DCIB Book Club: Rilla of Ingleside, What Does it Mean to Write the Rough Draft of History?

I have a terrible feeling none of you listened to me and read this book (who hadn’t read it already). So I’m gonna say again, READ IT! I just re-read it for this post, and it is good as I remember, and as unique. It’s a fascinating true-feeling document of a very specific time and place and people.

Plot:

Rilla is just 15 and looking forward to a fun happy series of teen years, and then WWI starts. Her older brother Jem goes away, her mother suggests she start up a “junior” Red Cross group, and she volunteers to take care of a war baby whose father is at the front and mother is dead. All of that happens within a few months. And then there are the long slow years when everyone thinks it must change soon and it doesn’t. Another brother leaves, then another. Friends go one by one. The young women her age have hurried war weddings, or tearful good-bye’s with boyfriends. And at home, Rilla, her hardworking father, her strained mother, and indomitable Susan do whatever they have to do from knitting socks to bringing in crops to just managing to keep spirits up and keep going instead of curling up and giving in. Rilla has an almost-romance with her childhood friend Ken Ford but they only have one kiss before he goes to the front as well. One brother is killed, the other is lost in action for months. And then finally the war is over and somehow she has to find a way to go on, to figure out the rest of her life after 4 years of everything be on hold. On the last page of the book, Ken Ford comes back and proposes and life begins again.

What struck me the most on this book is how much we are fully in Rilla’s mind. Montgomery gives herself over to this 15 year old girl and does not interfere. She is shallow and selfish and silly and impulsive and everything you would expect from a 15 year old girl who has never had any problems in life. Montgomery has a terrible habit of making her characters sappy. She goes along with a real 3 dimensional person, and then she has to throw in this moment of beauty and high ideals and the way she thinks people SHOULD be, not as they are. But I don’t think there is a moment like that with Rilla. She is a bundle of flaws and a great sense of humor, but not a lot of poetry and idealism and all the rest of it that Montgomery usually gives her heroines.

I think that is part of Montgomery’s peculiar state of mind when writing this book. She had JUST gone through WWI and she was writing this based partly on her diaries of that time. What she wanted to convey was the enormous effect the war had on Rilla’s generation, the teens who came of age during that time. If Rilla had been poetic or special or perfect, she wouldn’t have been the same kind of tribute. Instead, she is just an average girl who rises to an extraordinary level during an extraordinary time. Reading the book, you go between being frustrated with Rilla’s silliness and flaws, and feeling sad when they go away because she deserves to be silly and flawed and not forced to grow so much all at once. There’s a moment late in the book when Anne’s youngest son/Rilla’s last brother casually says “Mother and Dad, I was eighteen last Monday. Don’t you think it’s about time I joined up?” That’s the feeling Montgomery is trying to convey, a generation who adapted to think of the 18th birthday as meaning it is time to enlist in the army, like this is a normal way to live life. Rilla who was looking forward to teen years of lots of beaus and dances and dresses and being admired for being oh so pretty, and suddenly was thrown into a world where having a boy in love with you meant being terrified because he was going off to die.

I’ve read almost everything Montgomery has ever written over the course of my life, and I just reread the entire Anne series before getting to this book, and this book is different. I don’t believe she wrote anything else, ever, about WWI. It feels like she had to get out her pain and confusion and vision of everything that changed in her little world in one big burst, and then never reference it again. This book is as set aside from her others as those 4 years must have felt from the rest of daily life.

Now, things I want to discuss!

Does the Ken Ford romance make sense?

I think, yes. It’s very rushed, they have one hour together the night war is declared, and then 5 minutes of conversation and a kiss before he leaves. But that’s how it is sometimes. They spent the war years dreaming of each other and now it’s up to them to see if they can turn those dreams into reality together. My favorite part is that they both have a moment of not recognizing each other when they finally see each other again. They are almost strangers. And yet, Ken still proposes and Rilla says yes.

Does Whiskers-on-the-Moon make sense? The village pacifist everyone hates?

What struck me about his character on this read is that he doesn’t seem to be a pacifist out of a deep conviction, but more out of pure contrariness. He is already generally disliked by the village before the war starts, he never wants to contribute to anything, he is stingy and greedy and all kinds of things. He is never positioned as a coward or a fool, just kind of a pain. There are plenty of other village characters mentioned who refuse to enlist or let their relatives enlist, but it is Whiskers-on-the-Moon who can’t resist talking about it all the time. So yes, it is wrong that the village boys break his windows and that Susan suspects he is a German spy, but I don’t think his character itself is wrong. I think it is another time of Montgomery accurately showing what she experienced, some people were against the war because they were always contrary irritating people who enjoy offending people.

How do you feel about the constant stream of lies about what was happening in Europe, for instance “no child under 8 years of age left alive in Poland”?

Again, it’s accuracy. Montgomery is showing a scene of a Canadian family reading the newspapers every day during the war. And that includes a lot of over the top ridiculous lies about how “evil” the Germans were. Montgomery tends to have these stories repeated by Susan, who is established as the most fervently patriotic and likely to believe them. The Doctor, Anne, even Rilla, never really repeat them. Surely even when Montgomery was writing the book, it was already clear that much of those stories were false. But removing them would be removing what was a large part of the lived experience of the war, so she left them in. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_of_Belgium#Wartime_propaganda)

Do you like Walter?

I just DON’T. I remember on my first read of this book, when I must have been about 12, I felt there was something wrong with me because I always skipped his bits. But now I think there is something wrong with HIM. He doesn’t come alive and feel real like everyone else in this book, he’s just toooooooooooo perfect. On some level, Montgomery must have known that too when she was writing, because she focused more on Rilla’s reactions to Walter than on Walter himself.

Which of Rilla’s war moments did you find most human, apologizing to Irene Howard, falling in love with baby Jims, wearing the same hat for 4 years?

I love ALL these moments. But it’s the baby Jims moment I reread the most. I love that it takes a full 4 months before she bonds with the baby, and I love how fully and completely she bonds in just one moment. To keep going and raise that baby without love is remarkable, and to give in to total love in just a split second for no logical reason is real. Second would be spending Armistice day kicking the dang hat she promised to wear until the war was over around the room!

Which of these Susan quotes is most delightful? (I literally just flipped through the book and picked at random, there are so many good ones all through!)

“Ink is twice as high it was last year. Perhaps it is because Woodrow Wilson has been writing so many notes. It must cost him considerable.”

“I see by this paper the Crown Prince is killed again. Do you suppose there is any hope of him staying dead this time?”

“Well we have got one week over–Now for the next”

Which scene made you cry more, Walter dying or Dog Monday welcoming Jem home?

Always Dog Monday.

One last time, what did you think of Anne?

So far as I am concerned, Anne is handled just right in this book. It’s Rilla’s book, her mother is a moral force, a friend, someone she talks to about deep subjects, but not part of her everyday life. Or, to put it another way, so much part of her every day life that she isn’t worth writing about. Anne has a few powerful moments of comforting Rilla, but mostly she is just there in the background of life, part of the family group. She isn’t special in anyway, she is just a mother with 3 sons in the war and two daughters in love with soldiers. It’s not her story. Which goes back to my first point, Montgomery wants this book to belong to that generation, the ones who lost their youth in the war, everyone else takes a backseat to them.

Finally, since this is our last visit to Anne-World, what stories do you want to hear more about? What characters would you like to imagine a different ending?

I have so many! I love Rilla, obviously, and I want to see her and Ken navigate their relationship post-war. I imagine a lot of growing pains as he finishes college and starts a career while she is still in her small hometown.

Una Meredith! This book ends with her in a sad place, never to be happy, always to mourn. I want more for her! Surely EVENTUALLY she can find another way to be happy, right?

And then there’s everyone else, from Carl Meredith to Jims to Irene Howard (surely eventually she will get her comeuppance).

4 thoughts on “DCIB Book Club: Rilla of Ingleside, What Does it Mean to Write the Rough Draft of History?

  1. I don’t have many thoughts about Rilla at the moment. It’s good, yes. I like it, but I don’t know, I just can’t think of anything unique! So I’ll just answer the questions.

    Does the Ken Ford romance make sense?
    Not in today’s sensibilities, but back then, yes.

    Does Whiskers-on-the-Moon make sense? The village pacifist everyone hates?
    Are there other pacifists in the village? I never hear them mentioned. I see your point about why WOTM was so disliked, but I can’t help but sympathize with him a little. And the fact that his rankest failing is him being a pacifist puts a bad taste in my mouth.

    How do you feel about the constant stream of lies about what was happening in Europe, for instance “no child under 8 years of age left alive in Poland”?
    Yep, accuracy, sure. But even Walter believes them, it’s why he signs up! So there’s definitely a little bit of truth to them, according to LMM.

    Do you like Walter?
    I like him better in that fanfic I recommended, because you really SEE Walter then. But all of the kids are really like that, except maybe Jem. Shirley barely exists!

    Which of Rilla’s war moments did you find most human, apologizing to Irene Howard, falling in love with baby Jims, wearing the same hat for 4 years?
    Ooh, the hat! Irene is second and the Jims moment is adorable, but I just like the others better.

    Which of these Susan quotes is most delightful? (I literally just flipped through the book and picked at random, there are so many good ones all through!)

    None of these! The one that touched me most was when Susan says “So they’re going to take you too” to Shirley. She is really his mother, definitely.

    Which scene made you cry more, Walter dying or Dog Monday welcoming Jem home?
    Dog Monday. It’s the scene we see first hand.

    One last time, what did you think of Anne?
    Not the last time, because TBaQ has her and ughhhhhhhhh. Anyway, sure. Yes. Liked especially what she said about Rilla 🙂

    Finally, since this is our last visit to Anne-World, what stories do you want to hear more about? What characters would you like to imagine a different ending?
    Is this the last visit??? Are we not reading TBaQ??? And I already know a good ending thanks to fanfic haha.

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    • No we are not reading TBAQ! It’s way hard to find, for one thing. I’m not gonna force everyone to track down a copy. But I did just skim my own copy, only the second post-war half. Rilla barely appears, but her moment is one I found most real, being suddenly overwhelmed by grief and just saying “Oh oh!” nothing poetic and perfect. I also liked the little bits of Jem and Faith byplay showing them as a united couple observing the wider family. Anne is definitely going straight into depression, in line with Montgomery herself. I didn’t like the way Gilbert and Susan and everyone else have an attitude of “protect Anne”, but on the other hand, she is clearly in a damaged emotional state. My most charitable interpretation is that Anne’s troubled childhood is finally coming back to her, which I actually find realistic. She could set aside all that trauma and difficulty most of her life, but once her children are grown and one is dead, she loses her emotional stability. While Gilbert and Susan also lost a child, they didn’t have that lingering trauma of their own to bring it back and make it worse.

      There’s an interpretation I read of Anne once as a survivor of fetal alcohol syndrome. I don’t know if that exact diagnosis is correct, but I think her unusual dreaminess in AGG is a trauma response and arguably her little moments of stubborness and self-blindness, and big dips and leaps of emotion are also part of her PTSD. If we look at the series in that way, having Gilbert’s stable love, and being able to focus on her children, would be a balm to those issues. But WWI, the empty nest, and the death of Walter throw all of that away. And now she is back to struggling with mood swings and a desire to escape into fantasy. After Walter’s death there is this long period when she is too sick to get out of bed. Doesn’t that make more sense as a deep depressive episode rather than anything else? And the start of a struggle with clinical depression for the rest of her life? I don’t like to think of Anne who I loved in GG ending her life with years of depression, but on the other hand it fits more with the Anne we see in GG than any other ending. Her brain was not like other people’s brains, because her childhood was not like other people’s childhoods. And that doesn’t go away forever just because you find a loving foster home, and a happy married life.

      I’ll expand it to say Ken Ford makes sense back then, and also during wartime. Both sets of my grandparents had war marriages. Long separation, letters, and then a sudden leap into getting married with only a few days notice, before another loooooooooong separation with letters. Rilla and Ken didn’t have much of a romance before their letter period, but they had known each other all their lives, so they weren’t strangers. And the pressure of war sort of normalizes the idea that you can be in love without seeing each other in reality. Plus, of course, youthful marriages were more accepted.

      One thing I find interesting about WOTM is that he remains a church elder. Which makes me think there is enough support for his opinions in the village that he isn’t fully stripped of honors or driven out of town. Even if the Ingleside crew and their friends don’t like him. And maybe I am less critical because in America it was German-Americans (my family) who were attacked and persecuted. At least WOTM is consciously choosing a path he knows will lead to persecution instead of just being born with the wrong name.

      I missed that Walter joins up because of them. I need to do more research, but I believe there was a hint of truth to them, but only so much as “invaders gonna be invaders”, not the over the top monster stories. Also, I know Montgomery regretted her warlike standing later on, I wonder if part of that was that she repeated stories which a few years later were confirmed to be totally false. As a historian, I found them fascinating, because that kind of story didn’t really make it below the border into America. Probably because the anti-war crowd was strong enough to drown it out and make it less believable. During WWII, we had loads of horrible falsehoods, but I didn’t even realize that sort of over the top made up things were around during WWI.

      Jem is drawn so well in this book in just a few scenes. And he feels like a better representation of that lost generation than any other character. He goes off eager and excited with no idea what awaits him, and returns broken and changed and struggling to talk to his family about what happened to him.

      The hat is also one of the best Anne moments! Making Rilla understand why what she did was wrong and bringing up her own guilt over it, without treating her as a child. And then of course Rilla responds in the most childish impulsive way possible, because she is still 15 even if it is wartime.

      Rereading the Walter scene, I realized what we get is grey faced Gilbert going to tell Rilla. It’s described in just a few lines, but that image is so powerful, a father who is broken himself by the loss of one child, having to go and deliver a blow to another of his children. Can we have a moment for how AWESOME Gilbert is in this book? He keeps working and taking care of the sick of the village, he remains cheerful and baiting Susan and joking with his kids, and he keeps a quiet background eye on the household making the decisions like Rilla being challenged to care for the baby herself, or Anne not working too hard until she goes into another collapse. Plus those little moments of him loving his sons, thinking of Jem’s surgeon’s hands, or Shirley who always reminded him of his own father.

      Ooooo! You know what would be fun? and certainly already exists in the fanfic world? The whole series from Gilbert’s perspective. This wild strange girl arriving in school, having his heartbroken again and again, trying to forget her and give up, having those little moments of encouragement that keep him going, and finally the Love Triumphant once Anne has been won and she is completely and absolutely devoted and worshipping him for the rest of her life, while he has the responsibility of caring for her increasingly unstable emotions plus their enormous family plus all the sick people.

      On Mon, Jul 4, 2022 at 1:42 AM dontcallitbollywood < comment-reply@wordpress.com> wrote:

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      • I never thought of Anne being depressive, but you’re right! One part of it could just be how old people generally find themselves more depressed and lonely once they stop working and the kids are grown, but that might be amplified in Anne. She doesn’t work like Gilbert or Susan, so even though she is engaged in the community, she might start feeling superfluous once the kids are gone and the closest one to her, Walter, is dead. No wonder she keeps revisiting his poetry!

        But yes, Anne needs stability. It’s why she did so well at Green Gables and might also be a reason why she turned down Roy. She needs to feel anchored and from WW1, all the anchors around her are falling (including Canada being a part of the UK’s colonies!). So she’s more likely to feel unmoored and we see that more and more in TBaQ in her inner circle.

        I love what you have here: “Love Triumphant once Anne has been won and she is completely and absolutely devoted and worshipping him for the rest of her life, while he has the responsibility of caring for her increasingly unstable emotions plus their enormous family plus all the sick people.” Gilbert needs her flights of fancy, definitely, but it must be hard to deal with at some point, when she is in the depths of darkness. However, I’ll also maintain that Anne kept the family going through the war, Gilbert’s late nights, small difficulties, and more, so it works.

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        • If I think of Anne and Gilbert’s relationship as a partnership with one person having a mood disorder, it makes so much sense! Anne gives him love and support and a sense of home and all those good things, and he has to take care of her recurring illness, in this case depression while in other families it could be something like asthma. It also explains the whole “we must protect Anne” theme that recurs in every book after Joy’s death. That sort of loss, plus the body and hormonal shifts of a first pregnancy and birth, could easily drive her from “emotional” into “recurring illness”. Huh. Now I like her better! It’s okay that Susan takes care of the kids while she goes to Europe or whatever, it’s the same as Susan taking care of the kids while she is at a TB Sanatorium.

          Considering Montgomery was both a sufferer of depression, and a caregiver for someone with depression, this must have been part of her fantasy. To be the patient instead of the caregiver, and to be Susan and Gilbert who have the resources to really care for someone instead of being stretched too thin.

          On Tue, Jul 5, 2022 at 1:43 AM dontcallitbollywood < comment-reply@wordpress.com> wrote:

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          Liked by 1 person

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