Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday Salon: Reading Rilla of Ingleside (1921)

Rilla of Ingleside. L.M. Montgomery. 1921. 280 pages.

IT was a warm, golden-cloudy, lovable afternoon. In the big living-room at Ingleside Susan Baker sat down with a certain grim satisfaction hovering about her like an aura; it was four o'clock and Susan, who had been working incessantly since six that morning, felt that she had fairly earned an hour of repose and gossip. 

 I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Rilla of Ingleside. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, wonderful, memorable, and compelling. It is everything it should be. It closely follows World War I--from the Canadian home front; and at times it shows just how ugly and frightening war can be. It's a patriotic novel, however. Rilla of Ingleside is also an unforgettable coming of age story. Readers watch Rilla mature from a laughter-loving fourteen year old girl into a strong, resilient young woman ready for life and love. This is Rilla's story from cover to cover. Rilla is forced to say goodbye to three brothers (Jem, Walter, Shirley), two childhood friends (Jerry, Carl), and her young love (Kenneth Ford) as they go off to war and uncertain futures. And she has to do with a smile on her face and no tears. Will she ever see any of them again? Will they return whole? Will life ever be the same for any of them again?

But Rilla is ever-busy. Not only is she doing work for the Red-Cross, she's adopted a war orphan! Though she's just fourteen, this young baby boy will be HER responsibility. For Rilla who has never really "liked" babies or found them cute and adorable, this is a challenge...at least at first. But as he starts to grow and change...her heart melts.  

My favorite characters were Rilla, Susan Baker, Walter, Miss Oliver, and Dog Monday. If you've read this one, don't you agree that the Dog Monday parts are incredibly moving?

From chapter one:
There was a big, black headline on the front page of the Enterprise, stating that some Archduke Ferdinand or other had been assassinated at a place bearing the weird name of Sarajevo, but Susan tarried not over uninteresting, immaterial stuff like that; she was in quest of something really vital.
Well, that is all the notes and there is not much else in the paper of any importance. I never take much interest in foreign parts. Who is this Archduke man who has been murdered?" "What does it matter to us?" asked Miss Cornelia, unaware of the hideous answer to her question which destiny was even then preparing. "Somebody is always murdering or being murdered in those Balkan States. It's their normal condition and I don't really think that our papers ought to print such shocking things. 
Wherever Rilla Blythe was, there was laughter.  
There was another occupant of the living-room, curled up on a couch, who must not be overlooked, since he was a creature of marked individuality, and, moreover, had the distinction of being the only living thing whom Susan really hated. All cats are mysterious but Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde–"Doc" for short–were trebly so. He was a cat of double personality–or else, as Susan vowed, he was possessed by the devil. To begin with, there had been something uncanny about the very dawn of his existence. Four years previously Rilla Blythe had had a treasured darling of a kitten, white as snow, with a saucy black tip to its tail, which she called Jack Frost. Susan disliked Jack Frost, though she could not or would not give any valid reason therefor.
"Take my word for it, Mrs. Dr. dear," she was wont to say ominously, "that cat will come to no good."
"But why do you think so?" Mrs. Blythe would ask.
"I do not think–I know," was all the answer Susan would vouchsafe.
"The only thing I envy a cat is its purr," remarked Dr. Blythe once, listening to Doc's resonant melody. "It is the most contented sound in the world."
Rilla is the only one of my flock who isn't ambitious. I really wish she had a little more ambition. She has no serious ideals at all–her sole aspiration seems to be to have a good time.
 From chapter two,
Rilla was the "baby" of the Blythe family and was in a chronic state of secret indignation because nobody believed she was grown up. She was so nearly fifteen that she called herself that, and she was quite as tall as Di and Nan; also, she was nearly as pretty as Susan believed her to be. She had great, dreamy, hazel eyes, a milky skin dappled with little golden freckles, and delicately arched eyebrows, giving her a demure, questioning look which made people, especially lads in their teens, want to answer it. Her hair was ripely, ruddily brown and a little dent in her upper lip looked as if some good fairy had pressed it in with her finger at Rilla's christening. Rilla, whose best friends could not deny her share of vanity, thought her face would do very well, but worried over her figure, and wished her mother could be prevailed upon to let her wear longer dresses. She, who had been so plump and roly-poly in the old Rainbow Valley days, was incredibly slim now, in the arms-and-legs period. Jem and Shirley harrowed her soul by calling her "Spider." Yet she somehow escaped awkwardness. There was something in her movements that made you think she never walked but always danced. She had been much petted and was a wee bit spoiled, but still the general opinion was that Rilla Blythe was a very sweet girl, even if she were not so clever as Nan and Di.
Rilla loved Walter with all her heart. He never teased her as Jem and Shirley did. He never called her "Spider." His pet name for her was "Rilla-my-Rilla"–a little pun on her real name, Marilla...
 Dog Monday was the Ingleside dog, so called because he had come into the family on a Monday when Walter had been reading Robinson Crusoe. He really belonged to Jem but was much attached to Walter also. He was lying beside Walter now with nose snuggled against his arm, thumping his tail rapturously whenever Walter gave him a pat. Monday was not a collie or a setter or a hound or a Newfoundland. He was just, as Jem said, "plain dog"–very plain dog, uncharitable people added. Certainly, Monday's looks were not his strong point. Black spots were scattered at random over his yellow carcass, one of them blotting out an eye. His ears were in tatters, for Monday was never successful in affairs of honour. But he possessed one talisman. He knew that not all dogs could be handsome or eloquent or victorious, but that every dog could love. Inside his homely hide beat the most affectionate, loyal, faithful heart of any dog since dogs were; and something looked out of his brown eyes that was nearer akin to a soul than any theologian would allow. Everybody at Ingleside was fond of him, even Susan.
"There's plenty of time for you to be grown up, Rilla. Don't wish your youth away. It goes too quickly. You'll begin to taste life soon enough."
"Taste life! I want to eat it," cried Rilla, laughing. "I want everything–everything a girl can have. I'll be fifteen in another month, and then nobody can say I'm a child any longer. I heard someone say once that the years from fifteen to nineteen are the best years in a girl's life. I'm going to make them perfectly splendid–just fill them with fun."
"There's no use thinking about what you're going to do–you are tolerably sure not to do it."
"Oh, but you do get a lot of fun out of the thinking," cried Rilla.
"You think of nothing but fun, you monkey," said Miss Oliver indulgently, reflecting that Rilla's chin was really the last word in chins. "Well, what else is fifteen for?"
From chapter three,
"The new day is knocking at the window. What will it bring us, I wonder.... "I think the nicest thing about days is their unexpectedness," went on Rilla. "It's jolly to wake up like this on a golden-fine morning and day-dream for ten minutes before I get up, imagining the heaps of splendid things that may happen before night."


© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

3 comments:

JaneGS 6:56 PM  

I have got to reread this book. I've only read it once, and the depression Anne was under throughout the book made it a depressing read for me. I never gave Rilla a chance because I was mourning Anne's loss of spirit.

I liked your review, though, and the quotes convince me that I need to give this another chance at winning my heart.

Melissa (Avid Reader) 3:49 PM  

I adore this one! It's amazing to think how quickly this was released after WWI. I completely agree that the dog parts broke my heart too,

Lauri 12:27 PM  

I was reading the new edition not to long ago and found it interesting that it's considered one of the most authentic pieces about the role of women during WWI in Canada. It came out so quickly that the details weren't forgotten and that it's more true than some history books. I loved that.

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