An imagined life of Marilla Cuthbert, of Green Gables fame.
There’s a line from Anne of Green Gables that author McCoy says has always stayed with her: When Marilla points out their neighbor John Blythe (father of Anne's beloved Gilbert) and says “We used to be real good friends, he and I. People called him my beau," Anne cries, “Oh, Marilla—and what happened?" Fascinated by the question, McCoy answers it here with a rich, historically intense life for Marilla, beginning when she is 13; her mother is pregnant and her Aunt Izzy comes to help. The Cuthberts are quiet and retiring, so the arrival of Izzy—who fled Prince Edward Island to become a successful dressmaker in the city—gently pushes Marilla out of her isolation. Together they join a newly formed sewing circle in Avonlea, where Marilla meets her lifelong friend-to-be, Rachel, and through her meets John Blythe (though this is a bit of a stretch, because as a close longtime neighbor, wouldn’t Marilla already know him?). Their attraction is immediate, but on the day John expresses his interest toward her, her mother and the baby die in childbirth, casting a shadow of guilt and pain over the experience. Courting is put on hold as the family regroups and Marilla feels obligated to take care of her father and older brother, Matthew, but a charitable visit to an orphanage in nearby Hopetown brings long-simmering national tensions home to Marilla, leading to a new direction in her life and an argument with John she can’t seem to overcome. In fleshing out Marilla’s story, McCoy weaves in fascinating historical details of Canada’s religious and political tensions of the mid-19th century as well as the devastating legacy of slavery and an interesting contemplation of what might happen to survivors of the Underground Railroad once they hit Canada in the dangerous days before the American Civil War.
As is often the question when reframing beloved fictional characters: Does it feel true? Readers will have to decide for themselves, but fashioning Marilla as a flawed hero of her times is a lovely tribute.