Tuesday, March 13, 2012

L. M. Montgomery--Following my curiosity to WWI

I fell in love with L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables books when I was a kid.  When I was an adult, I discovered that there were two more books in the series than I'd known about--Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside.  I assume that they were out of print for a time, or maybe our library just never had them.  (Warning: some of the below contains spoilers).

Rilla's story set me off on a whole new direction of (highly informal) study, though.  Set in WWI, the story tracks Anne's youngest daughter from age 15 (when the war breaks out) to 18, when the war finally ends, Kenneth Ford comes home, and we are left to understand they will live happily ever after.  Reading the book made me realize how little I knew about the First World War.  WWII was my parents' war--they finished high school just about the time the war was ending, and my Dad signed on with the Merchant Marine while the fighting was still going on.  Many of my relatives went; my Mom's uncle was killed, and the war years, following immediately on the Depression, shaped my parents' generation in ways that continue to affect me.  I've read tons of books on WWII.

But when I started to look at WWI, my grandparents' war (of course, they got the dubious pleasure of participating in both wars, as young people of military age the first time, then as parents, and siblings, of soldiers the next), I found that there's a lot less information about that war out there.  I'm willing to bet that for every book on WWI, there are five or six on WWII.  Partly, that's because the US didn't join in until nearly the end.  I suspect WWI left more of a mark on the English and Canadians who fought it from the beginning than on the US.

Which brings us back to Anne and Rilla, since they are Canadian, and the war impacted them and their community in every aspect of their lives, much as WWII did in my own family.  Maybe that was some of the fascination of the story, because I could get a glimpse into what it meant to a family and a village for most of the young men to go to war.

What Montgomery didn't explain to my satisfaction was the love story.  That is, we get Rilla's side of things, but Ken's experience is largely unknown, and his behavior at the end of the story left me unsatisfied.  Why on earth had he been home for two weeks before contacting Rilla, and why did he just show up on her doorstep, without sending word?  That's what really kicked off my research--I needed to find out what his experience was, because I needed to understand him.  That led to a lot of interesting reading (and some frustrating research--finding books that might address the Canadian experience of the war, from my base in CA, hasn't been easy).

And, because I'm a writer, in the end, my efforts to understand led to the inevitable.  I've been writing the story from Ken's side, because in the end, that seems to be the only way to understand him.  I don't think my work will ever be a full-length novel (maybe a novella?), but I'll be sharing some bits as things reach that point.  So if any of you share my curiosity, watch this space and I hope I can satisfy it a bit!

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