The American Spinster Review of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of the Island & Anne of Windy Poplars
(Though I normally try to avoid spoilers, I should warn you that if you’re unfamiliar with the Anne series, I’ll be giving away the ending of Anne of the Island.)
L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is well-known, even if the sequels are not frequently read or remembered. Anne of The Island and Anne of Windy Poplars are the 3rd and 4th books, respectively, and take place after Anne has moved away from home but before she gets married.
In Anne of The Island, Anne Shirley moves away from her beloved home at Green Gables to study at Redmond College. While women regularly attended colleges in Canada at that time (the late 19th to early 20th centuries), there were still many people who saw it as a waste of time and money to give a woman a higher education, since she would simply marry a few years later. Anne herself is accused of going just to “catch a man.” Nothing could be farther from the truth, as Anne spends a fair amount of her time refusing proposals and avoiding her friend Gilbert Blythe’s advances.
Although romance takes up a good portion of The Island, the story is, as ever, about Anne and her remarkable outlook on life. She’s homesick initially, but soon meets up with friends from her hometown and makes new friends at Redmond. One of my favorite moments is when Anne and several friends rent a house together. When the former tenants leave, the women move in and put their personal touches on the place.
“How those young women enjoyed putting their nest together. As [Phillipa] said, it was almost as good as getting married. You had the fun of homemaking without the bother of a husband.”
Throughout the novel, Anne receives several marriage proposals that range from the ridiculous to the insulting, and it’s both sad and humorous to see the way her girlhood ideas about that romantic moment buckle under the weight of reality. Anne manages to take it all in stride and keep a cheerful outlook, at least until Gilbert proposes. Although everyone around her can see that she loves him, Anne is devastated, and refuses him outright, saying he’s ruined everything.
It’s only after the tall, dark, and handsome man of Anne’s dreams makes his proposal that she realizes following the notions of her youth might not be the best way to live one’s adult life. In the end, Anne accepts Gilbert’s proposal, and agrees to wait for him while he completes his education to become a doctor.
It’s a beautifully-written story of a young woman spreading her wings and ultimately enjoying her first taste of independence. Anne is the epitome of what many girls aspire to become: independent, intelligent, strong-willed, and loving.
Anne of Windy Poplars is the chronological continuation of the previous novel. While her fiancee Gilbert is in college, Anne takes a job in Summerside as a school teacher. Much of the novel is told through Anne’s letters to Gilbert, in which she describes her life as a boarder at Windy Poplars.
I like this story, because we’re introduced to two resolute spinsters with very different backgrounds and personalities. The first is Rebecca Dew, the long-time servant at Windy Poplars, who has a deep love-hate relationship with the household cat. The second, far more interesting character is Katherine Brooke, Anne’s fellow teacher.
Katherine is a sour person, who seems to go out of her way to annoy Anne and make her unhappy. Anne, however, refuses to let anyone make her bitter, and resolves to win Katherine over. As the book continues, it looks like Anne might really have met her match, and may need to learn to accept the possibility that there are incurably miserable people in her world.
In her final effort, Anne invites Katherine to come home with her to Green Gables over the winter holiday. I won’t give away the details, because it’s a great moment to read, but suffice to say Anne manages to earn Katherine’s friendship, and helps her move into a happier lifestyle.
At the end of the book, Anne heads back to Avonlea to marry Gilbert, saying goodbye to her life as a single woman.
The novel was published after the chronological completion of the Anne series, which ended with Rilla of Ingleside, the story of Anne’s daughter. The addition of this book into the cannon probably came as a result of the high demand for more stories about Anne. Whatever the reason, I’m glad Montgomery revisited this time in Anne’s life, and gave us the details of the time she spent as a working woman. It’s one of my favorite books of the series.