Regular Modern Mrs Darcy readers know that I’m an Anne of Green Gables fan. I greatly enjoyed re-reading the series this spring and writing the popular Life Lessons from Green Gables series. But somehow, I always lose steam before making it to Rilla of Ingleside, the 8th and final book in the Anne series. Well, not this year. I opened my copy and thoroughly enjoyed re-reading Rilla for the first time in over 10 years.
Rilla of Ingleside tells the story of Anne’s youngest daughter Rilla (namesake of Marilla Cuthbert) and her coming of age during World War I in Canada. Rilla is 15 when the book opens–giddy, giggly, and full of life–but her mother laments her lack of ambition. Rilla’s sole purpose in life is to have a good time.
But then the war begins in a far-off land, and before long Canadian boys–including Rilla’s brother Jem and some dear family friends–are suiting up in khaki and shipping overseas to fight for the Allies. The book chronicles the war from the perspective of the Canadian homefront.
Wartime brings its challenges, and young Rilla is stretched in ways unimaginable in peacetime. But in wartime, a girl has to do what a girl has to do, and Rilla rises to meet challenges big and small–from disarming petty girlish feuds to raising an orphaned war-baby. The war lasts four-and-a-half long years, and Rilla comes out the other side a strengthened, deepened woman.
There’s a lot to like about Rilla of Ingleside. L. M. Montgomery’s heart was in this book–published in 1921, when the battle was still fresh in the minds and hearts of her readers. The female characters are strong and sympathetic–with lots of pluck, to boot!
But I have my reservations about Rilla.
L. M. Montgomery has woven a love story through this little novel–a satisfying one, on one level. 15-year-old Rilla is smitten with Ken Ford, the son of Anne’s dear friend Leslie (Moore) Ford of Anne’s House of Dreams. There is something very fitting (and very romantic) about a Blythe girl falling for Ken–a circle being completed.
And completed it is. Ken indeed loves Rilla–but why? Because she’s pretty? Mrs. Montgomery, surely you could have done better than this!
Now, we know the merits of Rilla Blythe–not the giddy and giggly 15-year-old, but the woman she becomes. And I want to believe that Ken, who has known the Blythe family his entire life, loves her as she deserves, and not as just a pretty face. But Montgomery doesn’t say that at all–she says he loved her because she was beautiful.
I don’t object to Rilla being pretty–a beautiful heroine does make for a good story. But I do object to her winning the man of her dreams based on looks alone–a story line that’s far more Disney princess than Anne of Green Gables. I’ve heard Rilla recommended as a great read-aloud for young girls, but I’m not sure I want my impressionable daughter hearing this story anytime soon–I don’t want her to think her future marital happiness depends on beauty alone.
Rilla had so much depth of character to plumb–if only L. M. Montgomery had done more with it!