Tag Archives: romanticism

A review of Anne of Windy Poplars

Anne of Windy Poplars (Anne of Green Gables, #4)Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the last-written Anne book, from 1936. Montgomery has gone back and filled in some missing time between Anne of the Island and Anne’s House of Dreams. Cynically, one imagines this either to be a money grab or a result of ongoing demand for Anne books despite Montgomery’s preference for writing other things. Anyway, the book is entertaining.

A lot of things happen. Anne seems to somehow be the confidante of a multitude of young women, each of whom tends to only appear for one episode in which something interesting, amusing, what-have-you occurs. This is not Avonlea, where there was at least consistency amongst Anne’s circle. Beyond the women with whom she lives and little Elizabeth, very few characters stay for more than one episode. Of those who do, Katherine Brooke is potentially the most interesting. Indeed, one could wish simply for her to have her own book with added depth of character rather than being one of many side interests in an Anne book.

There is no main plot, either — there is one arc that comes to a satisfactory closing less than a third of the way in, and then there are the subplots of little Elizabeth and Katherine Brooke.

Despite its plotlessness, this book is entertaining, which is what most people come to Anne books for. I enjoyed it, and I am not its main audience (I am a 36-year-old man with no daughters). Anne is the same as she ever was. There are many references to the Romantics as well as, of course, Romantic imaginings stepping through the prosaic via symbol into the beauty of mystery — high and mighty, one wishes to invoke Coleridge, but there is nothing so stark as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Anne novels.

The most important theme tying together these many young women as well as the subplots of little Elizabeth and Katherine, not to mention the widows as well as the affection that binds Anne to Gilbert, is the power of friendship. Having a Friend can soften the hard exterior. Friendship can awaken the imagination to greater possibilities. These are themes worth anyone’s time, whether 12-year-old girls (whom I imagine to be the main Anne audience) or 36-year-old men.

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The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris

The Wood Beyond the WorldThe Wood Beyond the World by William Morris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

William Morris is one of those craftsmen/artists/thinkers that intrigue and inspire me — one of an old breed of mediaevalist who believed in mediaevalism and the romantic ideals of a pre-industrial world. The same sort of spirit that invigorated his friends the Pre-Raphaelites in their paintings or his own old-fashioned press for beautiful books runs through The Wood Beyond the World, one of our earliest modern(ish) fantasy novels, dating to 1894 and which has a few sequels.

The story is, plotwise, relatively simple and fairytale-like. Our middle-class adventurer is drawn beyond his known world into the sphere of influence of an enchantress of dread and great beauty who seeks to seduce him while he himself has fallen into the natural enchantment of love for the Lady’s maid. Also, there is a creepy dwarf who yells all the time. Adventure ensues.

Golden Walter, however, strikes me as both a bit thick and a bit naive. I don’t think that the first time you come upon a pretty girl in the woods you should trust everything she says. And when someone says, ‘I have a plan,’ you probably shouldn’t start fearing for your life when you know that the plan hasn’t even got rolling yet.

Nonetheless, in other ways Walter embodies the romantic, chivalric ideals of gallantry towards women and bravery in the face of danger — be that danger of human, animal, or magical origin. At one stage in the story (trying to avoid too many more spoilers), Walter demonstrates the ‘noble’ trait of charity towards the poor and mercy towards the imprisoned.

This idealising of the mediaeval noble class is precisely the sort of thing that made Mark Twain blame Sir Walter Scott for the Civil War, since the wealthy in the South decided that they, too, should have homes in baronial style and act like mediaeval nobles. However, when we see the ideal behaviour that Romantic novels such as this are meant to evoke in the reader, the acts of mercy and compassion and the seeking of the betterment of those less fortunate are meant to weigh much more highly in the nobleman’s heart than the building of ridiculous yet beautiful places such as Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.

That is to say: If romanticised visions of mediaeval life exacerbated existing disparities in the 19th century, the blame lies not entirely in the artists but more in the audience.

My great complaint and lament about this book was something of which Farah Mendelsohn and Edward James warn the reader in A Short History of Fantasy: the stilted, fake, olde Englishe that forsooth doth lie all about this here booke. Nonetheless, the going gets easier after a few chapters.

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