Sunday, August 16, 2009
Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne's House of Dreams, and Anne of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
What a roller-coaster ride these three books are! Amongst these books are wht I think is my favorite, and what I know is my most unfavorite of all the Anne books, and scenes that in turn made me feel like I knew, and then feel like I was a little ashamed of, Ms Montgomery, the Author.
I suppose it's best to start, at this point, by mentioning that while I'm reading these books in order, it's the internal chronology of Anne's world, rather than the order in which they were written. In fact, after Anne of the Island, Ms Montgomery wrote House of Dreams, then the two Rilla books, which I'll be reading next (Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside). Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside came only much later on in her life (along with, apparently, a collection of poems and short stories about the family, which she never finished, but which will be published this year apparently! Bounce-bounce-bounce!). This is pretty obvious in the novels. In part this is for practical reasons - characters introduced in Windy Poplars are never mentioned in House of Dreams, but then are mentioned again in Ingleside. But more than this there is the style of the writing.
I mentioned in the review of books 1-3, Ms Montgomery suffered from major, debilitating depression for most of her life, and in fact probably killed herself at the end by a drug overdose (her family has said this is so, apparently, but some scholars disagree. A very nice column by Montgomery's granddaughter on the subject is available from the Toronto Globe and Mail). This depression seems to have increased after her marriage, probably because her husband suffered from teh same ailment, and the role of a clergyman's wife in Canada at the time was a pretty constricting one for her. It's difficult not to imagine one feels this descent in her writing.
As I intimated before, LM Montgomery's charm for me is that her writing is so close to her own bones. You feel in Anne of Green Gables a triumphant sort of rebellion against reality, someone saying 'you know, really, the world COULD be like this, if we let it.' The culmination of this feeling for me, was in Anne of the Island, and it is in Anne's House of Dreams that the unexpected fruit of the tree is borne. Without a doubt my favorite of the Anne Books so far, House of Dreams is the book where I felt like Montgomery quietly, carefully tried to put Anne into reality, and see what happened. Anne's best friend here is a woman who was forced to marry an abusive man by her own manipulative mother, only to have the man dissapear on a sea voyage, then reappear with severe brain damage. She spends her life, then, forced to care for the invalid man who she once hated, and who has now reverted to a childlike state that is finally capable of giving love. She is at once in complete control of him, and yet utterly constrained by him. Then, on top of this ((((SPOILER ALERT!!!!)))
Anne herself has a child, who dies shortly after it's born. The child is not born dead, she is able to feel a happiness over it, but only long enough to realize that the creature is doomed, and she watches it die - watches it, essentially it seems, very slowly choke to death. On top of this, you have the natural difficulties innate to being a newlywed, especially at a time when marriage constricted a woman into a very small place, and you see, for the first time, Anne really realize that she must not only have one of her dreams not turn out, btu that she must choose to grow up, and leave the dream behind at the end of the book,
(((END SPOILER ALERT!!!!)))
Throughout, Anne remains Anne - in the most honest way imaginable. Her Anne-ness is at once what makes her beautiful and what makes the world hurt her as much as it does. The characters in this book, from the sea-captain to the best friend to the gossipy neighbor, are deeply felt and eminently meaningful, each showing us a little piece of Anne herself, of the pieces of her that struggle for a future supremacy. And in the end, in something that is a bit shocking in an Anne novel, you don't feel happy. It's not a neat, tidy, happy feeling of completion. It's a real, painful feeling of leaving behind something, comparable, for me, to the feeling at the end of Finding Neverland (which is a wonderful movie, btw).
It'll be fascinating, then, to read the two Rilla novels, because the last two Anne novels are completely different.
Windy Poplars was... fine. IT was alright. IT felt a little overwrought, some of the characters felt a little recycled, but the little girl next door to Anne was beautiful, and metaphorically very powerful (I won't get into it, because I know I've already rambled a long time). More than, anything, it feels like the book written by someone who, herself, desperately wants to re-experience the old Anne, the pure child-Anne of before she grew up. It feels like a sort of Valentine to the Series' past.
Ingleside doesn't. I have to admit deeply disliking this book. IT had a few, narrow bright moments, but all in all, it felt frenetic and desperate, and terrifiedly artificial. Anne in this book, is little more than a shell, and the voice she speaks with feels more like the author than anything. The values embodied in the book are not only grossly inconsistent with the other books, but horrifying of their own rite. Anne, in this book, seems to have become exactly the kind of miserable, judgemental old cat that she so playfully lampoons in the other books, snobbish and uppity, class-conscious and close-minded. This isn't to say I felt like the book was evil - more like (and I'm probably over-projecting, here, having little idea about the author's biography) Ms Montgomery, the Anne-of-real-life, had been too hurt and too damaged by being the beautiful, vigorous, endlessly vulnerable Anne, and was desperately trying to reconstruct herself, trying to find a way to be happy without being vulnerable - and it is my opinion, and more importantly, I think Anne's opinion, that this is utterly impossible. The very beauty of Anne is, was, and I imagine will be in the last two books, that she IS vulnerable. That she DOESN'T wrap herself up in the dishonest defense mechanisms that normal people retreat into. Her heroism is that she sails into adulthood with no armor on her prow, clear and beautiful as teh day she first enters the pages of Green Gables, and aware of what this may eventually cost her, but able to keep her optimism with the fierceness of a flagbearer.
I didn't finish Ingleside hating Montgomery the way I've hated other authors who've hurt beautiful characters. I finished it pitying her. Her entire life she lived as the sort of soul who CAN still understand an Anne, and then suddenly, at the end, she is finally so damaged that her own beautiful child (well, literary child) is inaccessible to her. Ingleside, as far as I'm concerned, isn't even an Anne novel, and I deeply, lovingly wish (for Montgomery's sake more than mine) that it was.