“It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?” I, too, am “glad I live in a world where there are Octobers,” as Anne famously says to Marilla in Anne of Green Gables. I spent last weekend visiting Prince Edward Island with my family, rereading Anne of Ingleside for the first time in many years, and taking pictures, which was a lovely way to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving. On Saturday, I caught the last of the day’s light on the hydrangeas and geraniums at L.M. Montgomery’s Birthplace Museum in New London.
Another highlight of the trip was an afternoon of reading Anne of Ingleside by the fire at Leonhards Café in Charlottetown. And of course I was particularly interested in what happens to Anne’s ambitions in this sixth book in the “Anne” series.
When I reread Anne’s House of Dreams, I was disappointed to find that Anne dismisses her writing and seems to have lost interest in the academic ambitions that were so important to her in the first four novels in the series. In Anne of Ingleside, it’s clear that the focus of her ambition is different. Like Edward Ferrars in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Anne is ambitious about finding happiness, and in her life with Gilbert and their children at Ingleside, she seems to have found it. Mrs. Dashwood comments on Edward’s apparent lack of ambition, and he responds by saying his wishes are “As moderate as those of the rest of the world”: “I wish as well as every body else to be perfectly happy; but, like every body else it must be in my own way.”
Early in Anne of Ingleside, Gilbert asks, “Are you happy, Annest of Annes?” And she is. She’s delighted to be home again, and she feels “surrounded and encompassed by love.” She says “it’s been lovely to be Anne of Green Gables again for a week, but it’s a hundred times lovelier to come back and be Anne of Ingleside” (Chapter 3).
She does talk a bit about her writing: when a neighbour asks her to write an “obitchery” for her late husband (“them things they put in the papers about dead people, you know”), Anne once again refers to her stories as “little.” In Anne’s House of Dreams she said, “I do little things for children”; here she says, “Occasionally I do write a little story,” adding that “a busy mother hasn’t much time for that,” and that “I never wrote an obituary in my life.” She acknowledges that she had “wonderful dreams once, but now I’m afraid I’ll never be in Who’s Who, Mrs. Mitchell” (Chapter 21).
I confess I felt a small shock of recognition when I read the chapter in which Christine Stuart, Gilbert’s former girlfriend, asks Anne what happened to her ambition. “You used to be quite ambitious, if I remember aright,” she says when they meet again near the end of Anne of Ingleside. But then Christine goes on to say things that are quite different from the questions I asked in last month’s blog post about Anne’s early plans for her writing and her education. “Didn’t you used to write some rather clever little things when you were at Redmond?” Christine asks. “A bit fantastical and whimsical, of course, but still…” (Chapter 40).
Like Mrs. Mitchell, who dismisses the obituary poem Anne writes as “real sprightly” but not “poetical” enough and tacks on an extra verse written by her “poetizing” nephew, Christine resembles the contemporary readers and critics who didn’t appreciate Montgomery’s work. In Magic Island: The Fictions of L.M. Montgomery, Elizabeth Waterston writes that after creating Anne, with her early ambition to become a writer, Sara Stanley, with a passion for storytelling so strong that she’s known as “The Story Girl,” and Emily Byrd Starr, with her goal of writing a diary “that it may be published when I die,” Montgomery was now “bitter enough about the writing life to debunk the whole business of writing” in Anne of Ingleside. Waterston says the “obitchery” incident “correlates with Montgomery’s disappointment when her erstwhile admirers in the Canadian Authors Association manoeuvred her out of a leadership position in the society.” Anne of Ingleside was published in 1939, long after all the other novels in the series, including Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside.
The more time I spend rereading these novels and dipping into the wealth of scholarly writing about them, the more I find myself thinking that the next time I reread the “Anne” books, I’ll read them in the order of publication, rather than in the order that corresponds to the ages of Anne and her children. So, next time: Anne of Green Gables (1908), Anne of Avonlea (1909), Anne of the Island (1915), Anne’s House of Dreams (1917), Rainbow Valley (1919), Rilla of Ingleside (1921), Anne of Windy Poplars (1936), and Anne of Ingleside (1939). Perhaps I’ll add Chronicles of Avonlea (1912), Further Chronicles of Avonlea (1920), and The Blythes Are Quoted (2009). But that’s a whole other topic – the continuing stories of the people whose lives intersect with those of Anne and her circle.
In Anne of Ingleside, Anne doesn’t find an audience that appreciates her writing, and the focus of her ambition has certainly changed. But she is very happy. There are references throughout the novel to her joy in the world in general and the world of Ingleside in particular, and after she clears up a misunderstanding with Gilbert, the novel ends with her laughter and delight in her marriage and her family. I was intrigued by the answer she gives when Christine asks her if she’s stopped writing, because in a twist on the idea of books as children – I’m thinking especially of Jane Austen referring to Pride and Prejudice as “my own darling Child” – Anne thinks of her children as stories, or letters.
Here’s her reply to Christine’s question about whether she’s given up writing: “‘Not altogether … but I’m writing living epistles now,’ said Anne, thinking of Jem and Co.” Christine doesn’t recognize the reference to the biblical passage about epistles “written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God,” from 2 Corinthians 3:3.
Anne finds happiness in her family and her island home. Fall is especially beautiful at Ingleside, with “the joy of winds blowing in from a darkly blue gulf and the splendor of harvest moons,” and “lyric asters in the Hollow and children laughing in an apple-laden orchard” (Chapter 11). One year, after Anne has recovered from a very bad case of pneumonia and the family is celebrating her return to health (Chapter 27), October is “a very happy month at Ingleside, full of days when you just had to run and sing and whistle” and “nights, with their sleepy red hunter’s moon,” that are “cool enough to make the thought of a warm bed pleasant.” The house “rang with laughter from dawn to sunset.”
Anne loves to work in her garden, “drinking in colour like wine” and “revelling in the exquisite sadness of fleeting beauty.” The colours of the season are vivid:
the blueberry bushes turned scarlet, the dead ferns were a rich red-brown, sumacs burned behind the barn, green pastures lay here and there like patches on the sere harvest fields of the Upper Glen and there were gold and russet chrysanthemums in the spruce corner of the lawn…. There was a reek of leaf fires all through the Glen, a heap of big yellow pumpkins in the barn, and Susan made the first cranberry pies.
There is plenty of sadness in this novel. At one point Gilbert has “an attack of influenza” that “almost ran to pneumonia” (Chapter 19), and young Walter whispers, “What will the world do if Father dies?” Anne’s illness is even more serious, and brings anxiety and fear and a “nameless shadow” to Ingleside (Chapter 25). The children don’t lose either of their parents, but they do have to deal with losing pets, along with many other challenges, including loneliness, bullying, betrayals, and existential questions such as what would happen if God “forgot to let the sun rise” (Chapter 19) and “what causes the cause?” Even at Ingleside, “nothing is ever quite perfect” (Chapter 27).
And those beautiful Octobers are followed by Novembers, one of them particularly “dismal,” with “nothing but cold mist driving past or drifting over the grey sea beyond the bar. The shivering poplar trees dropped their last leaves. The garden was dead and all its colour and personality had gone from it … except the asparagus bed, which was still a fascinating golden jungle.” Montgomery’s description of weather in the Maritimes and Anne’s daughter Di’s response to it are all too familiar to me: “It rained … and rained … and rained. ‘Will the world ever be dry again?’ moaned Di despairingly” (Chapter 27).
But Anne and her oldest son Jem have planted tulip bulbs, which gives them the promise of “a resurrection of rose and scarlet and purple and gold in June.”