“From Glen Notes to War Notes: A Canadian Perspective on the First World War in Rilla of Ingleside” is the inaugural exhibit on display in the new Archival & Special Collections (A&SC) space starting March 8, 2018. The staff of A&SC partnered with the students and faculty of U of G’s Department of History in the fall of 2017 to co-curate the exhibit to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
The exhibit examines Lucy Maud Montgomery’s tenth novel, Rilla of Ingleside, against its First World War backdrop and highlights perspectives on the war of seven characters from the book—Rilla, Walter, Anne, Susan, Jem, Shirley, and Josiah Pryor (Whiskers-on-the-Moon). There are six cases that have been curated to focus on the following topics: lost youth, the home front, the battle front, war poets, pacifism, and, Montgomery’s creative process in writing Rilla of Ingleside—her tenth novel, and the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series.
The story begins just before the start of the First World War and follows the war to its end. The novel is purported to be the only Canadian novel written from a woman’s point of view by someone who lived through it. First published in Toronto, by McClelland and Stewart in 1921, the novel has never been out of print and has been translated into a number of languages including, Norwegian, Swedish, French, Polish, and Japanese.
The book depicts life in a small Canadian community in Prince Edward Island during the war and focuses on the Blythe family, which includes Anne, her husband Gilbert, and their children, Rilla, Walter, Jem, and Shirley. Montgomery drew heavily on her journal writings from 1914 to 1918 in creating the story.
Since the novel is framed by newspaper accounts of local events and the war, we decided to name this exhibit “From Glen Notes to War Notes” to reflect the transition in interest by Susan Baker, the Blythe family housekeeper, from the local affairs column to the foreign affairs column in the Glen St. Mary—the local newspaper. At the beginning of the novel, Susan states that “I never take much interest in foreign parts. Who was that Archduke man who has been murdered?” yet as the novel goes on, she becomes almost an expert on many of the countries effected by the war.
Materials for the exhibit were primarily selected from the McLaughlin Library’s extensive L.M. Montgomery Collection. In particular, the curators looked at important editions of the novel and the original manuscript, Montgomery’s journals and scrapbooks, and her photograph collection. To contextualize the book against its First World War backdrop, the curating team identified materials on the war from the archives of the Ontario Agricultural College, Ontario Veterinary College, and MacDonald Institute.
This is the first time that the manuscript of Rilla of Ingleside will be displayed publicly and during the exhibit, the pages will be turned to show it in its entirety. The manuscript consists of 564 pages in Montgomery’s handwriting and demonstrates valuable insights into Montgomery’s creating writing and editing process. The notes and revisions shown throughout the manuscript pages reveal aesthetic considerations were at least as important as pragmatic ones to her.
Members of the curatorial team include Catherine Carstairs, chair, Department of History; Kathryn Harvey, head, Archival & Special Collections; Keshia Krucker, a fourth-year history major; Kesia Kvill, a PhD history candidate; Melissa McAfee, special collections librarian; Abigail Murray, a fourth year history major; and Ashley Shifflett McBrayne, library associate, Archival & Special Collections.