© Copyright 2014 Jennifer Spiteri, Ryerson University
L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside published by Grosset and Dunlap in 1921, New York is held by the CLA collection at Ryerson University. Written for young women after World War I, this first edition is signed by the previous owner, Jennifer Bevan. The signature may be found on the front free endpaper of the novel, illustrated by Edward Sheldon. As the eighth and final book in the Anne of Green Gables series, this novel differs from the rest of its kind. Standing as one of few representations of Canadian war experience (Silvey 310), and offering a rare representation of Canadian women during WWI, it can be argued that this narrative is more than just a work for children. Montgomery’s novel provides an important voice to the battles fought by Canadian women on the home front. I set out to explore how this narrative was used by Montgomery to present a historical representation of women’s roles during WWI. In order to do so, I will discuss Montgomery’s depiction of Canadian females’ roles through the main character Rilla. I will then focus on the inclusion of Montgomery’s personal experience as a Canadian Woman during the war. Finally, I aim to analyze biased opinions that Montgomery included within her novel while representing WWI.
Rilla of Ingleside is a story written from the point of view of Anne and Gilbert Blythe’s youngest daughter, Rilla Blythe. As a 15 year old Canadian girl, Rilla is simply concerned with her small world and is focused on going to her first dance, where she hopes to gain the attentions of Kenneth Ford. Rilla’s carefree personality and lack of ambition are expressed, in contrast with her wish to be considered a serious adult. Rilla’s world is turned upside down when the beginning of World War I is announced at the dance. She is forced to face the reality of war and the demand that it will have on her as a female. Rilla must suddenly endure many hardships including parting with loved ones such as her brother Jem, who immediately enlists, and Kenneth who eventually enlists. She must also act as a trustworthy confident to her brother Walter, who is fearful of war and thinks of himself as a coward for failing to enlist. Rilla feels as if she is responsible to contribute to the war efforts and starts the junior Red Cross in her area. The extent of Rilla’s maturity is tested when she finds a war baby whose mother has died and whose father is fighting at war. The child is placed into her care and the importance of her role as a female becomes greater. Rilla can be considered a guardian and hero, having saved a life. Her strength as a woman during WWI is further tested when her brother Walter enlists for the war and is killed. Rilla’s brother Shirley also enlists when he turns of age. The novel approaches an end when the duration of the war is over. It is clear that by the end of the war that Rilla’s life and position as a female has dramatically changed. She has lost her admired brother Walter, she turns over care of the war baby to its father, and her lover Kenneth returns home to her. Although Rilla undergoes extreme transformation, the war assists her in finding her place in the world. Through Rilla’s character, one may gather an understanding of the importance of women’s roles and contributions to Canadian society during the war.
Montgomery compiled Rilla of Ingleside in an attempt to share the experiences of Canadian women and the importance of their roles during WWI. She wished to write a serious novel differing from her previous stories. Despite her wish, the demand from her audience and editors for more Anne of Green Gables books pressured Montgomery (DeGagne 2-3; Tector). Montgomery knew that her writing had to provide an income, and a new novel, outside of her famous series, would not be as widely accepted or as successful (DeGagne 6). Despite her dissatisfaction with the continuation of the series, she produced Rilla of Ingleside. Though this novel is a part of the series, it is somehow different from the others as it contains important representations of the roles of women during WWI. Montgomery had found a way to give her fan base what they wanted, while still writing the serious novel she had dreamed of. Tector explains that Montgomery described it as her only purposeful novel. Much of the content from the novel was inspired by her personal journals (Silvey 310). Having been somewhat based on Montgomery’s first hand experience, the novel revealed dark insight into Canadian life during the war. In her personal journal, Montgomery explains that an early publisher, Stokes and Company, suggested she lighten the contents of the novel1 (qtd. in Webb 66), but Montgomery refused to provide a false representation of war to her readers. Montgomery’s publisher also believed she should have included more recognition of the US (DeGagne 8). Once again, Montgomery rejected this suggestion, due to her decision to focus on bringing recognition to patriotic Canadians at war (8).
Despite the gloomy subject of war New York Times reviewed the novel, in relation to the Anne of Green Gables series, as a “captivating sunny story” (Webb 66). On the other hand, Globe and Mail discussed the novel in contrast to the rest of the series, highlighting that it focused more on the reality of war than the character of Rilla (“Life and Letters”). Despite the positive reviews, the novel also received some criticism. In Montgomery’s journal2 she discusses an Australian pacifist who viewed the novel as a, “‘beastly book’ because it ‘glorifies war’” (qtd. in Webb 67). The novel was also viewed as an essential account of History and the Canadian war experience. In response to the novel’s release, a Canadian librarian explained that the book would stand as an important part of Canada’s history and the war (67). The novel was an overall success and by the year 1924 an impressive 12,000 copies had been purchased (67).
Analysis in Relation to Theme via Critical Approach
Representation of Canadian Female’s Roles During WWI Through Rilla
Through the character of Rilla, Montgomery exemplifies the contributions of Canadian females during war. Although males are highlighted as heros, Montgomery proves that women held equally important positions in supporting their country. The novel reflects drastic changes in the roles of women within a patriarchal society during WWI. Women, unlike men, did not have the sole expectation of fulfilling one role, as they were unable to become soldiers (Coates 67). Females were then left without direct guidance and were expected to create their own roles (67). Rilla exemplifies this through her longing to help which leads to her formation of a junior Red Cross group. Through Rilla, the feelings of stress and anxiety that women experienced are made clear. Rilla is left unsure of whether or not her lover or brothers will return, which also reflects what women were left to worry about on the home front in Canada. Women were expected to care for their children by themselves, and remained unsure of their fate as well as their children’s. Single mother responsibility in situations where fathers left home to fight in the war are displayed. This is evident within the case of the war baby, James. Through Rilla, the roles that single mothers had to play are made clear, as she cares for the child without the present support of its father.
The Inclusion of Montgomery’s Personal War Experience Through Rilla
In her novel, Montgomery included many of her personal experiences and views of the war, which she wrote about in her journals (DeGagne 16). Montgomery herself contributed to the war efforts and was a member of the Red Cross (18). This was reflected in Rilla’s decision to begin a junior Red Cross group in her own community. During her work towards supporting the war efforts, Montgomery witnessed particular women slandering the work of others (18). Montgomery believed these women did not deserve to be commemorated (18) and expressed their dishonorable characteristics in her novel through Irene Howard, a character who caused difficulty and disturbances in the Red Cross group. This character’s negative attitude stands as a contrast to highlight the honourable roles that women such as the heroine Rilla played.
Using Rilla as a motif, Montgomery exemplifies the growth of herself, as a female author, as well as the roles of females, during the war. At first, Rilla is seen as childish and is not taken seriously. This can be viewed as a reflection on the reception of Montgomery’s earlier children’s works. It may also mirror the perceived unimportant roles of Canadian women prior to war. As the story evolves, Rilla is taken seriously which parallels the growth of Montgomery’s series, while also reflecting the growth of women’s roles and their importance during the war.
Bias and Support of War Through Rilla
Although Montgomery does attempt to offer a serious representation of war, her biased opinions are made clear throughout the novel. In Montgomery’s letters to Ephriam Weber3 her annoyance and negative opinions of pacifists are displayed (qtd. in Tector). Montgomery’s biased opinions are made clear in the novel when she frames pacifist characters, such as Josiah Pryor, as disliked, mischievous and unworthy of being considered a Canadian (Montgomery, 1996 219). Montgomery worked to show patriotic women in support of war in a positive light, using Rilla as the epitome of a respectable and patriotic Canadian (DeGagne 18). This is evident through Rilla’s pride when she sees her brother Jem in uniform and comments on the “splendid” idea of so many Canadian men immediately enlisting in honor of their country (Montgomery, 1996 43). Although Montgomery’s stance can be perceived as biased, one must take into consideration that supporting war and being patriotic were intertwined values at the time the novel was written (Webb 67). Even though the novel may be reinforcing Montgomery’s own personal values, it still reflects the views of many other Canadians during the war. It can then be argued that Montgomery’s biased opinions still illustrate the dominant views of the time.
Based on the above evidence it can be gathered that Rilla of Ingleside is and can be studied as more than a novel for children. Having provided insight into the roles of Canadian women during the war, Montgomery’s work contributes greatly to the history of Canada. Montgomery not only gives voice to the experiences of Canadian women, she also includes significant accounts of her own war efforts and involvement. Through her revelations, it is made clear that although women may have felt as if they could only sit at home and cry (Montgomery, 1996 35), the battles they fought on the home front were equally as heroic and deserving of being commemorated as those of Canadian male soldiers.
L.M Montgomery was recognized in The Canadian Bookman, in 1909 for having written the popular work Anne of Green Gables that spurred on her eight novel series, ending with Rilla of Ingleside.
1. Webb in reference to L.M Montgomery’s, The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery
Volume II: 1910-1921, see page 404.
2. Webb in reference to L.M Montgomery’s, The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery
Volume III: 1921-1929, see page 387.
3. Tector in reference to a letter written in 1916 from, L.M. Montgomery’s Letters to
Ephraim Weber 1916-1941.
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