Review: Anne of Ingleside


My journey through Annetober took me from Anne’s House of Dreams to Anne of Ingleside, the fifth book in the beloved series by L.M. Montgomery.

This book differs from the first because it focuses on the Blythe children–Jem, Walter, Shirley, Diana, Anne, and newborn Rilla. (If you hadn’t caught on yet, Rilla is short for Marilla, who certainly is deserving of a child to be named after her!) Ingleside was the second home that Anne and Gilbert lived in after their marriage, and it is where they stayed to raise their loving family.

This chronicle of Anne’s life allows us to laugh and cry over the years when their children are still young enough to get into trouble. With a big family like theirs, there’s always trouble to get into. We are delighted whenever one of the Blythe children finds themself in an awkward spot; it’s a comical way for them to learn a lesson–and for readers to learn it, too.

I was impressed at the distinct personalities each of the children have. Jem is a soldier trapped in a child’s body, ready to fight but too small to fight any real battles. Walter is a dreamer, very much like his mother was in the first book, and I could relate to his sensitive ways. Diana struggles to make friends, and for a while is insecure enough to associate with anyone at school, no matter the trouble it might bring about.

Having by now finished the series, I am doubly impressed that these personalities matured consistently. Walter will not suddenly stop being a dreamer when he’s a young man; Jem is still ready to fight. That is a post for another day, though.

Gilbert Blythe shone in this book. He is a hard-working doctor, well-respected in the community, often losing sleep to go and see a patient. In this book, Anne’s dreams seemed to move aside so that we could have a better view of him. At last we can appreciate Gilbert’s accomplishments, seeing him for the intelligent and responsible man he is. While I had already admired him, I appreciated that Montgomery gave him a spot of more importance.

As for Anne, she is happy to run her house, already having spent so much time as a schoolteacher. If you remember that Anne and Gilbert both were the best students at their schools, you might think that Montgomery was giving us a chance to appreciate Gilbert’s good grades as well as Anne’s.

Like in the other books, you’ll find plenty of fascinating characters in Anne of Ingleside. Susan the housekeeper, in particular, was my favorite. She’s a great help to Anne with the children, more of an aunt or beloved nanny than a housekeeper. Her wisdom helps the family out of many scrapes, and she has some lines that made me chuckle. Susan has a solution for everything.

My favorite scenes in this novel were those of forgiveness. When Jem discovers that the pearl necklace he bought his mother was fake, he thinks he has done a great wrong; he begs her to forgive him for having fooled her into thinking they were real, but mothers always know best. Anne assures him that the effort he made to save up for that pearl necklace made it worth more than a handful of real pearls.

I also loved how Anne and Gilbert settled a disagreement, towards the end of the book. With age come new worries and stresses. Gilbert is busy with work, and Anne has begun to notice in herself signs of aging–her red hair turning silver, her energy no longer what it used to be. It has lowered her spirits enough that she and Gilbert have a misunderstanding. We discover in the end that their love is still young and full of spirit. I think this scene was meant to remind us readers that we should always tell a person how we feel about them, because when life becomes a challenge, kind words do help.

The storytelling in this whole series is magnificent. We meet and say farewell to characters in such a natural manner that we could almost reminisce on them as people we actually knew in real life. They are so vivid that we can stop in a moment of distraction and think, “Hmm, I wonder what happened to Captain Jim?” or “What’s new with Susan?” This is the sort of story that beats time; it wins hearts of readers for generations, and it takes great skill to create such a world.

I am nostalgic for such a world. I can easily imagine that these places–Green Gables, Ingleside, the House of Dreams–do exist in some dimension we can only access in between book covers. I am nostalgic for a world where people spoke in person, built things with their hands, valued the concept of a loving family, and passed traditions on to their children. 

The Internet connects us with friends, which is wonderful, but we lost so many valuable talents–such as the ability to make our own clothing, or to enjoy the silence during a beautiful sunset, or to value gifts like Jem’s necklace. It is fortunate that books like these keep such powerful, warm places alive for us today.

In the next book, Rainbow Valley, Anne is no longer the main character. It focuses on her children as they grow into adolescents–and make more mistakes. The Blythe family is flourishing, and they invite us to join them in their play through the book; I will post my thoughts on it next week.

Review: Anne’s House of Dreams


Last week, I expressed frustration over the pacing of L.M. Montgomery’s novel Anne of Windy Poplars. I didn’t like the pacing; perhaps that was my inner romantic craving sweeter scenes. As suspected, Anne’s House of Dreams made me forget the impatient taste its predecessor left.

Anne’s House of Dreams satisfied that itch in me hoping something great would happen. The very first chapter, in fact, is promising. It opens with her wedding to Gilbert Blythe (at last!) 

How Gilbert must have struggled to believe that his bride was the girl who broke a slate on his head in school! He deserved that headache, of course; he had teased her about her red hair. I think that Anne held her grudge for too long, though, until she was no longer punishing Gilbert but herself.

This is the moment that readers were waiting for: Anne and Gilbert starting over for real.

Gilbert makes more of an appearance in Anne’s stories following Anne’s House of Dreams. I like him; he’s quiet, intelligent, and has eyes for no one but his ‘Anne-girl.’ I have the feeling that, had she never accepted him, he wouldn’t have found another woman. He’s the sort that only falls once. He was so certain of his love that he waited for her to come around.

After the wedding, Anne and Gilbert begin their new life in a house he found. Anne calls this new place the House of Dreams. It’s built on a hill overseeing the ocean. We might think of such a home as isolated, but–as other books have shown–no place is depressing if Anne lives in it.

She has a way of attracting broken souls and showing them that there is light. Even a poor, wretched cat we met in Anne of the Island came to her for healing. It is no surprise, then, that this lonely old house should find itself full of color after the Blythes move in. Souls in neighboring houses flock to Anne to bask in her presence.

The old house on the hill becomes a cheerful place of hope.

I must conclude that the ‘dull’ feel of Anne of Windy Poplars was due to it being a sort of prologue. It was Anne’s world shining but taking a deep breath before presenting us with this delightful chronicle.

Not all waiting periods are bad, and if you are being forced to wait for something, hold your breath: good things are on their way.

In this instance, the pause makes way for characters that steal our hearts. My favorite character in Anne’s House of Dreams is Captain Jim, a charismatic old sailor with countless stories to tell, the sort of person that Anne gets along with. There were moments when their bond reminded me of Anne’s bond with Matthew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables. (At this point in the series, it feels like so long since we’ve read about Matthew. I will never forget the chapter in which the confused man brings an orphan girl home from the train station!)

Captain Jim delights in making Anne feel at home. He knows the people in this town and all of their stories; he knows why they are hurting and, at his advanced age, has a great deal of compassion to offer the world. I was so happy when his maritime story was published as a book. He must have been delighted to revisit those moments!

Anne and Gilbert’s marriage turned out to be a happy, trusting union. They supported each other through times of tragedy, neither of them losing hope, and their tragedy was compensated with great joy. 

I cannot finish this essay without adding that Gilbert is a good man. He’s been the most patient person in the world waiting for his Anne-girl; after their marriage, he works hard to ensure that she is happy. He never asks her to quit the daydreaming that drew him to her in the first place. They are at peace, and so are readers.

Anne’s stay in the House of Dreams cannot last forever; after all, happy families must grow. We can be sure that she will be a source of light when they move to their second home.

Next week, I will share my thoughts about Anne of Ingleside. I hope you had a happy Halloween! What did you read for the spookiest day of the year?

Review: Anne of Windy Poplars


I journeyed through the world of Anne Shirley this autumn, accidentally participating in a delightful trend called Annetober. Each time I finished one of her books, I would write my thoughts in a journal.

Here are my thoughts for Anne of Windy Poplars. If you’re interested, last week I posted my thoughts about Anne of the Island.

It chronicles the three years of Anne’s life she spent as a full-time teacher. While she teaches, she’s waiting for Gilbert to finish college so they can get married.

Windy Poplars is written in a different format: L.M. Montgomery shows us Anne’s feeling by means of letters to Gilbert, many of which are long and Anne-ish. She can’t help going into rants about things she finds beautiful or bemoaning what she thinks unjust.

Anne of Windy Poplars has more promise of a loving future than the previous books; still, I found myself becoming impatient. I understood why she had to wait three years for Gilbert to finish college. Nonetheless, I felt that readers deserved more romance at this point. I kept waiting for a sweet scene with Gilbert to show that they were in love, but we mostly got shown this in Anne’s letters. Because Gilbert’s replies were never shared, it felt rather one-sided, almost as if Anne was making it up.

In short, I found Windy Poplars to drag on, sometimes wondering if it was necessary to the series in the first place.

That said, I have to admit that Anne is a masterfully crafted character. She is consistent with her optimism and willingness to work hard. She gives her students the attention that they need, spends her free time learning about her neighbors, and even asks a local about the deceased in a nearby graveyard. Instead of thinking the graveyard frightening, Anne calls it romantic. 

Although these years dragged on, they revealed an Anne who discovered the beauty of normalcy. She learns patience that her vocations entail, both her work as a teacher and her future as a married woman.

When I wasn’t frustrated about its pace, this book made me wonder if I am able to see the beauty in everyday life–the ritual, the routine. Anne tends to her students every day; few things seem to change. Routine is a part of life, much more so than a wedding. 

Contrary to popular belief, if we live our lives fully, we will spend more time doing mundane things. Events like weddings are brief flashes in our long-term memories. We can’t live waiting for exceptional events to take place, because if we do, we blind ourselves to the ordinary and don’t live as we ought to.

One moral I took from Anne of Windy Poplars is that fulfilling lives are composed of ‘ordinary’ moments. We come alive when we learn to recognize and share them with those around us. One small opportunity to make a child smile should not be wasted; this is something we learn through Anne.

Anne’s stay at Windy Poplars reminds me that periods of growth in our lives are quiet. During these periods, it is easy to believe that nothing is changing, or that we won’t achieve the things we set our minds and passions to. Real change is slow. We are unlikely to see the improvement until we look back, a decade later.

Though I found Anne of Windy Poplars to be a slow read, I reflected on it as a writer. From that angle, I realized it might have been intended as foreshadowing for the things that are to take place in the next installment. I had the happy feeling that, with these gentle chapters, L.M. Montgomery is preparing us for delightful adventures.

These ‘smaller events’ were not insignificant after all. Great feasts are composed of small dishes. Vast palaces are made of small bricks raising them up. Just so, a book in which the scenes are quiet doesn’t have to be a bad thing. These quiet scenes are preparing us for a symphony.

Finally, let us not forget the comfort of a life lived in peace. Even if you did not do anything extraordinary or heroic by the end of your journey on earth, you’ll still have memories to reflect on with a smile.

On that day, ask yourself: Did you live a life at peace with yourself? Did you enjoy the gently crackling hearth of a fireplace on a cold winter’s night, or count snowflakes as they fell? Did you gather the leaves outside your door as they turned crisp and golden?

Anne of Windy Poplars reminded me of these small blessings, all great reminders of a life lived to its fullest.

Review: Anne of the Island


If you’ve been following my posts this autumn, you’ll see I accidentally wound up participating in a thing called Annetober. I gather it is a cute term for doing something Anne Shirley-related in October. Reading through her series counts, and I’m already wondering how I’ll participate next year!

The third book in L.M. Montgomery’s series did not disappoint, though it did play with my emotions. Anne of the Island chronicles Anne’s adventures as she transitions from girl to young woman. In college, she learns more about people, encountering diverse personalities. She also faces the pain of losing a friend when, during a visit home, someone dear to her passes away after battling the consumption.

Avonlea is changing. People are moving in, while others leave or die. These changes make Avonlea a place that Anne struggles to recognize. Even though she is no longer a child and her daydreaming has gone down a notch, she still struggles with a voice inside of her that is reluctant to grow up and accept that nothing stays the same. 

She also refuses to let go of certain beliefs. This stubbornness might have been a natural reaction to growth, especially since Anne’s childhood was not easy. The stable ground she found in the little world of the Cuthberts is gradually being taken from her; she faces a future of difficult choices. 

Despite her efforts to make the best of it, she is facing life head-on almost completely alone. Bouts of homesickness in college show us how hard it is for her.

I can’t deny that, despite her obvious growth and the changes surrounding her, Anne’s reactions in this novel annoyed me. She doesn’t want to grow up, acting as if she’s been betrayed when her best friend makes a life-altering choice. She knows love when she sees it, but behaves otherwise, clinging to a childish vision of what ‘the perfect man’ should be. Later, when the person whose love she spurned seems to be moving on, this makes her angry. I hope that she will have gotten past this stage of ‘growing up’ by the next book, Anne of Windy Poplars. I’d like to see all those years she spent studying amount to fair, wise decisions.

I’m a dreamer myself; I can understand how hard it is to let go of ‘the ideal’ once you have set your mind to it. Ironically, this ‘ideal’ is not good enough for Anne in the end, either.

That said, I do sympathize with Anne about some of the ridiculous marriage proposals she received over the course of this book. 

Perhaps this element of this plot, her stubbornness, was added to remind readers that what looks perfect is not always best. The beliefs we held as children are not realistic, and no matter how we’d like to choose our own path, life is not a story we are writing. It cannot be controlled. We have to make the best we can with the twists and turns God offers us.

I did enjoy this book despite the moments of annoyance. L.M. Montgomery uses words to create a world for us that is warm, no matter what season it happens to be in Avonlea…or wherever Anne is at the time. 

The mistakes that Anne makes in Anne of the Island are comforting. I could relate to her mistakes too much, and this might be the reason for my annoyance. I was forced to remember that life will not be as I pictured it. We become stronger when we journey down the path set for us.

Readers in a similar phase of life might find comfort in Anne’s awkwardness. Are your friends moving on from the schoolhouse days? So are hers. Do you have a difficult choice to make? Here, Anne faces several. Have you lost someone close to you? Our heroes in our favorite stories deal with pain and grief.

These are phases of life that no human walks gracefully, and neither did Anne.

The conclusion of Anne of the Island did satisfy me, but I had an aftertaste of frustration. I wanted to shake her and say, ‘It should not have taken you so long, Anne Shirley Cuthbert!’ We all have a friend in real life that we want to say this to. The truth of this book is that everyone grows at their own pace, and giving their shoulders a shake will frighten them into slowing their pace. Only sun and water make a plant grow; if you love it, you should be patient.

I now move on to Anne of Windy Poplars. If you’ve been following my little Annetober journey, comment and tell me what you think about my conclusions!

Review: Anne of Avonlea


L.M. Montgomery’s theme in her classic series surrounding Anne Shirley appears to be change. It’s the sort of series you’ll want read when you’re about to open a new door in life. It reminds you that discomfort will cause your character to become stronger, helping you face the world.

If you’ve been to Literature class, you might have read Anne of Green Gables. A great many people don’t make it past that first book. There is treasure to be found in those installments that follow it, including Anne of Avonlea, the second book in this great series.

If you read my blog post on Anne of Green Gables, you know I believed change to be the greatest theme of the novel–how Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert made a scary decision, clearing the way for new forms of joy. I see the same theme of change in Anne of Avonlea, but it it focuses more on Anne.

Anne of Avonlea presents new challenges for our dreamy heroine. Having taken on the profession of local schoolteacher, she must face a reality. The reality is that people, especially children, do not always behave as we’d like them to. She also discovers patience to be a virtue that can only be strengthened over time.

Are these not lessons that we readers have learned at some point? L.M. Montgomery makes Anne’s experiences our own.

We can reflect with amusement on Anne as a child and how her accidents brought poor Marilla such grief. Anne is fifteen when book two begins and, though she has outgrown much of her her mischievous side, remains a daydreamer.

In some ways, this helps her. She is able to relate to her students by speaking to them in the language that children understand, dreams. However, it also gives her unrealistic expectations that she must overcome in order to be more productive.

It becomes, therefore, a weakness: The first time that Anne has to punish a student, she feels so guilty that she cries.

Anne of Avonlea also explores themes of human nature. Not only does it highlight that people have flaws, but it celebrates the differences these flaws create. One of the clearest examples of this is in the Cuthberts’ grumpy new neighbor.

He lives next door, and he’s ready to wage war over a cow. It is satisfying when we see that she isn’t romanticizing this neighbor’s temper; she is old enough to accept that everybody has a personality, for better or for worse.

Our dreamer is still dreaming, then, but has planted a foot on the ground. She still longs for the ideal world of her imaginings, but has sufficient realism to survive as a teacher and a young adult.

For Anne, this involves another exercise in patience; it means accepting a world where not everybody believes as they should, resolving to leave it a better place nonetheless.

If the theme of book one was change, then I believe the theme of book two is waking up. Even a dreamer cannot blind herself to reality all her life, especially if she plans to make a difference.

As humans, waking up involves being open to differences. To successfully become a teacher, Anne allows such change to take place. The question Anne of Avonlea asks us, then, is will we do the same?

There isn’t much romance in Anne of Avonlea, her focus being on these goals rather than love. She is a perfect young matchmaker for other hearts, but–I consider this a weakness–her ‘ideal man’ lingers in the back of her mind. This keeps keeping her grounded and single, even when the town begins predicting her marriage to Gilbert Blythe.

Gilbert, for his part, waits patiently in the background. He cheers her on as she succeeds and comforts her when she fails. He watches her grow as teacher, sees her blossom into a young lady.

Time and patience are the strongest warriors, are they not?

Only in one scene does Anne begin to wonder if there might be more to Gilbert than an old schoolfellow…but she quickly returns to preparations for college. Gilbert, perceiving the brief shift in demeanor, continues to wait for his dream woman; now, though, he has enough hope to be…patient.