Did you know that Rilla of Ingleside, the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series, is the only Canadian novel written about WWI during the actual war from the viewpoint of the women who stayed at home while their sons, brothers, boyfriends and husbands went off to fight?
I sure didn’t when I first read Rilla of Ingleside as a kid – I was way too preoccupied with hoping that her handsome boyfriend Ken Ford would make it home safely from the front. But for my 20th century Canadian History class (a prerequisite for the Bachelor of Education I hope to start in September), we had to write an essay on the historical impact of a piece of Canadian fiction. When I saw Rilla of Ingleside on the list, I knew I had to re-read it.
As it turns out, re-reading a beloved childhood classic as an adult is a lot of fun. There were lots of parts about Rilla that I remembered, and other parts that I either forgot about or just didn’t register when I first read it, which must have been when I was about 11 or 12 (I got the entire Anne of Green Gables box set for Christmas the year I was in grade five, though my mom and I had read Anne together years earlier).
I didn’t know (before I had to write my paper and spent hours poring over this stuff) that diary entries made by Rilla on specific key dates during the war were closely linked to diary entries made by LM Montgomery herself as the battles in France raged on. I also wasn’t mature enough to figure out the similarties between Walter’s (Anne’s second-oldest son, and Rilla’s favourite brother) poem The Piper and John MacRae’s In Flander’s Fields, or to catch the portrayal of Rilla as a symbol of Canada worth dying for. But it’s all there in this moving book, which I enjoyed even more the second time around.
Rilla of Ingleside contains very little of the lightness of the early Anne books – in fact, it’s rather deep and dark, and possibly works better as a standalone piece of fiction than the end of an iconic series. But it’s worth a read for its historical significance alone. I’ve never had so much fun writing a school paper before.