We have reached the end of my Annetober adventure with the tear-jerker Rilla of Ingleside. Of all the books in Anne Shirley’s series, this was my favorite. Its tone is starkly different from the others. Set during the First World War, we see our beloved characters deal with fear and grief that gives them all a new depth.
Rilla of Ingleside is told from the viewpoint of Anne’s youngest daughter. She is the baby of the family, and they often worry that she will always see life as a playground. She is concerned about looking pretty and winning the affections of a young man she has a crush on. Rilla often has silly tantrums, crying over things that don’t matter. Soon she will have real tragedies to weep over.
Her older brother, Jem, is the first to enlist in the army to help defend England. He has always had a fighting spirit, playing with toy soldiers and dreaming of being a hero in battle. It’s heartbreaking to read of Anne’s grief when one of her children sets off on a journey that might lead to death. We remember her as the optimistic young woman whose daydreams could ease anyone’s worries; now she is the one who needs consolation.
Dog Monday, Jem’s pet, follows him to the train station as he is leaving. Monday does not return to Ingleside, waiting at the train station for his master to return. This broke my heart. The town takes notice of this loyal dog who waits each time a train arrives to see Jem step out. A doghouse is built for Monday so that the creature can at least be comfortable as he waits. The Blythes come regularly to bring him food, but cannot coax him to return home. This was one of my favorite storylines, one only L.M. Montgomery can write with such beauty.
Walter, the second oldest Blythe son, does not want to go to war. He wants to go to college, but he faces so much shame in college–even receiving a white feather accusing him of cowardice. Tormented by shame, he enlists as well. This is when Rilla grows up; Walter is her favorite brother, and she cannot bear the thought that he might not come back. Nonetheless, he returns home and prepares to leave for war.
The Blythes now have two sons to pray for, two sons who have put their lives on the line..
Rilla now feels that she wants to make a difference. She does not fuss so much about her looks, and only thinks about the men of the town when she prays they’ll return alive from war. She leads several charitable societies and even takes in a ‘war baby,’ the child of a soldier and a woman who died at childbirth, mothering him until his father returns from the front lines. She is not recognizable as the Rilla we meet in the first chapters.
When tragedy grips the Blythe family, Anne’s optimism appears to die. One of their sons will not return. The happy family we have read about in previous books is broken. This is a touch of reality in a world so often a refuge for us when we endure tragedy. It all seems more real because we see that even Anne Shirley Blythe can be so devastated that she shuts down. Our heroine becomes relatable to us; it is an honor to grieve with her.
Rilla of Ingleside is a sad way to end the Anne series, but I thought it fitting. L.M. Montgomery closes her masterpiece of a series with a novel that is directed straight to our hearts. She gives us a younger heroine we can think about when we feel sad, inadequate, or unwanted. She helps us through grief by making it a regular part of her world–the perfect world where we previously would not have imagined there could be war.
My heart aches as I write this. The book is so powerful that I will never forget the emotions it evoked in me. Though my heart aches, I am thankful that there was some loss in the perfect world of Anne Shirley; it makes me think that there is nothing wrong with being sad, devastated, and that there are some losses that even the imagination cannot ease.
I am grateful for L.M. Montgomery’s series and glad that I took the time to read it from beginning to end. It will take your emotions in all sorts of directions; it will make you joyful, nervous, it will make you fall in love and it will make you want to cry. There is a reason it is a classic, and now I understand. I look forward to reading it from start to end again one day.