Anne of Ingleside by L M Montgomery

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I do try to use the version of the cover that I actually read but in this case, the only picture I can find of it is the size of a postage stamp and it has someone – Anne? Di? Rilla? – looking decidedly grumpy on it.

So, Anne of Ingleside is the sixth of eight books in the series following the famous Anne of Green Gables, which I read when I was… eleven, maybe? However, it was the last written, and the gap between the sixth and seventh chronologically was fifteen years. It’s odd to think that while Anne was in Summerside, Rilla of Ingleside had already been written – Montgomery already knew exactly how many children she was going to have and what was going to become of them and which ones weren’t going to make it to the last page of the last book, and then went back and wrote Anne in her first and only real job.

By the time Anne of Ingleside opens, Anne is married to childhood sweetheart Gilbert Blythe, a village doctor sixty miles from their home village of Avonlea, with five children. Jem is seven, Walter is six, the twins must be about five, Shirley is two and Rilla is born in this book. Incidentally, I don’t know why Shirley exists. He never appears on the page at all. The only thing ever said about him is he is Susan’s favourite because she looked after him when he was born and Anne nearly died. That’s it. That’s the extend of Shirley’s characterisation.

This book is pretty episodic and more about the children than Anne herself, although the first third of the book deals with a very extended visit by a most unwelcome aunt of Gilbert’s, who came for a fortnight – while Anne is pretty heavily pregnant – and stays eleven months and is the most disagreeable and interfering house guest in the world. It does drag a bit for the reader too, how miserable the entire family becomes and how helpless they are.

Most of the stories are about the exploits of the children – Jem’s bad luck with dogs and his quest to buy Anne a pearl necklace for her birthday, the twins and their ill-fated friendships, Walter listening to the Ladies’ Aid quilting party and giving them all a shock by gravely announcing the words “his bottom”, Rilla and her lisp and sense of shame at carrying a cake. The kids just about manage to stay on the right side of sweet – just. They do come quite close to tipping over into Perfect Beacons of Innocent Childhood and none of them have the same spice that eleven-year-old Anne did, but then none of them are the protagonist of the story. Because there isn’t really a single protagonist or even a story, it’s just a series of anecdotes about the Blythe family.

It does finish with a pretty dismal story. Gilbert, worrying about a patient he’s sent for controversial treatment who may die (but doesn’t think to tell Anne about), is distracted and distant and forgets their wedding anniversary while Anne feels old and neglected. They go for dinner with a colleague of Gilbert’s and are introduced to Christine Stuart, an ex of Gilbert’s and nemesis of Anne’s, at which inconvenient point Gilbert puts his patient out of his mind and manages to become quite animated in Christine’s company, making Anne both wildly jealous and also feel more neglected. Of course, it all turns out ok. Gilbert was right about the patient who makes a good recovery, Christine is a terrible bore and he’s not actually interested in her at all and never was and he hasn’t forgotten their anniversary, it’s just that the present didn’t arrive on time and he hoped if he didn’t mention it, she wouldn’t notice. But after an entire book of childish exploits and friendships, this is quite a depressing story to finish on, Anne thinking that her marriage is falling apart. It’s been some years since I last read this book and that’s the story that stuck in my mind, to the point that I was surprised the more cheerful stuff even existed. Combined with the grumpy face on the cover, it does make me less inclined to pick it up and reread it than, say, Anne of the Island, about Anne’s student days.

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