Master of Jalna makes miserable reading

Renny Whiteoak inherited Jalna and responsibility for the family when his grandmother died in 1927. Right up until her death at age 102, family stayed on the farm and under her thumb.

Renny would like to be a dictator like his grandmother. He’s got the temperament for it, and no morals to prevent it. But the 1930s offer restless family members more opportunities for escape than his grandmother’s day held. And the world doesn’t seem to share Renny’s belief that Jalna is sovereign territory.

Renny’s half-brother, Eden, (who also happens to be Renny’s wife’s first husband) comes home to die.

Renny’s two uncles go into a decline when Eden dies.

Rennys brother-in-law is selling off lots in adjacent property to city people.

And Renny is broke. He won’t pay his bills, but he’ll lie and cheat to get money to keep Jalna intact and all the family living out their sordid lives under Jalna’s roof.

If Mazo de la Roche told the story through one character’s perspective, the novel might be worth reading. However, the ever-shifting point of view gives only a recital of miseries.

Most miserable of all are readers who pick up this highly overrated novel.

The Master of Jalna
by Mazo de la Roche
Little, Brown, 1943
377 pages
1933 #7
My grade D+


© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni








Finch’s Fortune Is Readers’ Misfortune.

Finch’s Fortune is the ninth of Mazo de la Roche’s 16-volume series about the Canadian Whiteoak family on the farm called Jalna.

Finch’s Fortune opens on Finch Whiteoak’s 21’s birthday, reluctantly celebrated by his relatives who thought Gran should have  given her $100,000  to them.

Finch buys one brother a car and piggery, assumes his sister’s mortgage, and takes his two elderly uncles off to visit their sister in England, frittering away money as he goes.

After his uncles go home, Finch stays in England doing nothing in particular, but doing it, for him, remarkably well. Finch falls in love with a cousin who marries his best friend. Finch accompanies them on their honeymoon.

Meanwhile, back in Canada, Finch’s sister-in-law, Alayne, has gone to stay with an aunt.  Her husband, Renny, is busy with his horses and dogs and doesn’t seem to notice her absence.

Both Alayne and Finch return home.

The homecoming is marred by Renny stomping off in a snit after yelling about Finch wasting the money his grandmother left him.

Renny is found later in his grandmother’s bed whimpering, “No one has ever understood me but Gran.”  The family accepts this as proof the mantle of family leadership has fallen to Renny.

The novel ends as Finch’s nephew is born on Finch’s birthday and named for him.

Unfortunately, Mazo de la Roche’s novel is as ridiculous as the summary makes it sound.

If you are smart, you’ll find something else to read.

Finch’s Fortune
By Mazo de la Roche
Little, Brown 1931
443 pages
1931 bestseller #9
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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