Lucy Maud Montgomery, Rilla and the War Years

by | Jul 19, 2023 | Children, Fiction

The book series of Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, is known internationally and has been translated into at least 36 languages. But not everyone knows that the content of one of the books in this series sheds light on the voluntary labour of Canadian women during the First World War. Rilla of Ingleside, published in 1921, is the story of Anne’s youngest daughter, Marilla. Nicknamed ‘Rilla’ for short, this young heroine is just fourteen as the story opens at the outbreak of war in 1914. The book follows young Rilla as she grows to womanhood through the triumphs and tragedies of war, as it affects her, her family, her community and the country and world in which she lives.

This book clearly portrays the lives of women on the home front. Though the series is fictional, it is easy to see where Montgomery has drawn on daily experiences as she weaves this tale of ‘coming of age’. What is markedly beautiful is how Montgomery describes the making of textiles to show the industry and participation of women in the war years, and how the emotional struggles they experienced were interwoven into the textiles were making.

At the suggestion of her mother Anne, Rilla starts a Junior Red Cross group of young women her age to gather and sew for the war. Rilla doesn’t enjoy sewing, especially the tedious task of sewing sheets, and she struggles to knit socks – “to turn a heel”. But she sees this work as her duty, particularly to her brothers and other men who were overseas fighting, that she must do something that she didn’t like in order to do her part while they were suffering on the front.

I won’t reveal more – I hope you will read this book yourself if you haven’t already, or perhaps read it again if it has been awhile. I read it for the first time at the recommendation of a friend when I started this research. It is not necessary to have read previous books in the series – the author effortlessly introduces her characters as though they were not known before. Though fictional, in the absence of real diaries and other intimate records, I believe L.M. Montgomery’s skilled writing offers a rare glimpse and insight into the perspectives of women during the First World War who kept the home fires burning. And I believe the emotions and attitudes expressed reflect what women throughout the world have experienced and continue to experience, over one hundred years later, in periods of war and upheaval – fear, anger, devotion, conflict, frustration, love, courage, caring and hope.