Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery, published in 1915
Book #3 of the Anne of Green Gables series
I want to commend Montgomery’s choice of titles. Little 11-year-old Anne first belonged to Green Gables. When she became a teacher, she represented the community, and thus was of Avonlea. Finally, Anne has left Prince Edward Island to go to college in Nova Scotia, so she now represents the island. Book #3 takes place over those four college years. This isn’t like Queen’s Academy; Anne can’t run home on the weekends! Her first year is spent in a boarding house, but for years 2, 3, and 4 she rents an adorable home called “Patty’s Place” with some college girls, including new friend Philippa Gordon. The most prominent theme in Book #3 is marriage. All girls are expected to be engaged or married, and Anne gets her share of proposals, both romantic and hilarious.
Right on page 1 I felt Montgomery’s writing was noticeably more beautiful than it had been in Book #2. She describes the setting:
…the Lake of Shining Waters was blue — blue — blue; not the changeful blue of spring, nor the pale azure of summer, but a clear, steadfast, serene blue, as if the water were past all moods and tenses of emotion and had settled down to a tranquility unbroken by fickle dreams.
Book #3 was difficult to put down. We readers are all thinking the same thing: Will Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe EVER get it together??? And that’s why we keep reading. If Montgomery is to follow what readers want and expect (and she does and always has), then we can be happy knowing Anne and Gilbert are meant for each other, but how they get there — and all the close calls that almost prevent them from doing so — sure get your heart pounding and your eyes misty! As a result, Book #3 is my favorite so far.
The rhythm in Montgomery’s dialogue is spot on (don’t count Paul Irving in this generalization). Anne meets a variety of people, whom Montgomery capture with dialect. When Anne goes to substitute teach for a summer at a new school, she is picked up from the train station by Mrs. Skinner, who arrives with a wagon loaded with bags of mail. Anne scrunches in, and a whole chapter is spent with fat huffy-puffy Mrs. Skinner talking about how she was only recently married because there was another man after her. The whole story is funny — Montgomery makes it so by having us believe it is difficult for a fat woman to “catch” a man, but also Mrs. Skinner’s way of speaking. She cautions Anne about a swamp:
“If you take that way be awful keerful. If you once got stuck in that black mud you’d be sucked right down and never seen or heard tell of again till the day of judgment, like Adam Palmer’s cow.”
That same summer, a man named Sam, in patched trousers and a straw hat (where I come from, we call them hillbillies), asks Anne a question. I’m going to quote a bit here because it’s so funny and absurd, and Montgomery’s rhythm in Sam’s speaking is spot on.
“Wall, I’ve been thinking some of gitting a place of my own. There’s one that’d suit me over at Millersville. But ef I rents it I’ll want a woman.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” said Anne vaguely.
“Yep.” (<—notice that here you can tell this goon is just waiting for Anne to catch on!)
There was another long silence. Finally Sam removed his straw hat and said,
“Will yeh hev me?”
“Wh — a — t!” gasped Anne.
“Will yeh hev me?”
“Do you mean — marry you?” queried poor Anne feebly.
“Why I’m hardly acquainted with you,” cried Anne indignantly.
“But yeh’d git acquainted with me after we was married,” said Sam. (<—get what he’s implying here??)
Anne gathered up her poor dignity.
“Certainly I won’t marry you,” she said haughtily.
“Wall, yeh might do worse,” expostulated Sam.
As much as the dialogue and rhythm were excellent, and the love story kept me reading, there were a number of things that bothered me. For instance: this book contains the four years Anne is at college. But not once do we learn what happens in a classroom. It’s always, “oh, and the semester flew by and everyone studied themselves nearly to death, and then it was break and Anne went back to Avonlea.” Sure, the characters might quote a professor (but who can quote a professor at length??) and the narrator might mention Anne is doing tops in English, but still.
Really, Montgomery’s series is given life through the characters, not the more intellectual stuff. Mrs. Rachel Lynde, whose bossiness is amusing, is still around and trying to be helpful:
Mrs. Lynde gave Anne a patchwork quilt [ to use at Patty’s Place] and loaned her five more.
“You take them,” she said authoritatively. “They might as well be in use as packed away in that trunk in the garret for moths to gnaw.”
No moths would ever have ventured near those quilts, for they reeked of mothballs to such an extent that they had to be hung in the orchard of Patty’s Place for a full fortnight before they could be endured indoors.
Diana Barry is around a bit to help Anne’s dreams along, too! When Anne has trouble getting a story she wrote published, Diana takes action, submitting the story to a competition sponsored by a baking soda company. The only rule: the story must include the company’s name! Some changes had to be made to Anne’s story… Diana tells Anne,
“…and then, in the last paragraph, where Perceval clasps Averil in his arms and says, ‘Sweetheart, the beautiful coming years will bring us the fulfillment of our home of dreams,’ I added, ‘in which we will never use any baking powder except Rollings Reliable.”
New character Philippa Gordon, too, is amusing. She’s a rich girl who calls everyone honey, she’s highly intelligent, and a gorgeous flirt with several beaus. But… can she really pull her weight in Patty’s Place, where the girls must share in shopping, cooking, and cleaning? Philippa’s never done those things! The “common” life affects her:
“I never noticed before what exquisite things snowflakes really are. One has time to notice things like that in the simple life. Bless you all for permitting me to live it. It’s really delightful to feel worried because butter has gone up five cents a pound.”
Yet, there were a series of pages in which Montgomery allowed her characters to be a bunch of animal killers. A cat is trapped in a box and poisoned with chloroform, and then 8 pages later Anne is reading a letter from Davy (one of the twins Marilla is raising) that says her neighbor tried to hang his dog, but it didn’t work the first time, so he did it again. I was pretty disturbed by how casual everyone was about killing animals when Montgomery has led readers to believe all the plants and water and stars are full of fairy magic people.
There’s also a pettiness in Anne that I would have accepted as normal in my youth, but with which I grew exasperated in Book #3. Anne’s nose; how many times do I have to read it’s her best feature, which gives her comfort and saves her from being hideous? Describing people’s physical characteristics: someone’s big ears or walk or the shape of their eyes. Everything is game for criticism, and it grows tiresome. One character is so pleased she could love an ugly man, and isn’t that just delightful of her! None of this is more shallow that the dozens of Sweet Valley Twin novels I consumed in my youth, though.
For a long time in Book #2 and #3, I resented the narrator for not helping readers better understand why Anne refuses Gilbert’s love. It isn’t the “carrots” grudge from Book #1. What is it? It takes most of Book #3 to really understand that Anne wants nothing to change. And oh, how true that rings. Anne is caught in the middle of people marrying and dying and moving away, and houses changing ownership. There is mostly the fear that others are “growing up” without her (college doesn’t seem to count — only marriage is “grown up”). When Anne is at Patty’s Place with her college girl friends, she misses Green Gables, and vice versa. How familiar to me! When she’s with Gilbert, she doesn’t want his love, when he’s with other girls, she’s instantly mean.
But Gilbert waits patiently, as he always has. And really, he’s a good friend who socializes with everyone; he doesn’t force himself on Anne or her space. Think about movies that are deemed “romantic” that, upon further examination, normalize stalking behavior: Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones’s Diary, Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters, Mr. Big in Sex and the City.
Anne of the Island is my favorite book in the series so far. Montgomery hasn’t lost her sassy humor, her lifelike characters, or her ability to create suspense.
This book was read as part of Cathy 746’s challenge to read 20 books between June 1st and September 5th.