Critical Evaluation

JALNA and all the books of the Jalna series are unusual in that each stands alone on its own merits; the mass of exposition needed to set the stage for the events of the plot is deftly incorporated into the musings of the characters or their dinner-table conversation. Yet readers feel from the first that the characters have had a life prior to the novel, similarly as readers feel that their lives continue beyond the end of it. The characters, painted with a critical detachment, are extremely amusing. Mazo de la Roche has achieved an impressive balancing of the dozen portraits of hardy egoists going about their nagging, fighting, and loving. There is, however, too much material in the book—too many characters and a confusion of incident. Some descriptions and scenes are brisk and fresh, but other passages are weak and amateurish in execution. The characters never develop; they are born in full bloom, as it were. It is the sense of family, the cumulative effect of the group, that provides the real charm of the novel, despite its shortcomings. The elderly matriarch holds together both the family and the book.

The very quarrelsomeness of the family prohibits readers from taking any of the members solely at his own self-estimate. Finch is both a stupid, sulky young whelp and a person of almost clairvoyant sensitivity to the moods and motives of those about him, just as Eden is talented, sinned against, and at times a cad. Neither is readily likable, and the somewhat perverse claims they make upon the reader seem the very essence of their being Whiteoaks. The many-sidedness of these quarrelsome people and the sparks they strike from one another find their synthesis in the character of Grandma Adeline Whiteoak. The living symbol of the family’s covenant with the land, she draws warmth from the friction of their communal life and strength from their vivid physicality.