Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

There’s no doubt about it: fans of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne series will throng to read Sarah McCoy’s prequel. McCoy was inspired by the brief moment in Anne of Green Gables when Marilla tells Anne that John Blythe used to be her beau. Just like Anne, she wanted to know the story behind that offhand remark.

So although Marilla of Green Gables begins in 1876 with a short prologue in which Matthew and Marilla decide to ‘get a boy’ to help around the place, most of it is set in 1837–8, with Marilla taking a break from her schooling to assist her parents, Hugh and Clara (it’s no coincidence that these are the names of L.M. Montgomery’s parents), in the months before her new sibling is to arrive. Brother Matthew is 21 and testing out adulthood, but Marilla is just 13 and impressionable. John Blythe offers to bring her the school readings she’s missed out on, and later invites her to the Avonlea May Picnic. It’s clear she’s smitten.

Aunt Izzy, a dressmaker from St. Catharines, arrives in time to cheer her twin sister through the impending birth and ends up being Marilla’s new role model. She’s fanciful, exuberant and spontaneous and believes “A young girl needs as much time to dream as possible,” surely making her a deliberate precursor of Anne Shirley. Indeed, much of the fun of reading this book is in spotting the seeds of the Anne books: Clara and Izzy making their famous redcurrant wine and laughing about the time Clara lost a thumbnail in the mix; meeting Rachel White (Lynde) at a sewing circle; a visit to the orphanage in Hopetown; raspberry cordial at a picnic; the Ladies’ Aid Society; and looking to a mistake-free tomorrow.

Before long, though, personal and political upheaval take their toll at Green Gables and drive a wedge between Marilla and John. I found Part Two significantly less engaging, what with all the talk of Reformers versus Loyalists (though I did enjoy glimpses of escaped slaves’ experiences in Canada). I tend not to read anything approaching a romance novel, so I groaned to find that there’s not one but two Mr. Darcy-esque wet-shirt scenes featuring John.

This is not meant to be a substitute for reading Montgomery’s own work; if anything it’s prompted me to reread the original series as soon as I can. While I wouldn’t call Marilla a must-read for fans, then, if you enjoy women’s historical fiction set in the nineteenth century, you may want to pick up this companion volume anyway.

My rating:


Marilla of Green Gables was published by William Morrow on October 23rd. My thanks to publicist Beth Parker for the proof copy for review. Sarah McCoy is the author of four previous works of fiction, including The Mapmaker’s Children and The Baker’s Daughter.

17 thoughts on “Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

    1. I think she got the tone and atmosphere of the Anne books right, but often with these prequel/companion stories (for Jane Austen, etc.) I find myself wondering what the point is when you could just go back and read the original. An exception was Longbourn by Jo Baker, told from the perspective of the servants; I liked that better than Pride & Prejudice itself!


    1. I suppose it could stand alone, though I think it’s most likely to appeal to Anne fans. I’ll be interested to see what the general reaction is like. Goodreads reviewers seem very positive so far, even those unfamiliar with Montgomery’s work.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Is Marilla younger than Matthew in the original? I have her fixed in my head as older due to Anne with an E, as I love the way their relationship is written there, but don’t know if this is right.


    1. My Anne books are in a box in America and I haven’t reread them since my teens, so I can’t honestly say, though I’d expect McCoy to have started with their situation as it was in the original (if it’s ever spelled out?).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m nervous to read this in case it’s different from my own ideas about Marilla. BUT I plan to read it anyway. How can I not? It appears to be on people’s lists around here – I’m 4th on the holds list! (I’m rarely more than 1st or 2nd.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m really torn on this one. I have my own ideas about Marilla. And, on my last reading of AoGG, her relationship with Anne was my favourite part. So I think I’ll wait and see how some other readers respond. The wet-shirt scenes make me giggle, but I’m not sure it’s the right kind of giggling.

    Liked by 1 person

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