Lost Youth

REI OAC A0632 OAC Students Various Dance Cards_003_Cropped.jpg

Ontario Agricultural College Sophomore Skating Party Card, 1916. Archival and Special Collections, University of Guelph Library (REI OAC A0632).

At the outbreak of the First World War, life as a young person in Canada changed dramatically. Whether at the front or at home, young people were forced to grow up quickly, in order to handle the new responsibilities the war brought to them. In Rilla of Ingleside, we see the war through the eyes of 14 year-old Rilla, who has little thought for others and no sense of responsibility. Over the course of Montgomery’s novel, Rilla has matured and taken on responsibilities unlikely for teenage girls. Rilla at the beginning of the novel is selfish and concerned with frivolous activities, like her first dance, where she dances with Kenneth Ford, who later becomes her wartime sweetheart. The news of the beginning of the war only concerns her as she considers it to have ruined her first grown up party.

As the war goes on, she adopts a war baby and raises him, and though she initially hates the child she finds purpose in caring for him. She starts a Junior Red Cross Society who organize events like a patriotic concert to raise money for the war and knit items to send overseas. The war robs Rilla of her youth and forces her to grow up, though the young girl she is at heart can still be seen through her romance with Kenneth, who still makes her feel as young and giddy as he did at the beginning of the novel. Not unlike the young men who fought at the front, for young girls on the homefront, the war also meant growing up fast and long before they should have had to.

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