on the topics at hand for now 🙂

I am also reading some nonfiction as well as one book each for my reading challenges, which I am behind on. Can I catch up? Can I do it all?

March will be a verrrrry interesting month!

 

The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells (1898)

My Edition:warworld
Title: War of the Worlds
Author: H.G. Wells
Publisher: Tor
Year: 1988, text of the original 1898 edition
Pages: 204
Synopsis: Goodreads

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as moral as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinized the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. [i]

My Thoughts

When I put The War of the Worlds on my Classics Club reading list, I did so because I felt it was a book I ‘needed’ to read. Needed as in should: A classic work by an important author, whose works are the foundation of modern science fiction.

I also thought I knew the story having heard snippets of the infamous radio program devised by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the night of October 30, 1938 that scared almost a million people into believing Martians had landed and were destroying planet Earth.

fakewar

But from the opening pages, I realized I really didn’t know the story of the nameless narrator who, when looking through the telescope of a friend, sees 10 flashes of light coming from Mars and the gaseous flumes pulsating from its surface and the catastrophe these events bring.

Then came the night of the first falling star. It was seen early in the morning, rushing over Winchester eastward, a line of flame high in the atmosphere. Hundreds must have seen it, and taken it for an ordinary falling star. [ii]

The story follows the unnamed philosopher/writer from his telescopic viewing of Mars and the first “falling star,” to the landing of the cylinders that house the Martians and the destruction they bring with their heat rays and black powder. They are 100 feet in height with spindly arms and legs that tuck into their war-machines that have the capacity to destroy the world and enslave the human race. We follow him as he escapes from his home to take his wife to her family miles away and through his arduous journey to London where he craves understanding, insight and a way to stop this menace.

The writing was so compelling that I found myself thinking of the story in the car repair waiting-room as well as at the doctor’s office. So near to the end of the book, I sat in the parking lot to finish it!

The book is also a study in behavior when people are confronted by such a monumental disruption to their world view. Most ran for their lives without regard for the needs of anyone else, some wanted to stay and fight or study the invaders, some appeared to be in a paralyzed daze. One of these characters waylays the narrator with his plan to save humanity by moving mankind underground into the sewers while they learn about the Martians and try to find their Achilles’ Heel.

It’s saving our knowledge and adding to it is the thing. There men like you come in. There’s books, there’s models. We must make great safe places down deep, and get all the books we can; not novels and poetry swipes, but ideas, science books. That’s where men like you come in. We must go to the British Museum and pick all those books through. Especially we must keep up our science—learn more. We must watch these Martians.[iii]

The narrator is caught up in this plan until he sees the true nature of the man: he is just a “strange undisciplined dreamer.” He is once again off to London.

Entering the city, the signs of Martian destruction are everywhere: the black powder, the charred bodies and buildings and the strange red vine brought by the Martians that springs up trees, on bushes and in ponds. At Oxford Street by the Marble Arch he sees black bodies strewn around, incinerated. Breaking into a pub he finds food and drink which lulls his tired body to sleep. Awakening at dusk, the humming noise of “Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla” fills his ears. Making his way toward the sound he comes upon a howling Martian in its death throes having been torn apart by dogs. Moving up to Primrose Hill he looks down upon another Martian, dead. And the “Ulla, ulla” stops abruptly.

Surveying the land below he sees overturned war-machines and their Martian inhabitants stark still. But how did they die? Not by any manner of military might or strategy, but by the smallest microscopic army. “Slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared;…slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.”[iv]

The novel ends with the narrator reunited with his wife and the world getting back to an uneasy normal, because knowing Martians can space travel, this may only be a reprieve. As it is, telescopes have detected light and gas coming once more from Mars, and lights falling on Venus.

We have learned now that we cannot regard this planet as being fenced in and a secure abiding place for Man; we can never anticipate the unseen good or evil that may come upon us suddenly out of space…It may be that across the immensity of space the Martians have watched the fate of these pioneers of theirs and learned their lesson, and that on the planet Venus they have found a securer settlement….[v]

I came away from The War of the Worlds with a desire to read more ‘old school’ science fiction. I would describe this book generally as ‘character-driven by events,’ with a noble protagonist who managed to stay uncorrupted by circumstance.

Final Thoughts

It is interesting to note that Wells compares the Martian invasion and desire to conquer and vanquish with our own behavior toward the animals and peoples of earth:

And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races….Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?[vi]

Finally, if we ponder our reactions to what some say is our own dying planet will we at some point look out into the dark universe for some other bright star where life might be possible on one of its plants, as the Martians did to save their own kind? How much more are we like them that we would have this same feeling?

That last stage of exhaustion, which to us is still incredibly remote, has become a present-day problem for the inhabitants of Mars. The immediate pressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged their powers, and hardened their hearts. And looking across space with instruments, and intelligences such as we have scarcely dreamed of, they see…a morning star of hope, our own warmer planet, green with vegetation and grey with water, with a cloudy atmosphere eloquent of fertility.[vii]

___________

 

[i] 3.
[ii] 10.
[iii] 175.
[iv] 186-187.
[v] 187.
[vi] 5.
[vii] 4.

 

Classics Club Spin #11 and my Classics Club list.

A Separate Peace, John Knowles (1959)

My Edition:separatepeace
Title: A Separate Peace
Author: John Knowles
Publisher: Bantam Books
Year: 1975, text of the original 1959 edition
Pages: 196
Synopsis: Goodreads
 

 Finney never left anything alone, not when it was well enough, not when it was perfect. “Let’s go jump in the river,” he said under his breath as we went out of the sunporch. He forced compliance by leaning against me as we walked along, changing my direction; like a police car squeezing me to the side of the road, he directed me unwillingly toward the gym and the river.[i]

 My Thoughts

This was my first reading of a book many read as teenagers. The novel is told as a flashback when Gene Forrester comes back to his prep school alma mater, the Devon School in New Hampshire 15 years after he graduated. He has come back to make peace with the disastrous events that occurred in his last year of school. As he walks through the campus he feels the same sense of fear as he did when he entered as a boy and frankly, this feeling of something bad or ominous in the making lurked through each page I turned.

…. like stale air in an unopened room, was the well known fear which had surrounded and filled those days, so much of it that I hadn’t even known it was there. Because, unfamiliar with the absence of fear and what that was like, I had not been able to identify its presence.[ii]

 The story begins during the summer of 1942 and continues through the academic year of 1942/43, a time of world war that factored into the minds and hearts of the boys who knew their immediate future after graduation would include military service. For Gene and his best friend Phineas (Finney), this is a tragic year.

“I don’t really believe we bombed Central Europe, do you,” said Finney thoughtfully.

 …Bombs in Central Europe were completely unreal to us here, not because we couldn’t imagine it—a thousand newspaper photographs and newsreels had given us a pretty accurate idea of such a sight—but because our place here was too fair for us to accept something like that. We spent that summer in complete selfishness, I’m happy to say. The people in the world who could be selfish in the summer of 1942 were a small band, and I’m glad we took advantage of it.[iii]

Against the backdrop of WWII, Knowles effectively creates an insular sense of boarding-school life; that even though the world was deep into the war the boys’ world was concerned with their athletic prowess and academic victories, their complicated and confusing relationships with each other, secret societies, and the rule-breaking of boys living so intimately with each other.

As someone who attended a large public college, I have always been fascinated by small eastern schools. I fantasize about the ideal setting, atmosphere, students and course work. But I have never come up with such a notion as the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session, where Gene was forced by Finney to start each meeting by jumping off a tree branch into a river.

In fact, while I was drawn into the story by Knowles’ well-defined setting and characters, the main characters I found hard to like. Finney’s manipulation of the boys, especially Gene and Gene’s inability to stand up for himself against Finney was hard to take. The pall of danger cast over the novel from the beginning made me fear a catastrophe akin to Lord of the Flies might break out any minute.

And when it happened, when a death came, it was almost a relief! I don’t know what this says about me as a person, but I was glad for this break-through in the atmosphere of doom. And as the novel came to a close, I found I liked Finney and Gene better once I understood their story.

I think the dynamics between the students, their idiosyncrasies, their individual perspectives on the world that were so well-defined still makes this a relevant choice for today’s teenage and adult audiences.

Phineas, [said Gene], “you wouldn’t be any good in the war….”

 “They’d get you some place at the front and there’d be a lull in the fighting, and the next thing anyone knew you’d be over with the Germans or the Japs asking if they’d like to field a baseball team against our side. You’d be sitting in one of their command posts, teaching them English. Yes, you’d get confused and borrow one of their uniforms, and you’d lend them one of yours. Sure, that’s just what would happen. You’d get things so scrambled up nobody would know who to fight any more. You’d make mess, a terrible mess, Finny, out of the war.”[iv]

__________

[i] 22.
[ii] 1.
[iii] 22-23.
[iv] 182.

This is my New Hampshire state choice for the Emerald City Reading New England challenge, Back to the Classics and a book for my Classics Club book list.

 

Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery (1921)

My Edition:rilla
Title: Rilla of Ingleside
Author: L.M. Montgomery
Publisher: Bantam Books
Year: 1987, text of the original 1921 edition
Pages: 277
For a plot summary.

 

“Before this war is over, every man and woman and child in Canada will feel it—you, Mary, will feel it—feel it to your heart’s core. You will weep tears of blood over it. The Piper has come—and he will pipe until every corner of the world has heard his awful and irresistible music. It will be years before the dance of death is over—years, Mary. And in those years millions of hearts will break.” Walter Blythe[i]

My Thoughts:

It has been a long time since I have had such confusing reactions toward a book.

Rilla of Ingleside is the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery. It is the intensely personal and intimate account of a Canadian village caught up in the anxiety and hardships brought on by WWI.

I was captivated by 15 year-old Rilla and her young “chums” as they changed and grew through the struggles and sacrifices the war brought to their daily lives. I was impressed at the way they stepped up to adult responsibilities at home and on the battlefield. I especially liked how her family and the town at large waited expectantly each day for the newspaper, their fear and elation at battles lost and won as they poured over the daily paper and discussed their fate and that of Europe.

Rilla did her part as organizer of the Junior Red Cross Society and as surrogate mother to Jims, the war-baby whose father was at the front. This was an interesting fact for me, as I was surprised at the casualness of the handover of an infant to a non-related 15 year old girl. Did this really happen? Need some research here!

A knowledge of the preceding books in the series is not necessary to richly experience Rilla of Ingleside. This is a stand-alone book full of well-drawn main characters, who portray an honorable citizenry doing ‘what it takes” to keep up their spirits, their Canadian ethics and the “home fires burning” against the terror and evil prevailing over Europe.

When the word had come that Jem must go she had her cry out among the pines in Rainbow Valley and then she had gone to her mother. “Mother, I want to do something. I’m only a girl—I can’t do anything to win the war—but I must do something to help at home.”

“Don’t you think you could organize a Junior Red Cross among the young girls,” said Mrs. Blythe?

“Well”—Rilla took the plunge—“I’ll try, mother—if you’ll tell me how to begin. I have been thinking it all over and I have decided that I must be as brave and heroic and unselfish as I can possible be.”[ii]

What so distressed me about the book, was the death of Anne Shirley. Not her actual death, of course, but the slow fade-out of the once vibrant, dramatic, sensitive and smart Anne who, to use an appropriate description, was basically MIA. In fact, I resented Susan with her emotional outbursts, her sensibility and the way she mobilized the family’s patriotism. Because that should have been Anne.

To be fair, Anne really faded out in books six and seven as her children grew and took over the main story lines. But it seems to me Montgomery could have tried harder in the last book to give Anne a better send off. Just because Anne became a wife and mother is no reason to restrict her to a life of retiring domesticity as the noble mother who suffers in silence as she sends her boys off to war. In modern parlance, she got hardly any air time in this book and it is shattering. This is Anne Shirley we are talking about. SHE would not have faded into the old tropes of sacrificial wifedom and motherhood!

Maybe Montgomery felt this series was only for young adults and as such thought they would not be interested in characters over the age of 20. But I will always regret my last experiences with Anne of Green Gables were actually with her ghost.

I was just taking relief from the intolerable realities in a dream, Gilbert—a dream that all our children were home again—and all small again—playing in Rainbow Valley. It is always so silent now—but I was imagining I heard clear voices and gay, childish sounds coming up as I used to. I could hear Jem’s whistle and Walter’s yodel, and the twins’ laughter, and for just a few blessed minutes I forgot about the guns on the western front, and had a little false, sweet happiness.[iii]

I read somewhere that this was the first book to give a Canadian perspective of everyday life during the war. In that respect, it is a valuable resource and for that reason I do not regret the time I spent in reading this book. I do not resent Montgomery, either for not giving me the book I wanted. That is not a good way to review a book. She had her reasons for treating Anne, er, Mrs. Blythe the way she did I am sure and I like Montgomery enough to keep on reading through her vast array of work.

Rilla, the Piper will pipe me ‘west’ tomorrow….And Rilla, I’m not afraid. When you hear the news, remember that. I’ve won my own freedom here—freedom from all fear….I am not afraid, Rilla-my-Rilla, and I am not sorry that I came. I’m satisfied. I’ll never write the poems I once dreamed of writing—but I’ve helped to make Canada safe for the poets of the future—for the workers of the future—ay, and the dreamers, too—It isn’t only the fate of the little sea-born island I love that is in the balance—nor of Canada nor of England. It’s the fate of mankind. That is what we are fighting for. And we shall win….For it isn’t only the living who are fighting—the dead are fighting too. Such an army cannot be defeated.[iv]

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[i] 33.
[ii] 53.
[iii] 171.
[iv] 192.