(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

The Whiteoaks of Jalna were quite a family. The parents were dead, and the children, ranging in age from eight to more than forty, were held together by Renny, the oldest son, and tyrannized by Grandma Whiteoak, a matriarch of ninety-nine years. The family estate of Jalna had been founded by Grandfather Whiteoak, but it had dwindled somewhat from its original greatness. By common consent, Renny managed the farms and the family, although he frequently encountered resistance from both.

Meg, the oldest daughter, had been engaged in her youth to Maurice Vaughan, a neighbor and a friend of the family. While he waited out the long engagement insisted upon by Meg, he had become entangled with a low-class girl and fathered a child, Pheasant. The girl had disappeared, and Maurice had grudgingly raised Pheasant. Meg, deaf to the pleas of Maurice and her family for a forgiving heart, had broken the engagement and gone into almost complete retirement. Maurice was never allowed at Jalna again, although he and Renny served in the war together and remained friends.

Renny had remained a bachelor, the head of the family, and a man with quite a reputation with women. Only his passions had been involved in these affairs, however, and thus it seemed that he would never marry. Renny accepted his power and his position but seemed not greatly to enjoy either.

The rest of the children were half brothers to these two. Eden was a poet and a dreamer. Farm life disgusted him, and since he had recently had a book of poetry accepted by a New York publisher, he hoped to get away from Jalna and make his way with his writing. However, work of any kind was so distasteful to Eden that it seemed unlikely he could ever break the ties which held him to Jalna.

Piers was a plodder, with no flights of fancy or dreams of grandeur. Doing most of the manual work on the farms, he took orders from Renny in a lethargic way. Renny, learning that Piers had been seen with Pheasant Vaughan, warned the boy that such an alliance could lead only to trouble for both.

Finch was the real problem. Still in school, he barely managed to return each term. Different from the rest, he had no ambition or drive of any kind. The family obviously considered him useless, but they stuck by him because he was family. Finch brooded. On his lonely walks through the woods and fields, he often saw through matters other members of the family tried to conceal.

Wakefield was just eight years old, and thus greatly spoiled. He had a heart condition which allowed him to get his own way without effort.

Grandma Whiteoak held a whip over them all. Her will had been made—and often changed—to be used as a weapon over the children and her...

(The entire section is 1119 words.)