Tuesday, April 13, 2021

1936 Club: Anne of Windy Poplars by L. M. Montgomery


While searching for an appropriate book for the 1936 Club, I realized that Anne of Windy Poplars, fourth in the Anne of Green Gables series, was published that year. Six of the books in the series were published from 1908 to 1921, but later in her career, L. M. Montgomery went back and filled in the gaps before and after Anne's House of Dreams; (Anne of Ingleside was published in 1939.)

Anyway, it was an easy choice, especially after my previous read, which was good but a little depressing. I hadn't read any of the Anne books for a few years, so I quickly sped through Anne of Anne of the Island (volume 3) to get caught up with Anne in volume 4. I'm very glad I did because although I enjoyed the third book, I much preferred the fourth. (This post will contain very mild spoilers about Anne's career and love life, but nothing really shocking).

So, our beloved Anne Shirley, spunky orphan from Prince Edward Island, is now a graduate of Redmond College, and has a three-year job as principal of Summerside High School, also on Prince Edward Island. She's engaged to Gilbert Blythe, who is in medical school, and much of the book is Anne's lengthy letters to Gilbert (sadly, no letters from Gilbert to Anne are included). The story begins with Anne looking for lodgings in Summerside. Traditionally, the principal boards with Mrs. Tom Pringle, who has decided not to take lodgers. Anne finds a room boarding at a house delightfully named Windy Poplars, with two widows, Aunt Kate and Aunt Chatty, and Aunt Kate's curmudgeonly yet lovable cousin, Rebecca Dew, who is sort of a housemaid/milkmaid/Greek chorus. Windy Poplars is just the sort of charming, romantic house that would attract Anne, situated on a road called Spook's Lane, with a tower bedroom, across from a graveyard. 

Nice cover, but Anne is far too young -- 
she'd have her skirts down and her hair up if she were the school principal! 

The reason that Mrs. Pringle won't take Anne as a boarder becomes quickly apparent. The Pringles and "half-Pringles" are the dominant family in the area, and they run the show. Before even arriving, they're mad at Anne for having the gall to be hired as principal over one of their own clan, and they are determined to make her life difficult behind her back, though they appear to be kind to her in person, inviting her for dinners, etc. But they undermine her at the school at every turn, especially with the students who are insubordinate, refuse to do homework, play pranks on her at every turn. However, Anne manages to get the better of them when they attempt to sabotage the school play. 

Of course Anne wins them over eventually, with a bit of deus ex machina. (Which is fine).There are also other recurring characters, including Katherine, a prickly co-worker who was also angling for the job; and Elizabeth, a miserable child living next door who seems to have the worst guardians and the loneliest existence in the world. Naturally, Anne's inherent sunny disposition and cockeyed optimism change their lives. 

This volume isn't groundbreaking or particularly exciting as far as Anne's story goes (or in the greater annals of children's literature). Basically, it just seems amusing filler in the Anne chronicles before her marriage. Nothing really happens to Anne other than meeting interesting and eccentric characters in Summerside, or improving the lives of everyone around her. You could even read this as a stand-alone novel if you didn't know anything else about Anne Shirley -- I actually found it easier to read than the previous novel, Anne of the Island (due to the gap in my reading I'd forgotten a lot of the secondary characters and was a bit confused at times).


Still, the fun and quirky characters are what makes this book delightful, if a little too good to be true, sometimes. But it's Anne Shirley and who doesn't need a little unrealistic levity right about now? It's just the thing for a pandemic comfort read, and I will probably finish the rest of the series this year.

In this passage, Anne is taking a tour of the cemetery and getting a little local color from one of the residents: 

The MacTabbs were all handsome but you could never believe a word they said. There used to be a stone here for his Uncle Samuel, who was reported drowned at sea fifty years ago. When he turned up alive the family took the stone down. The man they bought it from wouldn't take it back, so Mrs. Samuel used it for a baking-board. Talk about a marble slab for mixing on! That old tombstone was just fine, she said. The MacTabb children were always bringing cookies to school with raised letters and figures on them. . . scraps of the epigraph. They gave them away real generous, but I never could bring myself to eat one. I'm peculiar that way. 

I'm quite sure I will remember this story the next time I'm rolling out cookie dough!

There are many, many editions out there, and while searching for cover images, I also found this:


Apparently Anne of Windy Poplars was adapted as a 1940 movie! It's not on DVD but you can find clips on YouTube. The full movie may be online somewhere but I wasn't able to find it. I did find a synopsis of the plot on Wikipedia which you can read here, it sounds absolutely terrible. Has anyone seen it? I'd love to know! 

 I'm counting this as my Children's Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge. And thanks again to Simon and Kaggsy for hosting the 1936 Club! 

19 comments:

  1. This was my least favorite in the series! I missed Avonlea and found the Pringles' attacks on Anne very disturbing. However, during the pandemic I found a Windy Willows edition which made me think it might be time for a reread. Not this week, however!

    A group of LMM fans have been doing group reads on Facebook over the past year, beginning with Rilla of Ingleside. It is the best use of Facebook ever.

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    1. Yes, the Pringles were a real piece of work. I'm quite curious about the Windy Willows editions, apparently there were some cuts due to "perceived gory or terrifying content." I'm having a hard time imagining what it could have been!

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  2. I only read the first book in the series, I was prepared to think it for a younger audience than me, but was very pleasantly surprised, so I bought the rest of the series. That I will come to someday, when I finish that physical TBR... Unrealistic levity would be good, indeed ;)

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    1. I was actually wondering if this is really a children's classic, it almost seems YA to me. But my library shelves it in the children's section.

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  3. Ah this is a lovely choice - I've still only read the first of the series, but maybe we should try to make a club coincide with the date for the second...

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    1. Anne of Avonlea is 1909! Have you done a reading club as early as that?

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  4. I did not realize this was from 1936 as well! I read it several times along with most of the Anne books, but my memory of the details was foggy. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much.

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    1. Yes, I was surprised at the gap in publishing. I guess she wanted to go back and write more of Anne's story.

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  5. I revisited a couple of Anne books a few years ago. Although I thought Anne of Green Gables was just as interesting as I did when I was a girl, her personality didn't work as well for an older girl, I found, so I gave up trying to read any others. I loved them when I was young, though. I just didn't think they work as well for adults as some other books.

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    1. I wish I had read them when I was younger! Somehow I missed them as a child. I can't imagine my library not having them. I may have mixed Anne up with Pollyanna who sounded too annoyingly sweet and therefore skipped them.

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  6. A fine choice for pandemic comfort reading! I read the books so, so many times as a child (I literally wore copies out from rereading constantly between ages 8 and 10) that returning to them as an adult is always a strange experience. I can't quite read them with my grown up mind - but that is no bad thing!

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    1. I am so sorry I didn't read them as a child. I finally read them as an adult and tried to have a family read-along, but my mother and I loved them much more than my daughter, who was eight. Her younger sister never had any interest either.

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  7. I read the first few Anne books when I was young and recently watched Anne with an E, which everybody seems to hate but it got me interested in rereading the books because there were famous episodes I remembered.

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    1. I haven't heard many good things about the new series but there was a Canadian TV adaptation that was supposed to be wonderful. I remember the DVDs were quite popular at my library.

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  8. I haven't done a reread of any of the Anne books in quite some time. My last rereads of the series did not go particularly well, but I remember liking Windy Poplars when I read it first: her tower room with the little stove, Rebecca Dew and Dusty Miller. But that movie poster! The worst!

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    1. They look SO OLD. Anne and Gilbert are the same age, in their early twenties, but they look at least ten years older in the poster!

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  9. What a lovely trip down memory lane. I've read the first 2 books many times, but don't often go past that.

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  10. As a public service, I'm sharing here a link to the differences between the two versions...
    https://anneofgreengables.fandom.com/wiki/Notes:Anne_of_Windy_Poplars_vs._Anne_of_Windy_Willows

    Not much, but we all know that every word is precious. :^)

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  11. Someone recently put the 1940 movie on YouTube!! The running time says 2:44:00 but the movie is the first half of the video. I just finished it. I loved it but then book 4 is my favorite. The last 20 minutes had several dramatic events that didn’t happen in the book but I loved it anyway. Joan Carroll is so cute as Betty!

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