“Rainbow Valley” is the rather romantic name, given by aspiring poet Walter Blythe, to the hollow behind Ingleside. It’s the favorite haunt of the Blythe gang, where they play games, read, pick flowers for their mother Anne, and fry up fresh-caught fish. The Blythes are happy playing together in Rainbow Valley, but they soon have company in the form of the Meredith kids. Jerry, Faith, Carl and Una Meredith are the children of the new minister. The minister is widowed, the manse is run-down, and the Meredith children run wild under the indifferent supervision of a spinster aunt. Along the way, they pick up a runaway: Mary Vance, whose occasionally sharp tongue hides a heart of gold.
The Blythes and the Merediths quickly become “bosom friends” (as one romantic redhead would say), while Mary drifts in and out of their lives (she occasionally falls out with the crowd, but is always welcomed back). The Merediths are the focus of most of the storytelling in Rainbow Valley. They’re much on the minds of the local gossips, who alternate between worrying over the lack of nutrition the children receive, and trading scandalized tales of childish bad behavior in the manse. For the Merediths can’t seem – for all their good intentions, and they are sweet, kind-hearted children – to stay out of trouble. Even when they form a family club dedicated to the promotion of good behavior, they manage to set tongues wagging.
What the villagers all agree the manse needs is a mistress. Reverend Meredith desperately needs a wife, and the children even more desperately need a mother figure. The village is relieved and hopeful when the minister begins calling on Rosemary West, a local beauty who – for reasons known only to Rosemary and her sister – has never married. But the courtship seems doomed and everyone assumes it’s because Rosemary doesn’t want anything to do with those wild Meredith children. It’ll be up to the Meredith kids themselves to convince Miss West to give their dad a chance.
For reasons unknown to me, I enjoyed Rainbow Valley rather more than Anne of Ingleside. Perhaps because I expected, going in, that Anne would be no more than a background figure and even that the Blythe kids weren’t the heroes of this particular installment. (I’d apparently forgotten that Anne wasn’t the central figure in Anne of Ingleside, no matter what the title says.) I love the story of Reverend Meredith’s curtailed courtship of Rosemary, and the ending is, of course (this being L.M. Montgomery) very satisfying. But the best part of the book for me, by far, is the character of Faith Meredith. Oh, I love friendly Jerry, sweet Una, and little Carl. But it’s bright, spirited Faith who steals my heart anew on every page. Whether she’s braving the church biddies by sitting in the manse pew without stockings (after giving her Sunday pair away to a poor girl) or marching into the home of a notorious curmudgeon and unceremoniously ordering him to return to church and contribute to her father’s salary, Faith’s heart is always in the right place even if she seems a bit brash and heedless. Of course she desperately needs someone to gather her up and mother her – just as her siblings need – and I’m glad that (spoiler alert!) they have that in Rosemary, their new, and immediately beloved, stepmother.
Rainbow Valley is a sweet, cheerful little romp, but there are ominous moments that signal a troubling future ahead for the Blythes and the Merediths and everyone else. Reverend Meredith talks foreign policy with Rosemary’s sister Ellen West, and the foreign policy they discuss is shadowed by gathering storm clouds in Germany and the Balkans. But let’s not talk about that, now. Let’s just let the Blythes, the Merediths, and Mary Vance enjoy their fresh fish, cooked over an open flame in Rainbow Valley. The real world will intrude soon enough.
I’m submitting this review to the Classics Club Blog as part of my challenge to read and blog 100 classic works of literature in five years.
Rainbow Valley, by L.M. Montgomery: available here, or support your local indie bookstore. (This is not an affiliate link.)