Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Anne of Ingleside, by L. M. Montgomery

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

The sixth in the series of Anne of Green Gables books, Anne of Ingleside,  chronicles the mishaps and adventures of the adult Anne’s six children. Married life with her husband Gilbert Blythe is generally good, but some stresses do unexpectedly rear their head, leading Anne to make some misjudgements.

Canadian children’s writer L. M. Montgomery published Anne of Green Gables in 1908 and went on to write another seven Anne novels during her lifetime. Most of the novels were written sequentially, chronicling Anne’s life from girlhood to motherhood and mature age. Anne of Ingleside was the sixth novel of the eight Anne novels, but was actually written last, in 1939. (A short story and poetry collection, The Blythes are Quoted, forms the last book in the series and was published in 2009.)

Anne of Ingleside sees Anne now living comfortably at Glen St Mary with her doctor husband, Gilbert Blythe. Anne now has a brood of six children: Jem, Walter, twins Nan and Di, Shirley and Rilla. Helping out with the management of the house is Susan Baker, an elderly, no nonsense helpmeet and virtual last member of the Blythe family.

Comic Scenes of Childhood

The novel, for the most part, centres on the childhood scrapes and adventures of the children. There’s a lot of warm comedy in these scenes, which often concentrates on the rich and often irrational imagination of childhood. L. M. Montgomery is a natural at reviving these scenes of childhood where we believe witches live in old, dilapidated houses, or trust completely in the made up stories told by our contemporaries in the play yard. She weaves a whole range of unusual and fanciful incident’s for Anne’s children, highlighting how vulnerable an overactive imagination can make a child to various horrors and nightmares. At one point in the novel Anne tells one of her children that it is fine to have an imagination, as long as we control it and it doesn’t control us. Very sage advice indeed.

In many ways, Anne of Ingleside’s strong focus on childhood experience and the travails of sorting out fact from fantasy, and the comedy that can ensue from these trials, makes this novel closest in spirit to the first Anne novel, Anne of Green Gables. The only difference is the comic incidents that Anne was the subject of at Green Gables are now re-told through the next generation. In one hilarious scene, the young Rilla is asked to deliver a cake to a charity, but she gets the ridiculous idea in her head that to carry a cake is undignified and highly embarrassing, so she tosses the lovely home made cake in a ditch. Just the sort of wild, zany thing Anne Shirley in her Green Gables days would have done.

There’s plenty of good comedy centring on the adults too. Montgomery can write with swift timing in these scenes. A favourite example is when the eccentric Miss Cornelia is described from the view point of Mr Chase:

“As for Cousin Cornelia, twice removed, she was a bit too solidly built and had about as much intellect as a grasshopper, but she wasn’t a bad cat at all if you always rubbed her the right way.”

Adult Themes and Fevered Imaginations

It’s hard to say what the theme of Anne of Ingleside is. The novel has a very episodic nature, and much of it reminded me of Montgomery's two short story collections Chronicles of Avonlea and Further Chronicles of Avonlea. For readers like myself, who love L. M. Montgomery’s naturalistic prose, her moving descriptions of the seasons in bloom and decline, and the general tone of delight in the simple act of being, Anne of Ingleside has many wonderful things to offer. By volume six in the Anne series, I thought I should be wearying of Anne’s story, but I found this novel brilliantly engaging, funny and at times moving.

If Anne of Ingleside does have a lesson, it’s how, even as adults the imagination has the power to skewer our perception of reality. The novel finishes with Anne totally and utterly misinterpreting a social situation, so fevered has her imagination become with regards to her husband. We later learn that the strains of raising children and running a house have had their effect on Anne, perhaps almost pushing her over the edge. Hardly a theme for a children's book, so you would think, but there you go.

Anne of Ingleside, by L. M. Montgomery. Published by Bantam Dell. ISBN: 9780553213157 RRP: $7.95