I spent last weekend in Prince Edward Island and one of the books I read was L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valley, the seventh book in the “Anne” series. I am slowly—very slowly!—working my way through the series, inspired by the Green Gables Readalong that happened last year from January to August.
I didn’t get to Anne’s House of Dreams until September, and then I wrote about Anne of Ingleside in October after a trip to PEI—and then I spent the whole winter focusing on Jane Austen’s Emma. I’m still reading and writing about Emma Woodhouse because I’m working on a presentation for the JASNA AGM in October. But it was a pleasure to return to Montgomery for a few days and to take pictures in PEI.
I decided to focus on passages that describe what spring looks like on the Island. The novel opens on “a clear, apple-green evening in May,” when “Four Winds Harbour was mirroring back the clouds of the golden west between its softly dark shores.” Anne tells her friend Miss Cornelia her children have “rushed down” to Rainbow Valley for the evening because “They love it above every spot on earth,” and her housekeeper Susan Baker says the children “love it too well”: “Little Jem said once he would rather go to Rainbow Valley than heaven when he died, and that was not a proper remark” (Chapter 2).
In June, the valley is “an entirely delightful place,” when the wind is “laughing and whistling,” the white cherry trees are “mistily white,” and the “blossoming orchards” are “sweet and mystical and wonderful, veiled in dusk” (Chapter 29). It isn’t always a happy place, however. Not for the children on the evening when “Mary Vance froze their blood with the story of Henry Warren’s ghost” (Chapter 29), not for Rosemary West, when she thinks of her lost love (Chapter 32), not for the girls who shiver when Anne’s son Jem talks about longing to be a soldier and her son Walter talks about the Pied Piper coming to summon the young men of Glen St. Mary to follow “round and round the world” (Chapter 35). From the section on Rainbow Valley in Mary Henley Rubio’s biography Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings (2008) I learned that while the novel is set before the Great War, Montgomery finished writing it about six weeks after the war had ended.
My family and I went for a walk on Saturday morning at Cavendish Grove, which is just up the road from Green Gables. There was an amusement park called “Rainbow Valley” on this spot years ago. I visited it once, when I was eight, and I don’t remember any of the rides, but I do remember the pond and the pedal boats.
I also took pictures of “The Lake of Shining Waters” in Park Corner, near the Anne of Green Gables Museum. Seeing the lake and the site of the “Rainbow Valley” amusement park prompted me to revisit an essay I read a few weeks ago in Anne’s World: A New Century of Anne of Green Gables (2010). In “On the Road from Bright River,” Alexander MacLeod talks about Anne’s “power to remake and imaginatively transform the world that surrounds her” as she christens the “Avenue” “The White Way of Delight” and renames “Barry’s Pond” “The Lake of Shining Waters.” He says “The same process repeats itself outside the novel. Just as Anne, the character, rewrites Avonlea to make the landscape correspond with her pre-existing romantic ideals, so her story initiates an identical and equally problematic cycle of geographical transformations that continue, literally, to ‘take place’ in the real world of contemporary Cavendish.”
He points out that “it is important to remember that Matthew does possess his own way of understanding and caring for his local social space.” Anne confidently replaces existing place names, and MacLeod asks, “Where does Barry’s Pond go after Anne is finished with it? Does her innocent power actually give her an inherent right to this landscape? What kind of world is she erasing and replacing? What is being cast away as Matthew silently acquiesces to his talkative companion? And are we, as readers, required to come along for this ride?”
In Rainbow Valley, Anne’s children know and are fond of “all the spots their mother had loved so well in her girlhood at old Green Gables,” including Lover’s Lane, the Dryad’s Bubble, the Lake of Shining Waters, and Willowmere, but her daughter Nan insists that “none of the Avonlea places are quite as nice as Rainbow Valley.” It’s Walter who named the valley, after the children saw “the beloved spot arched by a glorious rainbow, one end of which seemed to dip straight down to where a corner of the pond ran up into the lower end of the valley” (Chapter 3). The valley doesn’t seem to have had a name before Walter chose this one. Susan Baker is afraid “that boy is going to be a poet,” and she tells Anne, “I never knew any good to come of writing poetry, and I hope and pray that blessed boy will outgrow the tendency. If he does not—we must see what cod-liver oil will do” (Chapter 7).
Speaking of naming and renaming and reimagining places, I found it interesting to learn from Rubio’s biography that while the setting of Rainbow Valley is “‘Glen St. Mary,’ not far from ‘Avonlea,’ … the people of Leaskdale still point to the Ontario valley that they believe was the basis for Rainbow Valley.” One of the books I’m planning to read soon is L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys, edited by Rita Bode and Lesley Clement, which focuses on Montgomery as an Ontario writer. It was published last fall and I’ve been meaning to read it but haven’t got to it yet. I must get a copy. Have any of you read it?
Here are the other books I started to read while my family and I were in PEI. I couldn’t choose one or two so I just took all of them. (My excuse is that it was raining when we left, and I thought it was possible we might spend the whole weekend inside, reading.) Rainbow Valley is the only one I finished while we were there.
Helen Oyeyemi’s novel Boy, Snow, Bird had me hooked from the first page. “Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy.”
David Denby spoke in Halifax last week and I bought his new book, Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives. It was a wonderful talk and I love what he says in the introduction about how “A child held, read to and talked to, undergoes an initiation into a useful life; she may also undergo an initiation into happiness.” If I were adding to the reading lists provided by the teachers at the three high schools he visited when he was working on this book, I’d include Pride and Prejudice, Anne of Green Gables, and Jane Eyre, and several more works by women. I don’t think there were nearly enough women writers on any of the three lists, and all three of those novels certainly have the power to change lives. I really like Denby’s New Yorker essay on the pleasures of listening to Austen’s Emma. (There’s another novel that can change lives, with its focus on the importance of self-knowledge.)
I also started reading Startle and Illuminate: Carol Shields on Writing, edited by Anne Giardini and Nicholas Giardini, which I’ve been looking forward to for months because I’m a longtime fan of Carol Shields, particularly her novels The Republic of Love and The Stone Diaries. It was published a couple of weeks ago, and although I’m reading a library copy, I can tell already that this is a book I’ll want to buy for my own collection. Here are a few lines that I’ll want to underline as soon as I get my own copy.
“Most of us end up seeing our lives not as an ascending line of achievement but as a series of highly interesting chapters.”
“I knew very early that writing was my vocation because everything else I tried—music, handicrafts, sports—went badly. Only when I was writing did the awkwardness diminish.”
“I saw that I could become a writer if I paid attention, if I was careful, if I observed the rules, and then, just as carefully, broke them.”
So I have lots of reading ahead of me this month! What are you reading these days? I’m looking for suggestions for the summer. Rereading The Republic of Love is at the top of my list and I’d love to hear your recommendations. And I’d better put Rilla of Ingleside on my list as well, now that I’ve finally finished reading Rainbow Valley. It’s set during the First World War, and while I remember some of the things that happen to the Blythe family during the war, there’s a good deal that I’ve forgotten. I’m also keen to read about Rilla’s ambition, or apparent lack thereof, now that I’ve written a little bit about Anne and ambition.
That reminds me that I also intended to say (somewhere in what’s turned out to be quite a long blog post!) that I’m speaking at a JASNA Nova Scotia meeting this weekend. My talk is “Austen and Ambition,” which I presented in Philadelphia last year. If you’ll be in Halifax on Sunday afternoon and you’d like to attend, please let me know—by commenting here or sending me an email (semsley at gmail dot com)—and I’ll send you the details.
Oh, and I wanted to mention that this month marks the 202nd anniversary of the publication of Mansfield Park; if you missed the blog series I hosted in 2014 for the 200th anniversary, or if you want to revisit some of the guest posts, you can find everything listed here: An Invitation to Mansfield Park.