You were expecting Anne of the Island, weren’t you? I’m not surprised as I’ve cited it as one of my favourite books, never mind my favourite book by LM Montgomery. That remains true but Rilla of Ingleside is a book that’s fascinated me since I first read it as a child. And, of course, there’s so much of interest in it that it stands reading again and again (in common with much of Lucy Maud’s output).
First and foremost for me as an adult reader, it’s a Great War story and I have a particular fondness for those. What I love especially about it is that it’s a home front story. And it’s the Canadian home front which makes it unlike novels depicting the British home front which is what appears in most books I’ve read. The war isn’t just over there; it’s on another continent. There’s no chance of soldiers or nurses coming home on leave. So there is distance, both geographically and in the perception of what is taking place in Europe.
It’s also a coming-of-age novel. Rilla is the youngest child of Anne and Gilbert Blythe. She’s a bit spoilt, certainly immature and desperate to be grown up and taken seriously. She’s fifteen at the outbreak of war and the most important thing in her life is what Kenneth Ford thinks of her. By the end of the war and book she has changed as most teenagers will but some of that change is due to the personal and national impact of the Great War.
First published in 1921, Rilla of Ingleside was written very soon after the war ended when Canada, as other countries, was coming to terms with the conflict and dealing with the after effects. I’m not a historian but I think that gives us a less revisionist view of life and sentiment on the home front. LM Montgomery was, of course, to some extent limited by what her publisher would accept in a novel for young people. But she does show some of the different ways the war was viewed in a small community. The book is layered and I know that I read it differently now than I did when I acquired my first copy (with Kim Braden on the front cover) in 1981.