The last two Anne books! Which are also the two I was most looking forward to discussing. Please please read just these two, even if you don’t read any of the others. This one is the childhood story of a gang of children, and the next one tells what happens to those children when they grow up. They are very different from anything else Montgomery wrote, and pretty different from anything I have ever read by anyone else either.
Plot summary if you need a reminder:
4 children of a widowed minister Meredith are living terribly neglected by their absentminded father and elderly aunt/housekeeper. They get into adventures and accidents, including taking in a run away “home girl” Mary Vance who was beaten, insulting visiting ministers and congregants by accident, and generally not being well-dressed or well-behaved. Their best friends are the Blythe children (Anne and Gilbert’s 6 kids). Their father starts courting almost by accident a sweet older woman Rosemary but she turns him down because her sister Ellen forces her to. The children see he is distressed and try to be better, but fail. Then Ellen makes up with her old beau and wishes to be married but refuses to do it since she prevented Rosemary. Everyone is unhappy until the minister’s daughter asks Rosemary to marry her father and convinces her that the minister truly loves her. Through it all there is a faint sense of foreshadowing as the dreamy poetic Walter Blythe keeps having strange visions of the future in which the children will be separated from each other, boys versus girls, and drawn away from home.
Reading this book in context of the whole series, I was really struck by how DARK it is. Mary Vance is in a terrible position, beaten and starved and forbidden school, and no one in the community helps her. The Meredith children are similar, cold and hungry and often made ill by neglect. Everyone sees it and talks about it, but no one “interferes”. And then the most intimate case of neglect, Ellen West who holds her sister Rosemary to her promise to never marry again and assumes she will just “get over” whatever sadness she might feel.
The children are the best people in the book. They try to do the right thing, to take care of others, to avoid hurting feelings, and so on and so forth. They are constantly making sacrifices for the sake of the adults rather than the other way round. The same holds true with Ellen and Rosemary, Ellen is the much older sister who helped raise Rosemary and in return she is demanding a lifetime of obedience, which Rosemary selflessly gives.
I think this is deliberate. Or, rather, not accidental. This book was written right at the end of WWI and Rilla followed soon after, taking these same children into battle. Montgomery was in a mindset of this younger generation making a sacrifice for the sake of the older, of the world turned upside down a bit. Maybe the darkness, and the inhumanity of the older generation in this book, is a bit of a sign of Montgomery’s own feelings of guilt as part of that generation. Here she was, safe at home, while the children she watched grow up went marching off to war or became widows. Maybe she felt a bit like all those comfortable older people in this book who looked the other way instead of trying to help.
Who is the worst adult, Mr. Meredith or Ellen West or Cousin Maude?
Ellen West is terrible selfish and heartless, her insistence on holding Rosemary to a promise she never should have had to make in the first place makes Rosemary miserable and she chooses to pretend it’s not even a problem and she is doing nothing wrong. Mr. Meredith is told again and again to take care of his children, and SEES that they need taking care of, and then allows himself to forget it. His own dying wife made him promise to care for them and he doesn’t! He puts the needs of everyone else above them, including the need not to insult Cousin Maude by hiring a housekeeper. And then there is Cousin Maude herself who starves the children, makes them wait on her while their father is out, and treats her cat better than the children she is supposed to be caring for. All while holding the household hostage and not allowing anyone else to do anything against her for fear of “upsetting” her.
So, all terrible adults. But I think I am going to go for Mr. Meredith just in terms of responsibilities. He is a FATHER! His children’s health and welfare should come first, certainly ahead of getting lost in reading a book, and definitely ahead of “not offending” cousin Maude who can’t feed or care for them. I have no patience with this “ah, poor man, can’t handle parenthood” argument. Montgomery herself in other books showed loving competent single fathers, why can’t Mr. Meredith get his dang self together?
Who is the Best adult, Miss Cordelia or Susan?
Oooo, this is hard! Miss Cordelia yells at Mr. Meredith and wakes him up to his responsibilities, and she takes in Mary Vance, and she investigates the whole Mary Vance situation when no one else can be bothered. On the other hand, Susan is the safe wise kind person who can cure a toothache or make cookies or do anything else needed by the children, and does it before they even have to ask her for it. It’s really REALLY close, but I think I have to give it to Miss Cordelia because she speaks sharply to the minister.
Who is the best child, Faith, Una, or Mary Vance?
Mary Vance! Although all three little girls are really wonderful. Faith’s confidence and optimism and impulsiveness are delightful. Plus, she’s just a wee bit blood thirsty. Una’s sensitive soul is down delightfully without making her TOO perfect. But Mary Vance, with all her practicalness, secret fears, and blunt truth telling is my FAVORITE.
Which “rule” that the Merediths break seems silliest to you? Working on a Sunday, going barelegged to church, or a boy getting more scared than a girl of ghosts?
Notice, I did not include the playing in the graveyard rules. Because honestly, I think those are reasonable! It’s where relatives of the living are buried, it’s upsetting to see kids dancing and singing around there. But the other stuff? EESH! I’m glad I didn’t have to follow those rules!
Anyway, I think Carl getting in more trouble than his sisters for running from a ghost because he was a boy, I think that’s the dumbest.
Okay, what did you think?