Rilla of Ingleside, Chapters 1-3

Sorry this took so long. Life got in the way. You know my part-time gig I have working from home? Turns out they only pay me if I actually work. Sigh.

So. Rilla.

I've always appreciated Rilla as a story of maturation. We're told right off by no less than Anne herself that Rilla "...has no serious ideals at all-- her sole aspiration seems to be to have a good time....I should like to see a little sense of responsibility in her, Susan. And you know yourself that she is abominably vain."

But this time around I was particularly struck by the connection between public virtue and private character. Rilla inhabits a world where public and private virtue are bound together; one follows on the development of the other. As she is forced by the exigencies of war to take on responsibilities and endure privations she would not have chosen for herself otherwise, her individual character is formed also.

But that's my overriding interest; I also have some other questions to explore.

  • Why does the book begin with Susan? I've gone and read so much epic poetry I keep expecting the first line to be about the protagonist. But instead we have another character, albeit a major sympathetic one. Remember how Anne of Green Gables begins with Mrs. Lynde? Why does LMM do this? What purpose does it serve in Rilla specifically?
  • What about the animals? What is up with Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde? Dog Monday? What can we glean from comparing the two?
  • What is Gertrude Oliver's place and function in the novel?
What are you thinking about Rilla? What strikes you?

9 comments:

Bea said...

Ooh, good questions.

Rilla stands out from just about all of LMM's heroines by being an ordinary girl. She is not incredibly gifted, artistically or intellectually, and she doesn't have weird personality glitches like Pat or Valancy - she's just a normal, pretty, popular girl. What's astonishing, really, is that Montgomery pulls it off: despite the lack of such defining quirks, Rilla feels real, mostly because of her sense of humour.

Susan Baker is an interesting character in light of the struggles Montgomery always had with her own maids (detailed in her journals). She's a comic character, but also very much a wish-fulfillment fantasy (even moreso than Ken Ford, haha). She is strong and loyal and she has no bitterness or discontentment in her lifelong role as a domestic employee for a family that is never really her own. In this novel she becomes a personification of Canada: she is practical, gritty, and surprisingly strong and brave, much like the Canadians at Vimy Ridge.

Mrs. Rachel Lynde personifies Avonlea in AoGG, and by extension Canadian small-town rural society. She is Anne's antagonist at least initially in that novel. Susan Baker plays much the same iconic role, but she has now become Rilla's staunchest ally at a time when LMM was still having her own battles with the realities of small-town gossip and respectability. Susan is the fantasy rather than the reality - what small-town Canada can be at its best rather than what it is in all its complexity.

All the characters in this novel are stand-ins for LMM in some sense - their dialogue is often drawn straight from her journals. But Gertrude Oliver is the closest to a double for the author. She's the one who embodies LMM's dark side; her prophetic dreams are often pulled straight out of the journals. If Susan represents an ideal of pluck and courage, Miss Oliver represents the reality of weary persistence in the face of fear and pessimism.

Veronica Mitchell said...

This is my first time reading Rilla (tried last year, but life got in the way), so I don't have anything intelligent to say about the book as a whole.

Reading the first few chapters, I was struck, as I often am in Montgomery's books, by the happiness in them. It's not easy to convey happiness in a way that is remotely interesting, but Rilla and company seem not only happy, but groomed for happiness. The Fords and the Blythes and the Merediths seem to have that essential character or upbringing that is able to produce contentment, rather than the sourness or fear of other people in the same circumstances.

It makes me wonder how one equips children for contentment, and whether I am doing it.

Bea said...

That's fascinating, Veronica - especially in light of the fact that Montgomery herself was emphatically NOT groomed for happiness, having a temperament more inclined to depression. She wanted her books to put happiness into the world, and again I am amazed at how convincingly she pulls it off. Her characters are believable optimists, not Pollyannas.

The recent biography of LMM emphasizes how her critical fortunes turned around after the publication of the journals. Before that, her novels had been dismissed for decades precisely because of their happy endings and fundamental optimism. The journals were dark, so everybody sat up and took notice. It's such an odd equation: dark = literary quality. If anything, I'd think happiness would be the more difficult quality to write about well.

Mary-LUE said...

Re: opening the novel with Susan, I wonder if it helped to set up the idea that many people were not paying attention to what was going on in the world. She's races right over the bit about what is going on to Europe because it doesn't relate to her world. She is more interested in the goings on of the people from her community. If, as Bea suggests, Susan represents small-town rural society, it helps set up that Rilla's community was completely unprepared for what was coming.

This is my second time to read Rilla and I think this time what struck me is how poignant the words and actions are... before the war begins to affect them. The so-called carefree days are coming to an end.

I also just loved Montgomery's characterizations of Rilla... she is fifteen and so she can speak bitterly, etc. I laughed aloud at so much of that.

Hairline Fracture said...

I think I should just say "what Bea said," because she puts into words so well what I was thinking about Susan. Susan's monologues are often used to summarize what's going on in the war, and I think to give the viewpoint of a small-town, salt-of-the-earth Canadian woman. It's interesting to think that this was more of a fantasy than a reality, but that seems right.

I am enjoying the book--and I think LMM's talent for writing about ordinary happiness (which is not ordinary in literature at all) is a big part of that--but I have to say that I don't like all the premonitions that the animals and Gertrude and Walter have about impending disasters. I think they're contrived and implausible.

Jen said...

never read the book before, but listened to the first 3 chapters today. It's so odd to hear Anne as the grown up, wishing for some gravity in her daughter. When Rilla wakes up to embrace the day, it made me want to remind Anne of who she was.

Haven't got a good sense of any of the characters yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

happygeek said...

Susan is truly one of my favorite characters.
I cannot figure out why LMM started with her, other than to set a stage of the quiet rural life that had gone on for many years, and was about to be upset forever and Susan stood for all those about to be changed.

On the Jekell and Hyde/ Monday thing, my only guess is that LMM is not a cat person.
Seriously, animals do play a role in the book and LMM seems to be introducing us to all the new players that we hadn't seen from previous books. She seems to set up Monday as an animal representation of goodness and the cat is the animal equivalent of evil.

I must say after reading Bea's comments that I am now going to see if I can scrounge up LMM's journals.

I have all the Anne books practically memorized and would love a closer look at their author.

Recovering Sociopath said...

I have a theory about the cat, but it contains spoilers for those of you who haven't read the novel before.

I agree with Bea regarding Susan Baker being a wish-fulfillment fantasy. I fantasize about having a Susan of my own ALL the time.

Bea said...

Montgomery was a cat person in the extreme - there's a wonderful anecdote in the biography about her cat Lucky. On Sundays he would walk into the church shortly after the sermon began, settle down on the pew beside LMM, and remain there until the end of the service, when he'd walk back down the aisle and out again.

Emily is a cat person in the Emily books and her preference for cats is linked to her introverted, eccentric, artistic qualities. The privileging of Dog Monday in this novel over the far less attractive Jekyll/Hyde seems related to me to the qualities of normality and optimism that we've been discussing in the characters. Rilla and Jem are both healthy, well-adjusted people - the kind of people Montgomery associates with dogs rather than cats. Walter and Miss Oliver are the intense, eccentric, cattier people.