Jalna Is a Sordid Bore

Mazo de la Roche wrote five novels about the Whiteoak family before writing Jalna, proving that producing a novel as boring as Jalna takes practice.

Jalna is the Whiteoak family estate in Ontario, Canada, where in 1923 Adeline Court Whiteoak waits for her 100th birthday surrounded by her family. The Whiteoaks fancy themselves aristocrats, but they’re really a bunch of slobs.

Think of Cold Comfort Farm, and you’ve got the picture.

Grandson Renny,  37, runs the farm and the family. He’s rude, coarse, sentimental, fond of pigs and horses, and according to de la Roche, irresistible to women.

Two of Renny’s nephews marry. Poet Eden brings home his New York publisher’s reader, Alayne, and farmer Piers brings home the neighbor’s bastard daughter, Pheasant.

Alayne takes up with Renny.

Pheasant takes up with Eden.

Renny’s sister Meg marries Pheasant’s father.

All the Whiteoaks abuse each other at the top of their lungs.

Grandmother has her hundredth birthday and the novel is over. Not a minute too soon for my taste.

Jalna reads as if it were written by someone whose day job is writing Cliff Notes. If there ever was any life in these characters or sense in the plot, it’s not here now.

by Mazo de la Roche
Little, Brown,  1927
347 pages
#5  1927   #9 1928
Grade: D+
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

2 thoughts on “Jalna Is a Sordid Bore”

  1. Dear writer205,
    You posted on my blog recently, and I’ve put this post there, but just in case you miss it…

    I just took a peak at your blog — reviewing vintage, largely forgotten books – what a fantastic idea. I am adding your blog to my list and I will certainly encourage my friends/readers to visit your site. Books, these days, are expected to become bestsellers within 3 weeks of publication date, or else all publicity is dropped, dooming many wonderful books to the shred-pile. I’m delighted to see an informed reader such as yourself plucking these deserving novels out of the shadows. Thanks for doing such great work.


  2. Thank you for that encouraging comment, Lauren. Positive strokes from a good novelist are water to a thirsty soul.

    Reading vintage novels takes me away from the dull, technical stuff I work with for a living to a far more interesting world.

    Often I find that other world has a great deal to say about our own. For example, I read last week a passage in a Lloyd C. Douglas novel in which a banker was explaining to a customer how the “current banking crisis” (this was 1929-30) was going to effect her bank account. It sounded like what Hank Paulson should have said. three weeks ago.



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