I finished my reread of Rilla of Ingleside the other night. I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this book over the years, but it’s one that still gets me. Every. Single. Time.
When I read, I’m not one to cry or even laugh out loud often. I think part of it is that I read so quickly. And for a long time, I rarely cried at movies. Growing older has softened me up a bit, but I’m pretty sure Rilla was the first book that ever made me cry. It may have been Walter’s death, but I’m also pretty sure it was the story of Dog Monday.
On this read, I teared up often. When Jem enlisted. When Jem came home and Dog Monday greeted him. Strangely enough, not when Walter dies. But the part that got me the most, the part where I had to reach over to my nightstand to find a kleenex, was when Bruce Meredith brought Anne the first mayflowers. I can’t resist sharing the scene with you:
The mayflowers bloomed in the secret nooks of Rainbow Valley. Rilla was watching for them. Jem had once taken his mother the earliest mayflowers; Walter brought them to her when Jem was gone; last spring Shirley had sought them out for her; now, Rilla thought, she must take the boys’ place in this. But before she had discovered any, Bruce Meredith came to Ingleside one twilight with his hands full of delicate pink sprays. He stalked up the steps of the veranda and laid them on Mrs. Blythe’s lap.
“Because Shirley isn’t here to bring them,” he said in his funny, shy, blunt way.
“And you thought of this, you darling,” said Anne, her lips quivering, as she looked at the stocky, black-browed little chap, standing before her, with his hands thrust into his pockets.
“I wrote Jem today and told him not to worry ’bout you not getting your mayflowers,” said Bruce seriously, “’cause I’d see to that. And I told him I would be ten pretty soon now, so it won’t be very long before I’ll be eighteen and then I’ll go to help him fight, and maybe let him come home for a rest while I took his place.”
So often, we grownups assume that children don’t really see the world around them. I have long argued that children “get” a lot more than we give them credit for. Bruce’s gesture and thoughtfulness were completely unexpected, but at ten, he definitely understands that this war has been going on for a while and there’s no sign of it ending. And his willingness and confidence that he would go–in eight long years–just kills me.
Though this is far from a perfect book, it’s the emotion of it all that made such an impact on my life. You feel the ache and pain as the folks at home wait for news. And though this book is largely about Rilla, it’s as much about Susan, the Blythe’s housekeeper. I’ve always loved Susan, but I fell in love with her all over again in this read. She went from only being concerned about her backyard to carefully studying the world situation. I love that she kept asking how to pronounce these distant places as she struggled to keep track of troop movements. As Dr. Blythe comments towards the end of the novel, “Susan, you’ve been a real brick.”
Part of the reason that kidlit history makes such an impact on our lives is this emotion. There are so many wonderful stories in history–and there are also quite a few historians who, while fabulous researchers, can’t write in a way to attract a general audience. Montgomery followed the war very closely–she agonized over the war news, as any reader of her published journals becomes keenly aware. She began writing Rilla in March 1919–less than six months after armistice. Though she never says it explicitly, I feel that she knew she was writing a history of the war years. There is this journal entry, from March 1921:
Ewan said a letter had come from Stokes complaining that “Ingleside” was “too gloomy,” and wanting me to omit and tone down some of the shadows. Also, subtly intimating that I had not “taffied up” the U.S. enough in regard to the war–this last being the real fault, though they did not like to say so bluntly.
Well, I didn’t and I won’t!
In my opinion, Montgomery wrote one of the first histories of the war years. She used her journals, she used first person accounts (many her own), she used news accounts to check her facts–she was a historian. But I’m not sure how many see it as that. All I know for sure is that if my first exposure to WWI had been in an average classroom, I wouldn’t be returning to it as a topic of interest over and over again.
Have any of you had a similiar experience–where a book leads to a completely new interest? (historical or not!)