Friday, September 12, 2014

Rilla of Ingleside, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

When young Rilla Blythe is forced to experience much suffering and hardship due to the First World War, she learns many valuable lessons and transforms herself into a better person, but at a high cost.

Rilla of Ingleside is the eighth book in the Anne of Green Gables series by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942). A final ninth book, The Blythes are Quoted, which Montgomery had been working on near the end of her life, was published posthumously in 2010.

By this eighth novel, Anne has six mostly grown up children and is in her late forties to early fifties. Her youngest daughter, Bertha Marilla ‘Rilla’ Blythe, is fifteen years old and keen to experience all the delights and wonders of the world. She starts out in the early pages of the novel as a flighty, frivolous creature who doesn’t want to take life too seriously at all. There is also a touch of selfishness in her character, as all she wants to do is have fun and maximise her own pleasures. When she meets the handsome Ken Ford at a party, her romantic dreams spin everything into an unrealistic sugary fairy floss. She can barely keep her feet on the ground, and the smallest intrusion of reality is a source of great frustration and unhappiness to her.

Rilla’s dreams of a happy, carefree future are soon to be irrevocably swallowed up by larger political forces. The early chapters of the novel set the scene for war, as the adults read troubling newspaper reports of strife abroad. Nevertheless, Rilla skips along, thinking, how on earth could a war in Europe disrupt her idyllic existence in Canada?

There’s no avoiding fate, and Rilla soon finds herself being hopelessly swallowed up in the unfolding war. First she takes responsibility for an abandoned war baby. She hates babies, but grudgingly takes on the job. Then far more seriously, her brothers start enlisting to go to the front. Even her sensitive brother Walter, a poet who fully comprehends the horrors that lie ahead on the battlefields, signs up.

Life for the Blythe family turns into a living nightmare for four years as they follow the war in the daily papers and every day wake hoping bad news won’t arrive about their boys. There is suffering all around as others lose loved ones.

Rilla of Ingleside concentrates on young Rilla’s growing up, from a frivolous and carefree 15-year-old to a mature 19-year-old woman, someone who has suffered dearly and sacrificed much. There’s a wonderful passage in the book where Rilla muses that the past two years have taught her much and improved her character, but she resolutely states she wouldn’t want to go through another similar two years, even if it did make her a still better person. The novel is full of such insights and provides a real lesson on personal growth through suffering. It’s a book about becoming an adult, the loss of innocence and the bitterness that entails, while at the same time being sympathetic to young foolish dreams.

Lucy Maud Montgomery is a consummate storyteller. Rilla of Ingleside still reads as fresh and vital, as though it were written only yesterday. Montgomery is an expert at showing inner psychological states and personal transformations, giving her fiction a truth that will surely last for as long as there are people to read her.

Rilla of Ingleside, by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Published by Virago Modern Classics. ISBN: 9780349004518  RRP: $16.99

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