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Farewell to the Green Gables Readalong!

And so we come to the end of the Green Gables Readalong as hosted by Reeder Reads: Rilla of Ingleside.

I know for sure that I had only read this book once before and I have a  vivid memory of waking up on a weekend morning and finishing it in bed before I went upstairs for breakfast. I remember being glad that I did because I was sobbing in my bed and I never did like crying in front of other people.

If you want to catch up on this monthly re-read of LM Montgomery’s famous series you can start here.

In this final Anne book we follow Rilla as she struggles to throw off the mantle of petted, spoiled baby of the family and show them all that she is a young woman. In the beginning, Rilla is the kind of girl intent on fun – she longs to be ‘out’ and go to parties like her older sisters, to have beaux and nice dresses. She has no ambition whatsoever and looks at the years between 15 and 19 as the years that should be the nicest in a girl’s life.

On the night of the Four Winds dance, the night she spends a glorious hour on the beach alone with Kenneth Ford and has on delightful little silver slippers, the news of the beginning of the war comes down and the world that Rilla knows ceases to exist. Shortly thereafter Rilla’s oldest brother Jem and the neighbour Jerry Meredith enlist. Over the next four years, during the time that was supposed to be the sweetest of her life, Rilla must do her part for the war effort and learn to live with the uncertainty that war brings. Eventually Kenneth enlists as do Shirley and Carl Meredith and Rilla’s favourite brother, Walter.

Oh Walter! Poetic, lovely, sensitive, grey-eyed Walter. The one of the siblings most like his mother. I cried my eyes out this time around, knowing what was coming. I think being an adult now, his sacrifice, the way he writes to Rilla almost knowing what’s to come, the words he leaves her with to make sure that the world he fought for is a better place, they mean so much more to me.

I loved that this book was much more about one character, a return to the format of Anne of Green Gables, Anne of the Island and Anne’s House of Dreams. We still know a great deal of what is happening in the community, but it’s told through the lens of Rilla as she’s learning who she is.

I’ve read a few books recently about this time and I’ve been frustrated by them. Their lack of something. This book has what I’ve been missing. Maybe it’s because Montgomery lived through the war and was so passionate about it leaving the world a better place. You can almost hear her frustration at it happening in the first place. For the first time, the wider world intrudes on PEI.

There’s a lot to love about this book: Rilla bringing up a war-baby that she finds near starving to death; Dog Monday waiting at the train station for years until his master’s return; the neat solution to the war-baby’s future in the trust left to him by a perfect stranger; Susan Baker. I’ve always been a fan of Susan Baker’s – I know she’s not everyone’s cup of tea – and in this book she proves her mettle over and over again, packing up cakes and cookies to send to the boys, learning all about the politics and battles so that she knows exactly what’s happening in the war, bravely sending off her little brown boy Shirley to fight, and even swearing! Oh I love when Susan swears!

I think I could have done with another book, find out how Rilla fares. But I also know that I could never bear reading a book where Anne possibly dies. Or even Gilbert. Or Susan come to that. It’s mentioned briefly in the beginning of this book that Marilla has died and I’ve always been glad that I didn’t have to experience that like when Matthew died.

Now I’m done with the series and I feel like a better person for the visit. It’s been a good reminder of simpler times, that hard work will always be its own reward and that trying to be good is always half the battle.

Thank you again Lindsey for hosting this readalong. I’ve enjoyed it immensely.

rilla

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#GreenGablesReadalong – Rainbow Valley

I was supposed to have read Rainbow Valley, the 7th book in the Anne of Green Gables series, in July to stay on the Reeder Reads’ hosted Green Gables Readalong schedule. I started it in July but then I got distracted by other shiny books and it was left unread and unloved for days before I finished it.

If you’re new around here and want to get caught up on the rest of the series’ posts, click here to get started!

These Tundra editions though!

These Tundra editions though!

Rainbow Valley follows on the heels of Anne of Ingleside and the Blythe children are still growing up. Except that this book is basically about the Meredith children, the motherless children belonging to the new Glen St. Mary pastor. Jerry, Carl, Faith and Una don’t mean to get into all sorts of trouble but they just can’t seem to help themselves. Their father is in his own world and their Aunt Martha, a seriously senior lady, can barely make palatable meals let alone bring up a brood of children. So the Meredith children keep an orphaned runaway in the house for two weeks before anyone notices, ride pigs in the streets of town, go bare legged to church and sing rowdy songs in the graveyard while the Methodists have their prayer meetings.

If you can get past the fact that this book isn’t about Anne and barely features her children, it can be an enjoyable read. In her post, Naomi @ Consumed by Ink was horrified that the language in the book hadn’t been altered (specifically use of some racial slurs). I have to say, seeing that word in print in an Anne book really did shock me. It hasn’t been updated in my new edition either, Naomi. The conversation about altering text to better reflect modern times is a whole other conversation really…

The one thing that really sticks out for me reading this book again, are the references to war and the Pied Piper. How Walter tells the story of the Pied Piper and how the other children are really creeped out by it, as though he’s telling a prophecy. And later when Jem whoops at the Pied Piper, telling him to come for him, that he’ll follow him anywhere. This is a re-read for me, I know what’s coming. I’d never noticed before how many war references there are in the later books, how sure some of the characters are that war won’t happen again.

Well Jem was to be a soldier and see a greater battle than had ever been fought in the world; but that was as yet far in the future; and the mother, whose first-born son he was, was wont to look at her boys and thank God that the “brace days of old” which Jem longed for, were gone forever, and that never would it be necessary for the sons of Canada to ride forth to battle “for ashes of their fathers and the temples of their gods.”

I mean, that just kills me.

For all that this book is about the Meredith children, it’s really about Faith Meredith and I quite liked her. She’s a lot like Anne was when she was younger. She gets into things before she thinks about them, she says what she means and means what she says and people just can’t help but like her. Because this one is more or less about the manse children, there is a lot of religion and God in this one but, like the offensive language, I guess that was just what people were like at the time. Life definitely seemed simpler even if there were all these rules about behaviour that will strike a modern reader as completely ridiculous.

It’s not my favourite book of the series but it’s a necessary jump to get to the finale. We’ve well and truly left our Anne behind and are left with the trials and tribulations of her youngsters. I’m looking forward to Rilla of Ingleside though, even though I know I will need all the tissues.

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#GreenGablesReadalong: Anne’s House of Dreams

The whole time I’ve been participating in the Green Gables Readalong, hosted by Lindsey @ Reeder Reads, I’ve been waiting to read Anne’s House of Dreams. I suspected that this time around it would mean so much more to me to read about Anne as a newlywed, the joys and sorrows she meets in her little white house. (New around here? You can catch up here, here, here and here.)

Now before we get to how much I loved reading this book again, let me caveat the whole thing now. I first read these books when I was at that age when anything great you read stays with you forever. So no matter what, these books will always be perfect to me. I’m not capable of seeing them critically. Those of you reading them for the first time may find these books quaint, unrealistic, earnest or lacking qualities you expect of classic novels. I see none of those things. I see perfection every time.

With that out of the way, let’s carry on.

Before I read this post by Sarah Elmsley, I had no idea that Anne of Windy Poplars was a stopgap, written by Montgomery to kind of fill up space between Anne of the Island and Anne’s House of Dreams. As soon as I started Anne’s House of Dreams, I felt the difference. It seemed as though we were picking up the story after Anne of the Island finishes, like her time in Summerside never happened.

house of dreams

Anne and Gilbert finally get married! And those of you that have been hankering for a better idea of how their relationship works must finally be satisfied. Anne and Gilbert leave their Green Gables wedding (the first in the house) for the train in Carmody and cross the threshold of their little house of dreams that night. Immediately we are treated to some of the characters we’re going to come to love: Miss Cornelia Bryant and Captain Jim. Between them we start to understand some of the history of the place: the story of the schoolmaster’s bride, Lost Margaret, Marshall Elliot’s beard, and poor Leslie Moore.

Aside from Diana, I think I love Leslie Moore the most out of all of Anne’s friends. She feels real. She struggles not to hate Anne who is so blissfully happy when her own life is such a shambles. She’s perfectly honest with Anne about the fact that sometimes she finds it very hard not to hate her. I’m sure that some people reading it for the first time would have found Leslie’s story’s ending completely unrealistic but that’s part of the charm of LM Montgomery’s world: things always work out, more or less.

One of the things that I always really remember from Anne’s House of Dreams is little Joyce and how devastating her loss is. That part was even more devastating this time, mostly because our Anne-girl goes completely to pieces and it changes her in a fundamental way. There is a fear that was never there before.

There were lots of moments in this one that had me tearing up, happy tears and sad tears: little Joyce in her white dress in the churchyard, the advent of James Matthew, Leslie Moore in love, Captain Jim’s life-book, Anne and Gilbert’s wedding (obviously), and when Captain Jim crosses the bar. They made so much out of the Tennyson poem, I had to go and look it up when I finished. It really was the most perfect poem for Captain Jim.

Our Anne-girl is really and truly grown up in this fifth book. It kind of felt like growing up alongside her all over again.

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Halfway through the #GreenGablesReadalong – Anne of Windy Poplars

I’m not sure how it’s already April but since it means that it was time to read Anne of Windy Poplars for the Green Gables Readlong that Reeder Reads is hosting, I’m going to roll with it.

I brought Anne of Windy Poplars along with me for the Easter long weekend. My in-laws live in a log house surrounded by fruit trees, with a little pond in the back – I think Anne would have appreciated it here, she probably would have felt like there was a lot of ‘scope for imagination.’

windy poplars

In this fourth book in the series, Anne heads to Summerside, PEI where she has taken a job as principal of a school. Normally the principals board with Mrs Tom Pringle but for some reason, this year she decided that she couldn’t take Anne. Lucky for us because this means that Anne ends up boarding with “The Widows” – Aunt Chatty and Aunt Kate. And Rebecca Dew, the housekeeper.

I have to confess that I got Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of the Island mixed up. When I was reading Anne of the Island I kept expecting the Aunts to show up and when they didn’t I was disappointed and a little confused. I was reading the wrong book – it’s Anne of Windy Poplars that I love.

Anne is in Summerside and Gilbert is in medical school so for the three years that they are apart, they basically only write each other letters and that’s more or less what make up the book. Anne is, of course, an excellent correspondent. She delights in odd neighbours, her new surroundings and her students and aptly describes it all for Gilbert. We get the full scoop on the Pringles – the family that pretty well run Summerside and don’t like Anne to begin with because a Pringle cousin was supposed to get her job. They go out of their way to exclude Anne from all the social goings-on in Summerside and her Pringle students make life hard on Anne. But of course our Anne manages to win them over eventually – although surprisingly with something that looks an awful lot like blackmail.

I love the characters in this book: Rebecca Dew is a delight; little Elizabeth, the neighbour girl living with her austere grandmother while dreaming of the father that left her there; Miss Minerva Tomgallon, the last member of a family with loads of money but who very probably were also cursed; Gerald and Geraldine, the worst behaved twins with the most indulgent mother; Katherine Brooke, the assistant principal who refuses to give Anne the time of day until Anne forces her to come to Green Gables for Christmas; little motherless Teddy Armstrong, with his big dog and his cranky father; and of course Aunt Kate and Aunt Chatty.

I love that Anne gets so involved in this community. She is a most sought after dinner guest (especially once the Pringles come around) and is very popular amongst the young people – since she is safely engaged, all the young ladies are comfortable confiding in her all their romantic troubles. I find that in Anne of Windy Poplars, our Anne has become the person she was meant to be. She is so sure of herself and her place in the world – all the worries and uncertainty from the last book seem to have melted away. She is steady, hardworking, still a dreamer, thoughtful, compassionate and still delights in the absurd. She writes to Gilbert about their future, the dreams she has for their house of dreams and the children that will hopefully come along. Even though we don’t see much of Gilbert, we still get a real sense of their relationship.

Anne of Windy Poplars is one of my favourites in the series. Anne is still the centre of our universe but we’re branching out more and more as our Anne-girl weaves her brand of magic all over the place.

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#GreenGablesReadalong – Anne of the Island

There are many things I love about March. The first signs of spring (normally anyway, this year those started in February. Go ahead and get your hatred out on me East Coasters), St Patrick’s Day, longer brighter days, my birthday, and fresh new fashions.

This year, the Green Gables Readalong provided another thing to love about March: the chance to re-read Anne of the Island.

Before this readalong allowed me to go back and re-read these books, I always thought that Anne of the Island was my favourite. Anne has grown up and has left the Island to pursue her dreams of going to college. She lives in a darling little house with lovely roommates and always seemed like she lived this perfect existence, cozy under Mrs Lynde’s quilts, with lots of social events to attend, surrounded by wonderful friends.

anne of the island

But this time I found Anne of the Island was kind of melancholy. Anne is finally confronted with the realities of growing up:  close friends start getting married and moving further away, her ideals of romance don’t seem to match up with the reality, and death starts summoning friends home with alarming regularity. We’ve all been waiting for Anne and Gilbert’s relationship to finally take off and instead are distracted with a number of awkward proposals and the seeming perfection of Anne’s romantic ideal, Royal Gardner.

Anne struggles to figure out what she really wants and feels like she doesn’t belong in this world her friends are moving into so eagerly.

I also found that this one was even more a product of its time than the first two books. The struggles and triumphs of childhood seem to be universal through time. Being a grown up when Anne was, is quite different than what it’s like now. I had a hard time reading about Mr Harrison trying to hang his dog twice and when they try and chloroform the cat! I don’t remember those parts reading it before. And as her friends get married, you get more of a sense of how restricted life was as a young woman then: teach or get married.

But you take the good with the bad right? While both previous Anne books have been more of a collection of short stories, there was more of a narrative arc through this one. It’s the story of Anne’s time at Redmond, the people she meets and ultimately, the relationship between her and Gilbert. Anne is finding that she has an independent streak. I appreciated the fact that she didn’t settle for what she thought she should have, but waited for the right person. Even then, she doesn’t need to run right out and get married. She’s content to work and dream for another few years. In that respect, she’s thoroughly modern.

And that delicious ending only makes me want to get to April so that I can start Anne of Windy Poplars!

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Re-Reading Anne of Green Gables

Last year I found the time to re-read the Harry Potter series and it was magical.

Ha.

But seriously, it was wonderful to go back and visit with Harry, Hermione and the Weasleys, to rediscover the magic of the Wizarding World, and find that the whole thing was every bit as fantastic as it was the first time.

The other series I’ve been meaning to re-read is Anne of Green Gables so when Lindsey at Reeder Reads was like ‘I’m going to host an Anne of Green Gables Readalong” I was like I’m IN!  

It was just the nudge that I needed to allow myself to get back to Avonlea.

I’m right on schedule for this readalong – a book a month til August (there are 8 books).

The last time I read Anne of Green Gables was probably when I was a teenager. There was some concern that maybe I would be too old to enjoy these the same way I did then. Anne Shirley is 11 when the first book starts after all, what could I possibly have in common with her now?

Anne

I definitely look at Anne differently now than I did when I was closer to her age. Now she make me smile with her irrepressible optimism, her incredible imagination and her inability to filter anything she says but it’s the way an indulgent adult would smile. I recognize bits of the child that I was in her but I’m not that person anymore. When she thinks her world is over because her hair is green or when she flies into a rage because Mrs Lynde calls her ugly – I sympathise with her but I also understand that it’s not the end of the world as she isn’t able to do just yet. I used to think that Marilla was kind of harsh but now I see her in a whole different light. She adores Anne in a way that probably terrifies her at first. She can’t help but laugh at Anne but knowing how important it is to Anne to be taken seriously and how important it is to her that she teach Anne certain things, she doesn’t laugh at her to her face.

I’m not sure that I ever noticed before how much Anne grows up in the first book. She goes from being a wild dreamer who bursts forth with a stream of consciousness and is always getting herself into scrapes, to being a thoughtful young woman who hardly hesitates before giving up her dream to help out at Green Gables.

And even though Anne is swept up in all kinds of romantic notions of courtship in her imagination, in her real life she could not be more practical and as such she’s a refreshingly real heroine. I never noticed before that she isn’t interested in boys at all. She works hard in school so that she can be first in the class, ahead of all the boys. She holds a grudge against Gilbert Blythe for years because he calls her Carrots but when it starts to thaw it’s not because she’s falling in love with him. Rather she recognizes that they could probably encourage each other as friends and help each other to carry on with their studies. She thinks of him as an equal in a way that’s not actually that common in literature.

If none of this makes any sense and you don’t even know what Anne of Green Gables is, then I think you need to sign up for the Readalong too. It’s not too late.

I will just be over at the bookstore, buying the entire series. Again.

PS you can follow the fun on twitter! #GreenGablesReadalong

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Famous Women

I’ve finally cracked Catherine the Great: Portait of a Woman and, 150 pages in, it is living up to every single expectation. It is terrific and well written and wonderful and educational and there are pictures! Who doesn’t love shiny pictures?

Exactly.

Anyway starting this book got me reflecting on all the other bios of awesome women that I have read. I have a weakness for bios about fantastic ahead-of-their-time women, as any quick perusal of my bookshelves will tell you. I have an especial weakness for royal women. And we’re not even talking about my girl crush on the new Duchess of Cambridge here (although if you have a few hours and you live near me, maybe you want to watch the Royal Wedding again? I have it on DVD. Apparently I feel like watching it 8 times over the wedding weekend wasn’t enough).

I digress.

I’ve put together a modest collection of my very favourite bios of awesome women in the hopes that at least one will strike a note with you. Because women are awesome and sometimes it behooves us to remember that.

The Reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann was a souvenir book I picked up over my weekend in Vienna. I kept seeing pictures of this woman in an incredible gown with diamond stars in her hair and I needed to know more. So when I saw that same picture on the cover of this book – I had to have it. The Reluctant Empress is Empress Elisabeth of Austria who was incredibly beautiful and mysterious and really did not like being the Empress. She wanted to be free and struggled against the rigid formalities of the Austrian court. It was a wonderful, slightly heartbreaking, thoroughly modern read and I loved it.

Another woman struggling against the expectations and conformities of life in the spotlight was Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire. Amanda Foreman’s sympathetic and meticulously researched book about this ancestor of Princess Diana will leave you wanting more. I’m not ashamed to say that I picked this book up after seeing previews for the movie The Duchess with Keira Knightley. The movie is good, the book is better. Even Keira Knightley fails to do justice to this woman who was ahead of her time politically, romantically, even fashionably, and ended up paying a very high price for it all.

If you want to talk about high prices women have paid in history, Marie-Antoinette probably comes to mind, seeing as she lost her life for living a frivolous life at court while the French people starved in the streets. Still, Antonia Fraser’s biography paints a more sympathetic and realistic portrait of the woman who has been wrongly accused of uttering “Let them eat cake.” She was married young to a boy who ignored her for the first years of their marriage and was reviled by the people for the rest of her time. Fraser’s account takes you back through the golden days of Versailles, right through to the ignominious end of the French monarchy.

What’s better than the biography of one royal woman? Julia P. Gelardi’s book that covers five of them. Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria ably covers the incredible lives of the 5 granddaughters of Queen Victoria who each became Queens in their own right. Alexandra who married the Russian Tsar and met her tragic end in squalor, her body riddled with bullets; Marie, the beautiful flamboyant Queen of Romania who was the mother of 2 more Balkan Queens; Victoria Eugenie who was almost bombed on the parade route on her wedding day, having married the heir to the Spanish throne, passing on the haemophilia gene that so tormented her grandmother and cousin, Alexandra; Maud, who in becoming independent Norway’s Queen, spent the rest of her days pining for England; and Sophie, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s sister, daughter of an emperor and the mother of three kings and a queen who ended her life in exile. I mean come on,  you can’t make up more incredible lives than that!

My last choice is not a royal woman, but one who had a huge influence on my own young life: L.M. Montgomery. I suspect that she had a pretty important impact on Mary Henley Rubio’s life as well which is probably at least part of the reason for the exquisite Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings. Here’s what I knew about L.M. Montgomery before: she was the brilliant author of the Anne of Green Gables series which I will love for always. After finishing this book, I know that she loved the island she made famous, but hated that her work destroyed the world she loved; that she struggled with mental illness in a marriage based on convenience rather than love or respect; and that having so brilliantly captured childhood in the form of her most enduring heroine, she had nothing but trouble trying to connect with her own young sons.

I could go on but I won’t. This time. If you have another book about a famous woman you think I would love, leave it in the comments!