The American Spinster Review of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of the Island & Anne of Windy Poplars
About The Anne Series
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.
So why do these two books about the happily married mother of seven have a place at The American Spinster? Read on…
Anne of the Island
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), many people still saw it as a waste of time and money to give a woman a higher education. The rationale being that she would simply marry a few years later, making her education useless. 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 marriage proposals as well as avoiding the advances of her friend Gilbert.
Although romance takes up a good portion of The Island, the story is, as ever, about Anne’s remarkable outlook on life. Despite being homesick initially, she’s soon reveling in her newfound freedom. 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.
Why it makes the list
Anne of the Island is a beautifully-written story of a young woman spreading her wings and enjoying her first taste of independence. While Anne does marry later in the series (and finally accepts a proposal at the end of Island), this doesn’t negate the story’s significance to single women. Anne leaves home on her own, makes friends in a new city, and enjoys herself tremendously. She even gets a house with her single, independent friends. Anne is the epitome of what many girls aspire to become: independent, intelligent, strong-willed, and loving. And in this story we see her continue to pursue and accomplish her dreams – no spouse or baby required.
Anne of Windy Poplars
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. This gives the novel a more episodic structure than many of the others in this series, with several storylines and character arcs. But in this review, I’m only looking at one character’s story…
Characters & Themes
This is probably my favorite installment of the Anne series, 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.
Why it makes the list
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. But whatever the reason, I’m glad Montgomery revisited this time in Anne’s life.
Windy Poplars gives us the details of the time she spent as a working woman. She is once again on her own in a new city. She again has her own private space; a room at a boarding house inhabited exclusively by single women. And, of course, Windy Poplars gives us Katherine.
With Anne’s encouragement, Katherine abandons her unhappy life working as a teacher and leaps right into a life of travel and adventure. She sends Anne a letter describing her new job as a secretary to a traveling M.P. who is, as Anne says, “A person who would say, ‘Let’s go to Egypt,’ as one would say, ‘Let’s go to Charlottetown… and go! That life will just suit Katherine.”
For a book series about a woman who marries the perfect man and has the perfect traditional life with the perfect brood of rosy-cheeked babies, the Anne series kicks down barriers and social stereotypes about women quite a bit. When Anne is single, she is happy to be single. She doesn’t accept the first (or second, or third…) proposal she receives, and thinks very long and hard about what will be best for her. And in the end, she chooses not the idealized man of her dreams, but the man who will complement her life the best.
Further, when Anne works her Anne-magic on Katherine, the ‘fix’ for all of Katherine’s woes is not for her to get the kind of life that Anne has. Not once does Anne try to convince Katherine that she’ll be happier with a man in her life. Katherine says she never wanted to get married, and they leave it at that. A century before Frozen, L. M. Montgomery told girls that their ‘happily ever after’ doesn’t have to include a wedding.
And that’s amazing.
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