Rilla of Ingleside, by L. M. Montgomery, is the eighth and last book in the Anne of Green Gables series. It is really not about Anne at all, but about her youngest child, a daughter named Rilla. It is Rilla’s coming-of-age story, and takes place during WWI. It is the only book I have read by Montgomery that contains specific dates; most of her books are more vague about the precise year and could be taking place anywhere from the late 1800s to pre-WWI. It is also by far the most serious book I have ever read by Montgomery. With her beautiful, lyrical writing, Montgomery evokes the pain and agonies, joys and sorrow, experienced by the (mostly female) characters in the book left behind at Ingleside as their sons, brothers, friends, and lovers go off to fight in the war. Montgomery does not let her reader escape from the realities of the war because her characters can not. Rilla, who is a teenager during this time, matures immensely. She rises to the occasion, doing what needs to be done and growing in courage and inner strength. The book contains heart-breaking tragedy, another thing I have not encountered in other Montgomery books (I will not be more specific so as not to reveal anything to readers who may not have read it), but is ultimately a beautiful story about life and love.
It is clear from the book that Montgomery herself lived through WWI. She writes about it with a perspective and attitude that only someone who has been through it can hold. I find it difficult to understand the sense of duty and sense of fighting to rescue the world from evil that captivated those living during that time, but I respect that people wholeheartedly felt this way. Montgomery captured and conveyed the sense of that time for future generations through her honest and heartfelt coming-of-age story.
On a slightly lighter note, one of my favorite characters in Rilla of Ingleside was Susan, the Ingleside housekeeper. She is a delightful and true-to-life character, initially interested in nothing but the goings-on of their small town, but quickly becoming passionate about the war and eagerly awaiting the newspaper every day. She has depth and her own journey of growth, and says some of the most insightful things in the book.
I highly recommend Rilla of Ingleside, but do not expect the same degree of light-heartedness that mark Montgomery’s other books.