Anne of Windy Poplars was the Anne-read for May. This book is placed 4th in the series, although it was actually written 7th, after Rilla of Ingleside but before Rainbow Valley. Rilla which is considered to be the final book in the series, so AoWP goes back and fills in one of the gaps in Anne’s story – at the point that it is written, LMM knows what path Anne’s life will take, even if Anne does not. This book follows, as well, the two short story collections associated with Anne Shirley, The Chronicles of Avonlea and The Further Chronicles of Avonlea. During Windy Poplars, Anne is 22 to 25 years of age, and this book takes place while she is living away from Avonlea, and away from Gilbert, teaching school.
Anne of Windy Poplars is, therefore, very different from the prior three entries in the series. Anne is, at this point, absolutely a grown-up, and is living on her own. She exercises a surprising amount of independence in her decision to go off to Summerside by herself. Gilbert and Anne are engaged, but Gilbert makes almost no appearance in this book, except as the recipient of the letters that Anne writes to him from Summerside. Windy Poplars is partially epistolary, and much of the story is told through Anne’s letters, which allow the reader the closest acquaintanceship with Anne Shirley that we’ve gotten so far. Her voice is, as always, charming.
The inhabitants of Summerside, as well, are well drawn. Anne lives with a pair of spinster sisters, Aunt Chatty and Aunt Kate, and their housekeeper, Rebecca Dew. There is also a cat, Dusty Miller, whose conflict with Rebecca Dew provides comic relief. Anne gets into a number of jams, starting with the fact that she was hired at all, which created a great deal of resentment on the part of one of the prominent families in the area – the Pringles – who expected the job to go to one of their members. The Pringle clan gives her a great deal of grief early in the book, which is resolved in a funny and satisfactorily Anneish fashion. This entire episode is, in my opinion, one of the great strengths of Anne of Windy Poplars. It is full of the trademark LMM wit, and involves an incident of historical cannibalism. Which is really quite funny, actually. She also becomes close to an emotionally abused little girl living next door, named Little Elizabeth. LMM was known to write the occasional over-the-top plot moppet (Davy, I’m looking at you), but Little Elizabeth is a much more sympathetic character than that. Anne, after much internal debate, steps into that situation and interferes, something that took a lot of courage in a time when the community was fairly hands-off about the manner in which families could treat – or mistreat – their children.
The book also introduces us to Katherine Brooke, a fellow teacher, who ends the book by becoming very close to Anne. Her story is complicated, heartbreaking and inspiring, and over the course of the book, I went from really not liking Katherine to feeling sympathetic toward her, to becoming a fan. She is a complex character, in a series that does, at times, lack complex characters. LMM was great at quick character sketches (e.g. the Little Fellow in AotI) but not nearly as good at creating multi-dimensional and complicated characters. Katherine is, I would say, an exception to this characteristic.
AoWP is one of the more controversial Anne books – it is written very differently and it was added late in the series. For me, it’s a win. I loved hearing the unedited voice of Anne in her letters to Gilbert and seeing her take some risks in an effort to be true to her principles.