“Tears were misunderstood, she thought, and used inappropriately most often. They were designed as a private response of being. Because sometimes life filled you to the brim and spilled over. Tears were the body's way of cleansing the overflow of emotions, from sorrow to joy and so many others that couldn't be described.”
― Sarah McCoy, Marilla of Green Gables
When I heard this past September that a novel about Marilla Cuthbert as a girl was coming out, I nearly keeled over with excitement! As heroines go, Marilla has always been a mysterious one. We learn little of her life in L.M.M’s books before Anne came into it, and I’ve always rather felt it was a story that should be told. And happily, the lovely Sarah McCoy felt the same!
Marilla Cuthbert is a plucky and ambitious thirteen year old girl when her life is changed forever, suddenly having to take on all the duties of a farm wife. There aren’t many options for young ladies in Avonlea, and Marilla’s aunt Izzy is her only real connection to the outside world. But Marilla is more sensible than that. She chooses to use her days. With her dear friend Rachel White, she joins the Ladies Aid Society, helping an orphanage in Nova Scotia filled with abandoned children. And with her budding romance with the handsome and opinionated John Blythe, Marilla is given a glimpse into a completely different future. But she’s not certain that future is worth sacrificing her present life at Green Gables, and her heart is torn between true love and family obligation.
In reading the first few pages, I could see how Sarah McCoy took inspiration from L.M Montgomery’s style of writing; her dry wit and descriptive prose were weaved all through the story, mixed with Miss McCoy’s own personal style. I personally find it very important for a spin off written by a different author to reflect the original authors style to a certain extent. Without that, it wouldn’t feel like the same world or set of characters, it would have the feeling of a parody. Happily, Sarah McCoy did this in a superb fashion.
I noticed right away how the author set up the coming tragedy in the book. Dedicated fans of Anne of Green Gables know Marilla and Matthew are brother and sister alone, without any other siblings. So when it was revealed that Clara was going to have a baby, it was clear that neither of them would survive the birth. I didn’t consider this to be too obvious, but merely a reflection of Miss McCoy's thorough knowledge and research of the previous Anne books. She knew how to use Marilla's family history as a focal point for the story, and put her own interpretation on it.
I enjoyed Marilla right off. She shined in her no-nonsense fashion, but with a more youthful outlook on her life. I liked how Marilla entertained poetic and insightful thoughts every now and then, but never let them overtake her. L.M Montgomery describes Marilla as
“a woman of narrow experience and rigid conscience, which she was; but there was a saving something about her mouth which, if it has been ever so slightly developed, might have been considered indicative of a sense of humor” (Anne Of Green Gables Ch.1 P. 14).
This quote is really the theme of Marilla throughout the novel. She starts out as a typically happy and contented child, but the death of her mother and breakup with John caused her to develop her “narrow” and “rigid” ways. And as we see in the Anne series, she reverts back to her old ways due to Anne. Sarah McCoy shows us that Marilla never really lost that former happiness and outlook on life, but merely hid it away until she was ready to embrace it again.
John Blythe was the character I was most anticipating to see adapted. Going into the book, I was worried he was going to be written to be exactly like Gilbert. They share similarities, being father and son, but John is definitely more intense and has higher self confidence. I found his character thoroughly enjoyable, and I found I was most interested in his story by the end of the book. Not to mention I was swooning heavily.
Matthew as a young man is as sweet and humble as it gets. I could swear I literally felt my heart shatter when Johanna Andrews so coldly rejected him. I thought it perfectly believable that this incident is what turned Matthew off of women and caused him to feel more nervous around them. Matthew clearly had an intense form of social anxiety, and such a humiliating experience would have lowered his self confidence to a rather chronic point. I found his character soft and relatable, and I ended the novel with pure, shameless hatred for Johanna Andrews.
My favorite scene is when Marilla and John share their first kiss in chapter 17. The final line of the chapter really struck a chord:
“She desperately wanted to understand her mother’s last words to her father” (ch.17 p. 149).
The loss of her mother was what drove Marilla away from John for a while. But when they came together and shared that sweet moment, it showed Marilla all that her mother had gained in her life by marrying Hugh Cuthbert. And I believe understanding that gain was what helped her to cope with her mother’s death. She was able to better understand Clara as a wife.
To me this scene is a very real and innocent moment that most of us can relate to. The discovery of what a first love feels like can only be understood if it’s experienced. And for any girl whose lost her mother at a young age, such an understanding would help her to continue to bond with her mother, who at one point would have felt that same true love in her youth.
A SLIGHT CRITICISM
The only thing I had a slight criticism of is the way John and Marilla fall out. In the Anne books Marilla describes the situation as a mistake she wanted to make John pay for. And while she lives up to that bill, I felt like she was far more at fault than he was, which she acknowledges to herself later. Even Matthew says that he was ashamed of her for her actions. But to tell Anne at the end of Anne of Green Gables that it was his mistake even though she knew it was hers, felt a little out of character for Marilla to do if the argument about politics is what caused their row. Additionally I felt the argument in general to be a little underwhelming and an overreaction on Marilla’s part.
I was barely able to put this book down (if only I didn’t have to sleep at night), and fell in love with it immediately. I found it to be thoroughly well-researched and the story rung so true to it’s source material. I had an inkling this would be the case, when I saw a picture of the book on The Anne of Green Gables Heritage Site Instagram page. I knew if they were selling this novel, it must be a true gem.
I can honestly say this is one of my new favorite books and currently my favorite new release. I would rate this 9.7/10 overall, and wholeheartedly recommend it to all my fellow book nerds and Anne fan-girls.
I look forward to seeing what Sarah McCoy has for us in the future!
What did you think of Marilla of Green Gables? Let me know in the comments below!