Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery
originally published 1936
Bantam, 14th printing, 1988
Genre: Juvenalia, young adult, children’s lit
Synopsis & Review: Following Anne of the Island and preceding Anne’s House of Dreams (though written much later, oddly), Anne of Windy Poplars finds Anne Shirley, our redoubtable redhead, happily engaged to Gilbert Blythe at long last. While he does a three year medical course, she takes a position as a high school principal in Summerside, PEI. This marks the first time that Anne will be away from Green Gables and Avonlea without familiar faces nearby (as when she attended Queens and Redmond), and while she puts out feelers in the community of Summerside, she also writes a great many letters to Gilbert. Summerside is not the most welcoming town at first; it seems that when Anne got the position over a cousin of theirs, the local clan the Pringles vowed to have nothing to do with her. She cannot board with the Pringle family who always boards the principals, she is left out of choir and not invited to parties, and worst of all, is subject to constant insubordination in school. It seems that at least half of Summerside is Pringle or part-Pringle. And her vie-principal, Katherine Brooke, goes out of her way to be hateful to Anne.
Despite the prevalence of Pringles, Anne finds kindred spirits. She boards at Windy Poplars on Spook’s Lane with the widows Aunt Kate and Aunt Chatty, their cat Dusty Miller, and housekeeper Rebecca Dew. She also befriends their little neighbor, Elizabeth Grayson, a whimsical sprite trapped in a dark old house with her grandmother Mrs Campbell and her Woman. And once she subjugates the Pringles, Anne has no shortage of interesting experiences, becoming confidante to young women, inspiring her students, and charming even the crankiest of cranks.
Though when I was younger I would often skim Windy Poplars, as an adult it is by far my favorite Anne book. (Of the sequels, I suppose. Well, maybe of all. I’m just not sure where I’d rank Green Gables as a standalone. Nah, I’ll let it stay in first place.) And discovering that a lot of people don’t like it could lead to snide remarks about their relative maturity, but I won’t go there. I’ll just plant that little seed in your imagination. I didn’t say anything of the sort.
It’s different in style from the other Anne books, being largely epistolary, and I wonder whether it is that change that throws so many readers off. Much of the narrative is communicated through Anne’s letters to Gilbert (love-dovey bits tastefully left to the imagination), with occasional episodes told in the more usual third-person with which we’re familiar from the rest of the series. This gives Windy Poplars an intimacy above and beyond that of the other novels, and Anne’s voice is clearest here, for she is writing directly to us readers. The other major charm of the novel that could be off-putting for some (I’m not passing judgment here) is the lack of familiar faces. Anne is in a new environment, and for the first time since arriving in Avonlea, has no support close at hand. She doesn’t have her school chums with her as she did at Queens and Redmond, but instead must begin entirely anew, with support at a distance. When combined with the various scrapes and incidents Anne is caught up in, this sometimes gives Windy Poplars a more episodic feel than other Anne books (though we’re fooling ourselves if we don’t recognize how episodic the others really are). It might be better compared to Chronicles of Avonlea and Further Chronicles of Avonlea, the two very excellent collections of related stories that were published right in the middle of her writing the Anne books. It’s kind of fitting that the Windy Poplars interludes sometimes are reminiscent of her short stories, as Lucy Maud had previously published a few of them in magazines as short stories.
In the depiction of small town life, the various freaks and foibles of people everywhere, Lucy Maud is hardly matched anywhere in YA literature. The various tales that run in the background of most other Anne books are brought to the forefront of Windy Poplars, as they are in her short stories. These are sometimes much darker in tone than the forestories, telling of loneliness, bitterness, and pride, or hurt, abused, and neglected children, of abandoned parents and relations, or dark, twisted passions. For example, Little Elizabeth’ s unhappy home with her Grandmother and the Woman at The Evergreens is a result of the pain the two women felt when her mother died giving birth to her: Little Elizabeth did not know that the mother whose life she had cost had been that bitter old woman’s darling and, if she had known, could not have understood what perverted shapes thwarted love can take. This subtext of frustrated attachment is contrasted with the happy female household Anne makes for herself at Windy Poplars with the Aunts and Rebecca Dew; by delaying her marriage to Gilbert and finding female companionship and support, Anne makes for herself a very happy life in Summerside.
I love Anne in this one. She hasn’t settled down yet, and since she’s engaged to Gilbert now, there’s no more of the irritating dithering present in Island. (There’s also a bit less mooning over Nature’s Beauty, which I sometimes have Quite Enough of.) For the first time since perhaps Green Gables, it’s all Anne, all the time, and it’s so much fun. (I’m not even going to mention Avonlea here, because it was always my least favorite. I think I’ve only read it twice, once when I first read the series, and once when I finally bought a copy at age twenty-two. Davy and Dora suck, and so does AVIS.) It’s fun to finally see once loquacious Anne out chatterboxed by Miss Valentine Courtaloe and Miss Minerva Tomgallon, and even by the wretched Hazel Marr. The former two ladies’ stories of Summerside life and death are one of the particular joys of Windy Poplars, though I do wish I could read a Windy Willows edition to see just what was left out! The triumph of Sophy Sinclair is magnificent, and the tale of Lewis and the Little Fellow, and also Little Elizabeth’s story–though a bit trite–are sweet. The Raymond children are hysterical holy terrors, but out of a book chock full o’ humor (I found myself a recipe for pumpkin preserves, you know), the Cyrus Taylor dinner is screamingly funny.
Read also: Anne of Green Gables, Chronicles of Avonlea, Further Chronicles of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty, Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster
Cover: Part of my collection of the mass-market paperbacks. I got the second box set (Windy Poplars, House of Dreams, and Ingleside) for Christmas the year after my mother introduced me to Anne of Green Gables. I dig this cover; you can almost feel the brisk, autumnal wind, it’s a pretty scene, and Anne looks cute in that ensemble. (Hell, I’d rock that ensemble if I could find it.) She’s grown, but not matronly.
Cyrus would not say grace. Mrs. Cyrus, blushing beet-red, murmured almost inaudibly, “For what we are about to receive the Lord make us truly thankful.” The meal started badly by nervous Esme dropping her fork on the floor. Everybody except Cyrus jumped, because their nerves were likewise keyed up to the highest pitch. Cyrus glared at Esme out of his bulging blue eyes in a kind of enraged stillness. Then he glared at everybody and froze them into dumbness. He glared at poor Mrs. Cyrus, when she took a helping of horseradish sauce, with a glare that reminded her of her weak stomach. She couldn’t eat any of it after that . . . and she was so fond of it. She didn’t believe it would hurt her. But for that matter she couldn’t eat anything, nor could Esme. They only pretended. The meal proceeded in a ghastly silence, broken by spasmodic speeches about the weather from Trix and Anne. Trix implored Anne with her eyes to talk, but Anne found herself for once in her life with absolutely nothing to say. She felt desperately that she must talk, but only the most idiotic things came into her head . . . things it would be impossible to utter aloud. Was everyone bewitched? It was curious, the effect one sulky, stubborn man had on you. Anne couldn’t have believed it possible. And there was no doubt that he was really quite happy in the knowledge that he had made everybody at his table horribly uncomfortable. What on earth was going on in his mind? Would he jump if any one stuck a pin in him? Anne wanted to slap him . . . rap his knuckles . . . stand him in a corner . . . treat him like the spoiled child he really was, in spite of his spiky gray hair and truculent mustache.
Above all she wanted to make him speak. She felt instinctively that nothing in the world would punish him so much as to be tricked into speaking when he was determined not to.
Suppose she got up and deliberately smashed that huge, hideous, old-fashioned vase on the table in the corner . . . an ornate thing covered with wreaths of roses and leaves which it was most difficult to dust but which must be kept immaculately clean. Anne knew that the whole family hated it, but Cyrus Taylor would not hear of having it banished to the attic, because it had been his mother’s. Anne thought she would do it fearlessly if she really believed that it would make Cyrus explode into vocal anger.
Why didn’t Lennox Carter talk? If he would, she, Anne, could talk, too, and perhaps Trix and Pringle would escape from the spell that bound them and some kind of conversation would be possible. But he simply sat there and ate. Perhaps he thought it was really the best thing to do . . . perhaps he was afraid of saying something that would still further enrage the evidently already enraged parent of his lady.
“Will you please start the pickles, Miss Shirley?” said Mrs. Taylor faintly.
Something wicked stirred in Anne. She started the pickles . . . and something else. Without letting herself stop to think she bent forward, her great, gray-green eyes glimmering limpidly, and said gently,
“Perhaps you would be surprised to hear, Dr. Carter, that Mr. Taylor went deaf very suddenly last week?”
Anne sat back, having thrown her bomb. She could not tell precisely what she expected or hoped. If Dr. Carter got the impression that his host was deaf instead of in a towering rage of silence, it might loosen his tongue. She had not told a falsehood . . . she had not said Cyrus Taylor was deaf. As for Cyrus Taylor, if she had hoped to make him speak she had failed. He merely glared at her, still in silence.
But Anne’s remark had an effect on Trix and Pringle that she had never dreamed of. Trix was in a silent rage herself. She had, the moment before Anne had hurled her rhetorical question, seen Esme furtively wipe away a tear that had escaped from one of her despairing blue eyes. Everything was hopeless . . . Lennox Carter would never ask Esme to marry him now . . . it didn’t matter any more what any one said or did. Trix was suddenly possessed with a burning desire to get square with her brutal father. Anne’s speech gave her a weird inspiration, and Pringle, a volcano of suppressed impishness, blinked his white eyelashes for a dazed moment and then promptly followed her lead. Never, as long as they might live, would Anne, Esme or Mrs. Cyrus forget the dreadful quarter of an hour that followed.
“Such an affliction for poor papa,” said Trix, addressing Dr. Carter across the table. “And him only sixty-eight.”
Two little white dents appeared at the corners of Cyrus Taylor’s nostrils when he heard his age advanced six years. But he remained silent.
“It’s such a treat to have a decent meal,” said Pringle, clearly and distinctly. “What would you think, Dr. Carter, of a man who makes his family live on fruit and eggs . . . nothing but fruit and eggs . . . just for a fad?”
“Does your father . . . ?” began Dr. Carter bewilderedly.
“What would you think of a husband who bit his wife when she put up curtains he didn’t like . . . deliberately bit her?” demanded Trix.
“Till the blood came,” added Pringle solemnly.
“Do you mean to say your father . . . ?”
“What would you think of a man who would cut up a silk dress of his wife’s just because the way it was made didn’t suit him?” said Trix.
“What would you think,” said Pringle, “of a man who refuses to let his wife have a dog?”
“When she would so love to have one,” sighed Trix.
“What would you think of a man,” continued Pringle, who was beginning to enjoy himself hugely, “who would give his wife a pair of goloshes for a Christmas present . . . nothing but a pair of goloshes?”
“Goloshes don’t exactly warm the heart,” admitted Dr. Carter. His eyes met Anne’s and he smiled. Anne reflected that she had never seen him smile before. It changed his face wonderfully for the better. What was Trix saying? Who would have thought she could be such a demon?
25- October – 29 October