DCIB Book Club: Anne of Windy Poplars, Best Characters and Worst Plot

I just had the loveliest morning finishing this book. I put it off partly because I was super busy this week (this was Week of Getting Yards Ready for Spring), but also because I remembered it being kind of dull. Not at all! So many fun little stories in there once the book really gets going.

This is the book Montgomery wrote years and years after the others, filling in a timeline gap between the engagement in Island and the marriage 3 years later in House of Dreams. But I think it also filled in a gap in Montgomery’s understanding of Anne. This is the book where her sense of humor and clear eyed view of people starts to develop, where she is out in the world on her own making her own way. I think Montgomery wanted to come back to Anne and show that she was more than just poetry and fantasy, she had some wit and wisdom too. She is just plain FUN in this book! Well, once it gets going. The first third is a bit of a slog, but then Montgomery sets aside any idea of a “plot” pulling it together and just digs in to a series of character studies. Anne is a high school principal, most of the town hates her, blah blah blah. But then the town is won over and it’s just Anne going to dinners and parties and watching people and writing to Gilbert what she thinks of them.

So, discussion questions! Which do you think Montgomery describes with more passion, the bitterness of an older unmarried woman (Gertrude, Nora), or the horribleness of old women who suck joy from others (Pauline’s mother who won’t let her live her life, Aunt Mauser who always predicts the worst, etc. etc.)?

I think it’s the unmarried women. I think by her 60s, as she was when she wrote this book, Montgomery had learned to laugh at the bitter old women of the world, not to sentimentalize or excuse them as she did in her earlier books (for instance, old Mrs. Barry who ends up leaving Anne some money), but not to fear them either. You just endure them, that’s the key. But that bitterness of the unsatisfied young woman, trapped in her life and angry at fate, that is just burning out of her pen. And it’s a theme she returned to again and again in the years between this book and the previous Anne books. She wouldn’t have called herself a feminist, but she understood the trap of talented women in a patriarchal society. Actually, these two things are related, aren’t they? The bitter young woman could easily grow into the horrible old woman who delights in torturing others.

Which moment is more satisfying, when Nora slaps the young man who teases her about her wedding, or when Esme stands up for her father at the terrible sulking dinner party?

The Nora slap for me. I forgot her story is in this book, I thought it was a standalone Montgomery short story because Nora is such a strong character, and the idea of the light signal is so good, that I forgot Anne was part of it at all. But yes, the sister who is bitter and angry at a wedding, and guilty for it, that sticks with you. And the mutually misunderstanding in the romance.

Did you feel the Anne-Gilbert love in this book?

I remember being very disappointed the first time a read it and feeling like she didn’t love him at all, but reading it now, I think it might be the most romance we ever get between them. The little hints of courting and kissing going on during their frequent in person reunions, Anne’s lively dreams of their life together, and her very fun and funny attitude towards love letters. Especially contrasted with the silly young romances she helps along, where the young people are full of passion and romance, Anne’s confidence in her future with Gilbert and their bond is a lovely contrast. I think Montgomery writes a better romance then she did as a younger writer, that little comment about a kiss at the nape of the neck brings in more of an earthy sense of things than all the “gazing at each other’s eyes” in Island.

What is up with all the Anne compliments?

I’ve decided all the “you light up a room when you walk in” sort of compliments were Montgomery’s nod to fanservice. They really don’t match with the Anne we see in the rest of the book. She is practical, she is smart, she laughs at the people around her, she sees the world clearly. She isn’t some magical fairy being. And the actual conversations with people, not their random compliments, reflect that. She isn’t prattling on about magical fairy lands and heaven at dinner parties, she is listening politely and patiently and occasionally saying something funny. When I read this, the Anne I picture is a moderately pretty woman with a sharp wit and an ability to chat away and charm people. Without even the youthful prettiness that was implied in Island, now she is a school principal and engaged, not running around wearing rosebud dresses and being romantic. The compliments are so noticeable and a bit odd because they don’t fit with the Anne I picture.

What do you want for Katherine Brook’s life?

She is such a great character! I was going to set her against Nora, and then I decided that wasn’t fair, because how could you possibly pick? Anyway, I am thrilled with her taking a secretarial course and getting a job with a traveling dignitary. And I think what I want for her is to enjoy that job and her life fully, to make lots of friends all over the world, and then to be left a solid inheritance by her boss which would allow her to live independently where ever she wanted and travel for pleasure in the remaining years of her life. Second choice would be for someone to propose a marriage of convenience (her boss, one of his friends) and then fall in love. I don’t think Katherine wants children or a traditional married life, but if she could be married and still travel and challenge herself, she would be very happy.

Could anyone figure out how this school worked?

There are only 3 teachers? But Anne is the “principal”? Of a school with only 3 teachers? Where everyone teaches everything? But it’s not Queen’s college, it’s a high school? Even though the students are late teens which is the age Anne was when she went to Queen’s?

Bonus questions:

Why is Little Elizabeth slightly less irritating than Paul?

It’s either that fairy tales and fantasies are a little more believable with a little girl than a boy in this very gendered society, or that there is a lot less of her than there is of Paul, or just that Montgomery got better at writing children.

Rank the romances short stories in terms of amusement: Hazel with her “drama” and Anne getting caught in the middle, the elopement of Sibyl secretly coordinated by her father, or Nora and her bloody nose in the middle of being proposed to?

I just love Nora. Especially her response to one of Anne’s comments, “you ought to be in museum!” Because yes, Anne really is insufferable sometimes, good for Nora calling her out!

11 thoughts on “DCIB Book Club: Anne of Windy Poplars, Best Characters and Worst Plot

  1. About 10 years ago I was in a bookclub where we all had to get a hardcover non-fiction book by a famous author. I worked at the bookstore, and got a staff discount, but the book was over $30! And I had kids, and worked, and was poor. And THEN the book was nothing more than a compilation of this author’s articles for the New Yorker. Oh I was so pissed.

    I wasn’t pissed reading Windy Poplars, but I was definitely annoyed. A compilation of short stories, it is completely amazing how many young women just thought Anne was their bestest friend throughout those three years, boys too. And then those best friends just disappeared. So it goes. Often I was happy to see them disappear, such as the story of the overly adoring girl who asked Anne to stop her engagement and then got mad at her when she did. I liked the story, it was also the ONLY time in the book perfect Anne did anything at all wrong. Anne’s perfection really got on my nerves. But what really got on my nerves was when I DID grow attached to a character, and then never saw them again. I just adored the young man who cleaned his boarding house to pay his way, drove in funny looking borrowed carts, and finally met his uncle, and his cousin who was oh so conveniently KILLED OFF! THe number of people who died in these stories! It makes more sense knowing Montgomery’s history, but still… Anyway I wanted more of him, I wanted more of his uncle, but poof, one chapter and they are gone! At least there was a fair amount of Rebecca Dew, I do like Rebecca Dew.

    I never actually read this book before. I think I read the House of Dreams and nothing past it, so I am forging new territory into Anne. So far, the first book is my favorite. I don’t really enjoy reading about perfect protagonists much.

    Oh, the Nora story was great! Too bad we didn’t get to see them fight setting up their house or any of their future conflict habituated relationship. That could have been fun.

    Elizabeth was very cute, and idealized child. Her father and the almost ignoring of why he didn’t come earlier, or decided to come now, and the total lack of insight into his conversations with the Grandmother, well honestly it felt like Montgomery got lazy.

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    • I feel like after reading the post on her life it makes sense why Anne became so perfect in the latter books. Perhaps it was a way of LMM redoing her own life through Anne, she wanted her life to be well as it was in the Anne books. I also notice when I write stories that the characters are often me heightened up to me amazing, I often try to fix it by adding some flaws. But when you feel everything’s going downhill, it makes so much sense to write this perfect, amazing character.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was also thinking, it sounds like Montgomery was a little bit like Anne at that age. She had sooooooooooo many suitors, and so many friends, and so much happening. So I think it’s both dreaming about if her life had been slightly different, and also returning to that particular time in her life when she was like Anne.

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    • Can you imagine the feelings of the people in 1937 who were all excited to buy a new Anne book after 16 years, and then it was THIS? So frustrating!

      I will go one further, I wanted all the people from the separate stories to overlap with each other! Like, why didn’t we see the boy who cleaned a boarding house for his rent interact with spoiled smart Jen Pringle at some point? Or why couldn’t Katherine end up being hired by Little Elizabeth’s father as his secretary? That’s a real simple obvious connection to be made.

      I am very excited for you to read Rilla, that heroine has so many flaws in such different ways from Anne. At least, I think she has interesting flaws. I want confirmation!

      I love the Nora story!!! It’s very similar to the Emily of New Moon romance, but short and sweet instead of drawn out over 3 novels. And I love that he rowed over at 2am because he thought she needed him, and she got a bloody nose because he surprised her, and her face was all bloody and streaky when she finally got her proposal.

      Ooo! I just looked this up, and she wrote Jane of Lantern Hill the very next year, which is essentially Little Elizabeth’s story expanded. So maybe she ran out of time to include everything she wanted in this book and went back and expanded it into it’s own story in Jane (little girl lives with her scary grandmother and delicate mother, gets to spend one summer with her estranged father, the custody dispute and issues with the grandmother and all that are fully explored).

      On Sun, Jun 5, 2022 at 2:46 PM dontcallitbollywood < comment-reply@wordpress.com> wrote:

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  2. I’m with Gen (but you knew that!). Anne’s perfection made me want to slap someone silly. Do I like Katherine Brooks? Yes! Do I like that Anne is the only one who can get through to her? Nope. I’m with Nora, Anne should sometimes be in a museum.

    SPOILERS
    I know Jen is mentioned in AOI when Anne tries to matchmake Stella (?) And some Charming Boy,

    SPOILERS END

    but yes, it’s like everyone lives in separate towns here! There’s no interaction whatsoever, other than for the purposes of gossip.

    Okay, questions!

    Which do you think Montgomery describes with more passion, the bitterness of an older unmarried woman (Gertrude, Nora), or the horribleness of old women who suck joy from others (Pauline’s mother who won’t let her live her life, Aunt Mauser who always predicts the worst, etc. etc.)?

    Definitely the older unmarried women. I think she was more bitter towards old women in her youth, when they were stopping her life, but she saw the wider impact on every woman as she grew older.

    Nora slapping the boy. Go Nora.

    Yes, I felt the Anne-Gilbert love! Especially the earthiness of it. I was so curious about the nape of the neck kiss mentioned. Was that proper?? What was going on? Loved it overall.

    I’m with your first choice for Katherine Brook!!

    With you on Elizabeth and Paul, on both counts. I didn’t find Paul that irritating (especially since he does have some moments of realism with the porridge and coming back doused after trying to impress a girl he likes), but Elizabeth is slightly more believable, even when her story’s conclusion isn’t *rolls eyes*. I almost wish that had been left alone. Anne stories have happy endings (until AoI or maybe even HoD), but I think Anne/the reader should see that sometimes things don’t turn out well for the people we love, no matter how much we try and we have to be with them anyway.

    1. Hazel
    2. Nora
    3. Sibyl

    Oh and how the school worked…*shrugs*. I just went with the assumption that that’s how small town schools worked back then, which is sort of supported through Gift of Wings. Also, back then, you didn’t go to Queens through your age, but rather your schooling level. Gilbert is 3 years older than Anne and I think Philippa is 2 years younger. Stella, in AoI, writes a letter in which she complains about all the ages she’s supposed to teach, from 5-35, so it seems accurate.

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    • Maybe it’s that she felt less for older women as she got older? That is, understood it was a choice to make everyone miserable around you and it was okay to just politely ignore and laugh at them? While the younger women were truly trapped, they could not make the world be the way they wished.

      Go Nora indeed!

      Yes the earthiness of it! The nape of the neck kiss, and the casual way it was referenced, as though this sort of physical experimentation was common between them now. Plus there’s a bit when Katherine takes Davy and Dora away so Gilbert and Anne can be alone in the parlor for 2 hours. It just drew in broad strokes that this time of engagement was letters and talking, but also a lot of physical connection, and physical missing each other when apart.

      Wouldn’t Katherine be happy having a home all her own where she could invite fascinating international friends and be witty and sarcastic and intelligent? She could live in one of the bigger towns in Nova Scotia after she retires.

      Now I am thinking about alternative options for Little Elizabeth. Really, she just had to get out of that house. If Anne had convinced them to let her go to boarding school, it wouldn’t have been as fantastical, and it would have still saved her.

      On Mon, Jun 6, 2022 at 2:56 PM dontcallitbollywood < comment-reply@wordpress.com> wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, some time I ago I started a book about Why Westerners are WEIRD – and it described the difference between AMerican/Western guilt based society and traditional shame based society – and in Montgomery’s Anne books it is like I am watching a society fight it out. The society is moving towards individual guilt as a motivator, but the idea of family and community shame is still there, and some REALLY don’t want that shame to disappear.

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    • My great great great grandfather was excommunicated because a fellow church member saw him cutting hay on the sabbath. Somehow this feels relevant.

      (meanwhile, I haven’t been to a church service in 3 years, and all that happened to me was I got a handwritten note saying “we miss you!” fromt he membership committee)

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  4. My server and WordPress didn’t play nice over the weekend so I’ve tried commenting THRICE and they haven’t been posted… So I’ll write out (AGAIN) somewhere else before I try posting next. I feel like half the things I wanted to say I’ll miss 😭

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  5. I really liked Nora and Katherine Brooks. I didn’t find either of them bitter actually. I remember thinking they were so real and well-etched out (specially vs the perfection of Anne) and I was so satisfied with how their stories turned out.

    But I preferred Esme’s story to Nora’s. Mostly cuz the slap felt so sudden (and ofcourse you’re right!! It makes such sense that Nora’s is Emily’s story ! Except that Emily’s was drawn out over THREE novels and resolved in a few paras so Nora’s while I felt was quick was at least relatively fleshed out wrt the length of the story). Perhaps if I read again now I’d like Nora’s more, since when I read then I hadn’t finished New Moon.

    The kiss at the nape of the neck stood out for me then … It was the first mention of a real physical connection wasn’t it? That was good 🙂 I did wish for more romance in general between the two as really Anne could have been writing to anyone in place of Gilbert for this story to progress! There was nothing between the two of them. That said, I didn’t really mind that this novel stood out with a host of characters who’re never encountered again. For about three years, while I was engaged and for the first year or so of my marriage, I stayed away from my husband in another city and continent… So I formed my entire community there and I didn’t really have so many stories for myself as much as I had a front row seat to everyone else’s romances and wins and trials — and while I am in touch with a few folks from that time now, it’s not the same as when I was there… And even though most of these people my husband never met, he still knows of them well from our phone calls and emails and video calls (as do I of the friends he made at his end). I can imagine that Anne’s stint at Summerside was something similar.

    The Anne compliments : Doood. I don’t get it. 😂 I rather like the picture of Anne you painted tho and yeah, I would try and reason while I was reading that Anne was more normal and less fairylike than her creator intended!

    Love your mini fic for Ms Brooks!!

    Like townandtulips said, I just assumed that’s how schools were those days and now that you say it I suppose that is a bit funny. Also how did Anne qualify so quickly to be a Principal!

    Lil Elizabeth was not as annoying vs Paul… And I wanted then for her and Paul to marry when they grow up 😂 now I think that would be an ill-matched pair…. Or not!? WDYT??

    And Nora’s story tops ofcourse. Especially with the parallel you have drawn to Emily! I didn’t like Hazel’s at all, except well there was at least once that Anne was wrong, so that made her more human.

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    • I really really liked Nora, and she was so clearly drawn in just a short story. She was a character I thought was around a lot more because she made such an impression so quickly.

      In Island there were a few mentions of Anne’s heart beating when Gilbert touched her hand, but nothing like a kiss. I think Montgomery got more comfortable writing sexy stuff as she got older? Her later novels, this one included, have way more subtle romantic references than her earlier stuff.

      I always kind of expected Paul and Elizabeth to come back and fall in love, but I think they never did. On the other hand, they would be a terrible match. Maybe Little Elizabeth and Davy?

      Come to think of it, that’s what Anne and Gilbert are! He’s smart and understand things she says and stuff, but he’s also practical and funny and grounds her.

      On Tue, Jun 7, 2022 at 11:22 PM dontcallitbollywood < comment-reply@wordpress.com> wrote:

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