“We must keep a little laughter, girls,” said Mrs. Blythe. “A good laugh is as good as a prayer, sometimes – only sometimes,” she added under her breath. She had found it very hard to laugh after the three weeks she had just lived through – she, Anne Blythe, to whom laughter had always come so easily and so freshly. And what hurt most was that Rilla’s laughter had grown so rare – Rilla whom she used to think laughed over-much. Was all the child’s girlhood to be so clouded? Yet how strong and clever and womanly she was growing! How patiently she knitted and sewed and manipulated those uncertain Junior Reds! And how wonderful she was with Jims.
“She really could not do better for that child than if she had raised a baker’s dozen, Mrs. Dr. dear,” Susan had avowed solemnly. “Little did I ever expect it of her on the day she landed here with that soup tureen.”
What a way to end the #AnneReadalong2017! I didn’t know what to expect from Rilla of Ingleside after the previous two books in the series, which for me were a two-star and a three-star read, respectively. This one was a gem, darker and emotionally richer than any other entry in the series. Anne’s youngest daughter, Rilla, changes from a dreamy, aimless, fun-loving girl to a resourceful, courageous, dependable young women under the shadow of the First World War and its hardships. We see how the community of Glen St. Mary rises to the occasion, offering its sons and brothers to the cause with bravery and grace.
There are many things to love about Rilla, from the trademark Montgomery descriptions of beautiful landscape to the beginning exploration of Rilla’s young love life. And I can’t forget to mention precious Dog Monday, Jem’s loyal furry friend who waits for him at the train station for the duration of the lad’s time at war. I got choked up a time or two thinking about him getting excited every time the train pulled in and young men came home. And one of my favorite characters from books past is in fine form here: the formidable Susan, who isn’t shy with her opinions at all.
“When I wake up in the night and cannot go to sleep again,” remarked Susan, who was knitting and reading at the same time, “I pass the moments by torturing the Kaiser to death. Last night I fried him in boiling oil and a great comfort it was to me, remembering those Belgian babies.”
“We are told to love our enemies, Susan,” said the doctor solemnly.
“Yes, our enemies, but not King George’s enemies, doctor dear,” retorted Susan crushingly. She was so well pleased with herself over this flattening out of the doctor completely that she even smiled as she polished her glasses.
Rilla herself is a marvelous character, growing and changing from a frivolous, happy-go-lucky girl to a young woman of great character and heart. I love how she decided to take care of the sickly, orphaned baby Jims, whose mother died in childbirth and whose father was at war. She made no pretense of liking babies at first, and I admired her honesty, but she grew to love little Jims as if he were her own, and it was sweet to see the change. (SPOILER AHEAD) I was sad that she had to give him back to his father but happy that they would be so close and she could still see him often. I also appreciated her maturation as it applied to her “frenemy” Irene Howard. (Oh, Irene was just evil!)
Irene was not, as Mrs. Elliot would say, of the race that knew Joseph.
We get to see what it was like to send away beloved sons, brothers, and sweethearts across the sea to fight, to dread every time the phone rang or the news came in. And Walter – oh, Walter! I won’t spoil anything that happens with Rilla’s beloved older brother Walter, but his conflicted soul at the war’s outset was a deft portrayal of what many young men went through, probably. His letter to Rilla broke my heart.
This book ended up on my year-end Best Of list because it captivated and moved me. I feel like I’ve read quite a few books set during the Second World War but not as many featuring the First, so that was a welcome change. It was especially poignant when characters near the end remarked on how humanity might change for the better and learn lessons from the horrors of this war – little did they know that just twenty years later they’d be facing similar heartache and loss.
I’m so glad I participated in the AnneReadalong2017, and I want to thank Jane from Greenish Bookshelf and Jackie from Death By Tsundoku for co-hosting this event! I never would have made it all the way through the series on my own, without the framework of one book per month. If I had quit, say, after book five, I would have missed this marvelous last book of the series. For anyone who, like me, didn’t read this series in their childhood, I definitely recommend them – well, the first five books and the eighth book, anyway! 🙂 They are delightful, a real respite from the crassness and noise of our time as well as entertaining, humorous stories with characters to fall in love with.