Mar 5, 2010

Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Windy Poplars

(Warning: This post has spoilers for the previous Anne books. Sorry; it couldn’t be helped. I know many people have read the whole series, but I hate the assumption that it’s okay to spoil classics, so I thought I’d better let you know.)

Anne of Windy Poplars, chronologically the fourth book in the Anne of Green Gables series, follows Anne Shirley for the three years she spends as a school principal in a small town called Summerside, while her fiancée Gilbert Blythe finishes his medical degree. The novel is partially epistolary: a great part of the story is told through the letters Anne writes Gilbert during this period, though there are long sections narrated in the third person as well.

Somehow I have the impression that Anne of Windy Poplars is the least popular book in the series, though where I got that idea I can’t tell you, and I could very well be wrong. Yet somehow I could almost swear I’ve seen people recommend that newcomers to the series skip it altogether. I loved Anne of Windy Poplars, but it doesn’t surprise me if it’s indeed not a big favourite, simply because it’s so different from the rest of the series. Well, from the previous three books, at least. (Note: A twitter conversation that took place between writing and posting this confirmed my impression.)

One of the things that makes it different is the fact that it’s not so much a story about Anne as it is a story about Summerside. The town and its people are the protagonists really, and what we see are mostly their stories through Anne’s eyes. I’ve always been fond of small town stories; of books where a place is almost presented as a character. No doubt this contributed to my enjoyment of Anne of Windy Poplars.

The Anne Shirley we see here is a bit of a busybody: if she writes Gilbert about the lives of everyone in Summerside, it’s because she knows what’s going on in the lives of everyone in Summerside. Often she gets involved in their stories, very much like she did in Avonlea. But her meddling never comes across as intrusive, judgemental or malicious, and her letters to Gilbert, though gossipy, are always benevolent and kind. Anne is in her mid-twenties here, but she’s still the same Anne we met in Anne of Green Gables, constantly on the lookout for kindred spirits and unable to say no to those who come to her for help or counsel.

Despite a tremulous beginning, Anne eventually climbs the Summerside social ladder and becomes very popular. I suppose Anne Shirley could be called the ultimate Mary Sue, but she feels too real for it to actually matter. As readers everywhere have attested for more than a century now, she is that easy to love. Also, as I was saying before, the focus of this book isn’t on Anne herself, so her popularity, implausible though it may be, can be excused as a plot device to take her into the confidence of everyone in Summerside. And it works.

Anne of Windy Poplars’s main charm is the fact that it’s peopled with well-rounded, memorable, and loveable characters: Aunt Kate and Aunt Chatty, the two elderly ladies with whom Anne boards; Rebecca Dew and That Cat, the other inhabitants of the house; Elizabeth Grayson, the little orphan girl next door Anne befriends; and even Katherine Brooke, Anne’s initially hostile fellow teacher. Anne is truly sorry to part from them when the three years are up, and both she and the reader feel that they’re saying goodbye to real friends.

This is in many ways a feel-good book, and some of the plot threads are wrapped up a little too neatly at the end, but then again, isn’t that the charm of the Anne series? This was exactly the kind of book I needed right now, and it did wonders for my mood. A lot of what makes it such a joy to read is actually the same that makes all the Anne books such a joy, despite all the aforementioned differences: it’s full of tender and heart-warming (if predictable) stories; of happy endings for kind characters (tempered with enough sorrows to make all these lives feel real); of lovely descriptions of connections between people; of equally lovely passages about nature. And let's not forget Anne’s endearing tendency to add a touch of romance to everything – to see the world as a magical place, full of promise and possibility. That’s really all I could have asked for.

Bits I liked:
It's dusk, dearest. (In passing, isn't 'dusk' a lovely word? I like it better than twilight. It sounds so velvety and shadowy and ... and... dusky.) In daylight I belong to the world... in the night to sleep and eternity. But in the dusk I'm free from both and belong only to myself... and you. So I'm going to keep this hour sacred to writing to you. Though this won't be a love-letter. I have a scratchy pen and I can't write love-letters with a scratchy pen... or a sharp pen... or a stub pen. So you'll only get that kind of letter from me when I have exactly the right kind of pen. Meanwhile, I'll tell you about my new domicile and its inhabitants. Gilbert, they're such dears.

I know Rebecca Dew thinks I'm quite childish. But, oh, Gilbert, don't let's ever grow too old and wise . . . no, not too old and silly for fairyland.

Gilbert darling, don't let's ever be afraid of things. It's such dreadful slavery. Let's be daring and adventurous and expectant. Let's dance to meet life and all it can bring to us, even if it brings scads of trouble and typhoid and twins!
Other opinions:
A library is a hospital for the mind
Becky's Book Reviews
A Comfy Chair and a Good Book
Blue Archipelago


(Did I miss yours?)


  1. I didn´t know that this book was not well-liked.I´ve read the whole series just last year and I loved this book. I think I least enjoyed the last two books, but perhaps that´s just me.

  2. Never read these books. But you do make them sound good. Great review!

  3. I'm re-reading this series and I think this one is up next! I love every book about Anne, I just love the 'simpler' life depicted, I love how good and honest she is and how she looks at life in general. Glad you love her too! :-)

  4. It might not be popular but I enjoyed it too. It was a happy book. I reviewed it back in 2008:

  5. I didn't like Windy Poplar when I read it as a teenager but now I have come to appreciate it for the reasons you state.

    Also I adore the quote about dusk. Completely agree with Anne there.

  6. You make me want to desperately reread the series. The Anne books were my favourites as a child and are dear to my heart.

    I was speaking to my mum by phone recently and I mentioned that my aunt was thinking of going to Prince Edward Island on holiday; my mum instantly replied with "that's where Anne from Green Gables is set as she remembered from my reading the books and from watching the series with me (I have it on DVD; I see a marathon coming on...)

  7. Oh how I love Anne! She is one of my favourite all time characters. I long to read these again and I have started to collect the whole series, so that I have them all.

  8. I guess I'm in the minority, because even when I was a young girl I loved this book! It's one of the few books in the series other than the first that really stood out for me, and I loved hearing all about Summerside!

  9. I'm embarrassed to say I've only read the first Anne book. If I ever find the time to continue the series, I'll try to remember that this one is different.

  10. I love the "Gilbert dearest" and "darling" - when you compare it to how she referred to him in the first book! Very cute!

  11. Thanks for letting me know there were spoilers so I wouldn't read it. I have yet to read the series, although I've seen all the movies!

    It's on my TBR list, though :)

  12. Excellent review, Ana! I can't properly remember this book, but I remember so vividly reading about Anne's choice of a certain kind of pencil and its affect on her writing :-) Personally, I always like the sharp ones.

    The quotes you share kind of sadden me because I think it's the way a lot of people want to live their lives but don't. I don't think Anne & Gilbert were very adventuresome after marriage...

  13. Anne is always good for a sore heart and tired mind. I love small-town stories too! I grew up in a very small town where everyone knew everyone else and everyone else's parents... there is something very comforting about that in some ways...

  14. I love the quotes that you chose! I read these books when I was younger, and even though I liked this book, I do remember it not being my favorite in the series. That being said, I distinctly remember the quote above about dusk. I love it when parts of books stick with me for years like that.

    I think I'm going to have to re-read this one for fun sometime.

  15. This wasn't my favourite novel in the series, but I still enjoyed it. :)

  16. I remember loving this one, maybe because it was so different? And like an earlier commenter stated, it's awfully sweet to read Anne's endearments to Gilbert! I don't know if any of the other readers have read "The Story Girl" and its sequal "The Golden Road"? These two books were written late in Lucy Maud's career and are the most auto-biographical of the books concerning her childhood on PEI. They are also the most touching, sweet, hilarious, and loving books she ever wrote. No LM Montgomery fan should miss out on those two!

  17. I'm ashamed to say this, but I haven't read this series! I have them sitting on my shelf but never got around to reading them all. Acutally, I attempted to start the series a long while back but never got into them. This is the exact motivation I need to start Anne of Green Gables again!

    from Une Parole

  18. I've only read the first book but I'd love to read more. As a redhead I feel bad that I havne't read more Anne books. Thanks for the review.

  19. I read the Anne series when I was a girl, and I adored it. I'm kind of afraid to re-read them now. If I don't find them as delightful as I did when I was about 10, it would kind of diminish a part of my life. :-)

  20. I do enjoy this one. I like almost all of the Anne books. (Personally, Anne of Ingleside is my least favorite.) I loved reading about this community! I did. It was so atmospheric, if that's the right word. It was just a cozy read for me.

  21. I never read these books as a child, but my daughter went through most of them. We read the first one together, and I did enjoy that. But what is plucky and endearing in a child can verge on the precious in an adult. Perhaps the same thing happened to Anne Shirley that I feel happened to Laura Ingalls: just too many books covering the same ground.

  22. I remember loving all the Anne books as a child, and this one was not an exception. I actually remember that one had more letters, so I guess this was it! I liked epistolary novels (and still do) so I guess it didn't bother me. =)

    I think I actually had to stop with the fifth book in this series, because my parents didn't buy me books out of bookstores very often, and I think I grew out of childhood and decided I was reading adult books only by that point. I must get the rest of the series!

  23. I like this one too, it shows a different side of Anne as she comes into her own. I find that I always lose interest in the series after her relationship with Gilbert reaches its... er... logical conclusion (to avoid spoilery commentary). I've never been able to get past Anne's House of Dreams, I usually just skip ahead to Rilla's story after that.

  24. LM Montgomery for the win! I came to her relatively late (last year) and I do agree with you a lot of people just don't like Windy Poplars. While it is written in letter form, I just don't get why people don't enjoy it. It's got all the charm of the other books, and seriously if you don't laugh during the dinner scene with the overbearing old guy, your ears should probably be boxed. :-)

  25. When I was a girl, this was my very favorite. I still have my copy and the cover illustration is just beautiful. I read it again a few years back, and still loved it. We named our farm after the title. :<)

  26. I didn't exactly dislike this one, but it did trip me up the last time I reread it. I whipped through the first three in about a day each, but I think it took me a week to get through this one and I didn't continue rereading the series after that. That was so long ago, though, that I don't remember the exact reasons it didn't click for me.

  27. I haven't paid enough attention to the Anne series to be sure, but I've always had the impression it was Anne of Ingleside that everyone disliked the most. (I really need to read all the Anne books.)

  28. I've read the entire series twice but it's been years and the individual books are a bit a blur. I don't remember not liking any of the books -- I think I loved them all.

  29. ifyoucanreadthis: I really enjoyed it too! I have no idea why it's so mistreated :P

    Andreea, I'm almost sure you'll love Anne :)

    Joanna: I know - she's just such a pleasure to spend time with :D

    Chris: Thank you for your link! And yeah, it made me happy, which was exactly what I was looking for.

    Zee: Me too - it IS a lovely word :D

    Claire: I always associate Prince Edward Island to Anne too, possibly because that's where I first heard of it :P Your aunt is lucky - it sounds like such a gorgeous place!

    Vivienne: I read this as an e-book, but I most definitely want to own the whole collection too :)

    Steph: I'm so glad I'm not alone in loving it! Summerside was just lovely.

    Kathy: No need to be embarrassed! I'm only just reading these for the first time. It's never too late :)

    Jill: lol, I know! But the intensity of her dislike made me suspicious from the very start :P

    Allison: I hope you'll enjoy the series as much as I have!

    Aarti: I like the sharp ones too, though I tend to break the points all the time :P I usually write in pen anyway, though. And yeah, it doesn't sound like Anne took her own advice :\

    Daphne: It IS very comforting, yes :)

  30. Alyce: I love it when that happens too :)

    Kailana: So almost everyone says :P

    Lucylucia: I love your LMM recommendations! I'll definitely add those to my mental list. Though I suspect that sooner or later I'll simply get through her whole catalogue :P

    Emidy: Nothing to be ashamed of! I'm only just starting them too :) I hope you have better luck next time you try!

    Marie: I didn't know you were a redhead too! I love red hair and secretly wish I had it :P

    Stephanie: I know the feeling, but honestly, I'm an adult and I'm still delighted :D

    Becky: Cosy is the perfect word, yes :)

    ds: I know what you mean, but, perhaps because I'd never been exposed to anything of the kind, I'm finding Anne just as charming now as I would have as a child. This doesn't often happen, I know, so I feel very grateful for it!

    Meghan: I love epistolary novels too. That was definitely a plus :)

    Gricel: You're not the first to tell me that :\ I bet that will make me sad when I get to those books.

    April: I know - I found it every bit as charming too, albeit in a different way. And the humour was just fabulous :D

    Nan: How fantastic that your farm is named Windy Poplars :D

    Memory: I guess the tone IS different - Court at Once Upon a Bookshelf was telling me the other day that she wrote it much later than the others, and mostly because her publishers pressured her to return to Anne. Maybe because I'm a newcomer, though, I didn't quite pick up on the differences.

    Jenny: I shall read Anne of Ingleside soon and see if I can see what everyone means.

    Beth: I really hope that'll be the case with me too!

  31. I just inherited the complete set of these books, so I just skimmed this review for fear of spoilers. My daughter has them right now, but I am thinking of interspersing them between my other reads when she is done with them.

  32. Windy Poplars is definitely one of my favorites in the series. Other than Anne of the Island it is probably the book I've read most of the series. For me you just cannot skip any of them. Anne is such a delight that any moments spent with her should not be missed. How timely this post is, Mary and I just showed the film version of Anne of Avonlea to Tori the other night for the first time. I've had that music dancing in my head ever since. Anne and spring time go hand in hand.

  33. I love this book! I'm so frusterated that there is no audio version that I can find. I'm glad you put up the Windy Willows picture. I finally got the Anne of Windy Willows version and it is like a director's cut of the original. Plenty of extra stuff and well worth it! I guess it's an odd one because it is #4 for Anne but it wasn't the 4th one written/released. But it's definitely one of my favourites next to #3. If anyone knows how to get an audio of Poplars/Willows please post it!

  34. Perhaps the reason some people don't like this one is that it really isn't about Anne, but about the other "minor" characters. Personally, I was getting a little tired of Anne by the time I read this, but I never get tired of Montgomery's ability to create memorable cameos of her lesser characters. And her gentle humor always delights.

  35. I have been reading this series ferociously. After I read the first book, I could not read the second (and then third) fast enough. However, when I got to this book, my passion came to a screeching halt. It's not that I don't love Anne or all the new characters, because quite honestly each book has brought new people, but for me it was the format. For some reason, the correspondence to Gilbert is drudgery! I can't wait to just make it to through this one and get back to the classic story writing.


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