Well, I had to stay up almost to midnight but I finished it! The problem is, I enjoy these books so much that I keep putting them off as a special treat for the weekend. And then I have so much to do on weekends that I finish them late. Anyway, I’m starting Rainbow Valley TOMORROW! It makes me happy, why not read it right away?
This is the last book Montgomery wrote before she died, so her most mature vision of the world. And it’s an interesting mix. I feel like she spent a lot of time looking back at early childhood in a way she had never seen it before, and really captured the illogic and fear and misery of childhood along with the poetry. She also got downright DARK in some places, that Peter Kirk funeral section is fierce. And she let Anne be flawed a few times, thank goodness, miss things with her children sometimes, offend Aunt Mary Maria, make a total hash of her attempt at matchmaking, and be petty and jealous and menopausal in the end. But truly, there’s no plot. It just covers the years from Rilla’s birth through to right before the start of Rainbow Valley, with an assortment of stories most of which could be about any family but were grafted on to Anne’s for the sake of getting the book published.
Now, discussion questions!
What do you think about the sudden arrival of Class as an issue? Is it because they are living in a larger town, or because Gilbert is a doctor, or because the modern world allows trains and telephones so towns aren’t as tight?
Reading all the books in a row, it really struck me with this one how suddenly class is a problem for the first time. In House of Dreams, they were friends with the only 4 people who lived in walking distance, an old sailor who ran away to sea as a child, a teenage bride turned impoverished farm woman, and a well-off single woman with a large farm. That was just a few years before this book. But now they live in the larger part of town, and suddenly Anne isn’t doing housework because that’s what Susan is for, and they are picky about who their children take as friends, and Anne is hosting the Ladies Aid which is CLEARLY made up of the proper nice people of the town and not the fisherfolk or any of the others. Part of the charm of the early books, to me, was how mixed together everyone was and how they all rubbed along somehow. And how hardworking life was, you pulled weeds and did laundry and all kinds of tough jobs. Now this reads like a middle-class family from almost any era and place.
Anyway, I’m gonna say it is both a sign of changing times within the books, and changing times within Montgomery herself. In the books, suddenly trains and telephones mean Anne and Gilbert can be part of the larger Island society, they are above and apart from the hardworking locals around them. And at the same time, Montgomery herself is no longer idealizing her childhood in a tiny farming community but instead dreaming of an easier life she might have had as a wife and mother, with a wealthy doting husband and a hired girl who magically does everything for her.
What did you think of the split between Susan as the practical caregiver and Anne as the wise one feel odd to you?
First, of course, all those children saying “oh, mother, you are the BEST!” was very “anne is perfect” kind of irritating. But on the other hand, was she the best? Yes she could give them wise loving words blah blah blah, but Susan was the one who took care of them when they were sick, welcomed them safely home, worried about them when they were lost, remembered and made for them all their favorite foods, and so on and so forth. I’ll put it this way, I think those kids could have survived without Anne, I don’t think they could have survived without Susan. Like, what would they EAT?
Could you tell Di and Nan apart in their stories? Because I couldn’t.
I think Montgomery put in the twins because she wanted to fluff up the family, make it truly large. Plus, one of them has to be set aside to have a romance in Rainbow/Rilla. But I honestly can’t remember which one of them it is. They are just so similar!!!! Jem is a nice solid good boy, Walter is all dreamy and perfect, Rilla is a little spoiled and silly, and Shirley is the sane baby. But the twins? Montgomery can say as much as she wants about how one of them is this way and one of them is that way, but their stories could have been interchanged and I wouldn’t be able to tell.
There were three kinds of sections in this book, the Anne first person sections, the stories from the children, and the dialogue of village gossip. Which was your favorite?
100% the village gossip. That quilting bee scene is classic! And then the Peter Kirk story that ties into it. The kids’ stories were pretty well-done, some of them so well-done I had to skim (I haaaaaaaaaaaated spending the night away from home as a kid, and all the sections where they go to someone else’s house and it’s WEIRD and WRONG upset me). I don’t mind the Anne first person sections, because they are set up to show how she is thinking the wrong things, which is nice. But the book comes alive with the village gossip.
What WAS up with the Peter Kirk story?
I think before the section starts, Anne thinks to herself “this is not a story for children”. And it really isn’t. Yet it is dumped in the middle of this light book mostly about children and which is marketed to children. I have to read Montgomery’s last unpublished book still, I have a copy somewhere, it was so dark and strong that her publisher refused to release it. If it’s got stuff like the Peter Kirk scene, I can see why. Coercive control and abusive relationships and all the rest of it existed long before modern day started giving them names, and Montgomery really showed some ugliness in this section.
Okay, that’s all I’ve got! What did you think?