Rilla of Ingleside
It’s 1914 and the world is on the brink of war. But at almost fifteen, Anne and Gilbert’s youngest daughter, Rilla, dreams only of her first dance and getting her first kiss from the dashing Kenneth Ford. Soon, however, even far-off Ingleside is engulfed by Europe’s raging conflict, as Rilla’s brothers Jem and Walter both enlist, and Rilla finds herself caring for an orphaned newborn.
As the conflict spreads, the Blythes wait anxiously for word of their absent sons, and a bad omen leads them to conclude that something terrible has happened overseas. Have Jem and Walter been lost, like so many valiant young men before them? And what of Kenneth Ford? Will he ever return to Ingleside to keep the promise he made to Rilla before he left?
Rilla of Ingleside is the eight and last book in the Anne of Green Gables series and it was published in 1921 after the First World War which features heavily in this book.
The story focuses on the youngest Blythe child, Bertha Marilla, known as Rilla, who is fourteen at the start and in that awkward phase were most people still think of her as child but she wants to be treated as an adult. Rilla feels she is different from her older siblings as she is not as clever or as ambitious as them. As the youngest, Rilla has been a little spoiled by her older siblings but all that is about to change. When Rilla attends her first ball at the lighthouse she attracts the attention of Kenneth Ford who is visiting from Toronto and she is elated when he asks her to dance. The couple soon go for a moonlight walk and Kenneth seems on the verge of kissing her when they are interrupted by news of the war in Europe.
Rilla is dismayed when her eldest brother, Jem, now a medical student, and Jerry Meredith enlist straight away but is reassured when everyone says the war will only last a month or two. However, it soon becomes apparent that assumption is wrong and more young men leave Glen St. Mary. Rilla’s favourite brother, Walter, is initially unable to enlist since he is still weak from having had typhoid, but as the months drag on he admits to Rilla he is a coward and cannot bear the ugliness of war. Walter is also haunted by the image of the piper from the previous book and knows the war will not have a happy ending for him. Rilla is tortured by the thought of losing her brothers, especially Walter, and pleads with him not to go to no avail.
With her older brothers at war and her sisters back at college, Rilla and her brother, Shirley, are soon the only children left at home and daily life at Ingleside is dominated by the war. Every piece of information in the newspapers is digested and casualty lists scoured on a daily basis but anxiety becomes the norm in the once happy house. Even the eternally optimistic Anne finds it hard to raise a smile as she frets for her sons and concentrates on her Red Cross activities. At a loss, Rilla is encouraged to create a junior branch of the Red Cross which leads her to the startling discovery of a baby whose mother has just died.
Although Rilla professes having no love for babies, she cannot bear to leave the child behind and takes him home to Ingleside where she is tasked with the responsibility of caring for him. Initially wary, Rilla soon warms to the task and the child thrives under her care. As the months pass into years, the Blythes worse fears are realised when they learn their second son, Walter, has been killed in action and the family are plunged in grief. Later, Jem will be reported missing in action and will be months before they learn he is alive.
Rilla of Ingleside has a much darker tone than the previous books which isn’t surprising since the author had just lived through the war years herself but I so wish the focus was still on Anne and Gilbert. We are told the loss of Walter affects Anne so deeply she is bedridden for weeks but it is all told through the eyes of Rilla who quickly moves on to the next crisis in her life and Anne’s grief seems quickly glossed over. The anxiety caused by the war is clearly felt as the Blythes wait for news from the front and keep themselves occupied by aiding war efforts where they can. However, family discussions are continuously dominated by Susan Baker who never seems to shut up and poor Anne can barely get in a word.
So concludes my journey through the series, however nothing compares to the first book Anne of Green Gables which will always be a favourite of mine.