WORLD WAR I: THE HOME FRONT

The Outdoor Girls at Bluff Point, Laura Lee Hope, 1920

Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery, 1920

The Outdoor Girls

Most of the girl's books written during or about the first World War essentially ignore the conflict, or else send the heroines to France to nurse soldiers in military hospitals, round up spies, -- and often return home and go back to high school. These two, however, attempt to relate to the less heroic experience of older teenagers during the war years.

It's 1918. The Outdoor Girls of Deepdale have been working at Hostess House at Liberty Camp (a USO-type operation) but it has suffered a disastrous fire, and they are back home. All the boys are in France with the Army, "taking a whack at the Hun". When yet another generous relative offers still another vacation "lodge" for a month, fully provisioned as usual, they as usual accept, taking Grace's mother along as chaperone. They drive, of course -- the Outdoor Girls, who started out as a "tramping and camping" club, have rarely touched foot to earth since they discovered the internal combustion engine. This book marks their acquisition of a second car, to the great gain of later titles since now they have room for all four of them, the inevitable chaperone, and their luggage as well, not forgetting the lunch hamper.

Almost immediately they are notified that Will (Grace's brother and Amy's romantic interest) has been wounded and that Alan, (who will marry Betty in a book or two) is reported missing in action. Just to vary the stress, Mollie's younger twin siblings are kidnapped.

(These two, who from their grammar and diction remain about three years old for the duration of the series although the four older girls age at half-speed, have my vote for Most Obnoxious Kids in Fiction. They are never seen when they are not blackmailing adults for, or stealing, candy; running away or stowing away in cars; and, at least on one occasion, driving their older sister's automobile down the highway. But in the series everyone thinks they are adorable.)

To further dampen this vacation, the weather isn't cooperative and it rains more than the sun shines. Although Mrs. Ford seems to hold up fairly well, the girls become increasingly morose. Instead of their normal tennis, picnicking, and swimming, they spend most of their time staring out windows, bursting into tears, or trying to read (to the point that when they do go swimming, they're out of condition and Amy nearly drowns) and they quarrel with each other for what is, as far as I know, the only time in the entire series. Whichever girl is best managing to act cheerful becomes the enemy of her fellows.

At least one case of full-blown hysterics results before good news arrives from France (Alan wasn't a POW after all, and didn't even know he'd been listed as missing. Will is recovering nicely.)

This leaves Mollie the only sufferer. Not to worry! During the worst storm of that storm-tossed month, a ship goes aground just off their bluff, and among the rescued are -- the twins!

Since in the book that follows, The Outdoor Girls at Wild Rose Lodge, the war is over and the boys expected home shortly, all of this apparently takes place quite late in the war.

Rilla of Ingleside

The events of Rilla of Ingleside start a couple of years earlier. Rilla (Anne Shirley Blythe's youngest daughter) is a giddy young thing who has just graduated from high school, convinced her mother that she has no interest whatsover in college, and is looking forward to a life of unending parties and beaux -- she's a girl who just wants to have fun! -- when the war breaks out, the boys enlist, and the parties come to a stop.

If you slept in history class the week they were doing World War I, let me point out that Canada got into that war a considerable time before the United States did, and that the Canadian casualty rate in the early years of the war was horrendous in terms of ratio to population. Reading the papers in the Blythe household becomes an activity fraught with anxiety. Instead of parties, the girls of Glen St. Mary are occupied with Red Cross drives, and filling in the gaps in the work force left by the young men -- when they don't actually start clerking in the stores as paid personnel, they voluntarily fill in for the older men when the harvest needs to be gathered, and the men too old enlist are the only hands left to bring it in. Rilla, as befits Anne's youngest and most wayward daughter, takes on an unusual "war work" of her own. She worries about her brothers and schoolmates, and about her mother, all of whose sons are at the front. Furthermore, Rilla can't figure out whether or not she is engaged to be married!

By the time the war is over Rilla has grown up by more than the passage of years demands. In this way I found Rilla to be parallel to Vera Brittain's nonfiction Testament of Youth, in which another teenager finds that the war years steal her carefree youth.

Both these books impressed me, if only because they attempted to deal with an unpleasant time within the experience of their (original) readership. Except for the silly kidnapping plot, Bluff Point is more serious than most of the Outdoor Girls books, and deals with more character and psychology than all the rest of them put together.

As for Rilla, if you have been reluctant to read "the later Annes", you shouldn't be. This book (like Rainbow Valley, which precedes it) isn't about Anne but is an amusing chronicle of the next generation, who have lives just as interesting as Anne's and Diana's were. Think of this as a non-series novel by that excellent writer, Lucy Maud Montgomery.

© 1993 Jo Anne Fatherly (This review first appeared in The Whispered Watchword, the newsletter of The Phantom Friends)