B. K. Sandwell

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 546

It is just 25 years since that excellent American magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, having offered a very large cash prize for the best novel submitted to its editors during a year, decided to award that prize to a young author with the romantic-sounding name of Mazo de la Roche [for her new novel Jolana]….

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[It] always comes as something of a shock when an author who not merely got born in Canada but still lives there scores a first-class hit in one or other of the two larger English-language countries; and I shall not readily forget the sensation caused by the announcement of Miss de la Roche's prize….

And then to our amazement she did not do it again, not of course in the shape of another gigantic prize, but at least in the shape of another highly successful novel about the same family as the first one, the first prize one; and this was followed by a whole series of novels, until the Whiteoaks family has become one of the great imaginary families of the world, something like the clerical families in Trollope or the rather less religious families in Balzac, and is known not only to the English-speaking world but also to vast numbers of others who can read about it in translations….

When it became obvious that the Jalna series could not be written off as a lucky accident but would have to be accepted as one of the great literary creations of the second quarter of the century, some of my Canadian friends began to find another fault with it; it was not "Canadian." It is true that none of the Whiteoaks family bear much resemblance to Jack Canuck, or to Old Man Ontario as depicted in a Toronto Star cartoon. But that is a rather limited concept of Canadianism, and one the acceptance of which would seriously hamper the scope of any Canadian writer of fiction….

[We] know that Miss de la Roche is by no means limited to the Whiteoaks family in her powers of creation. She has written about many other and quite different kinds of people, and her next volume, which will shortly be in our hands, and which is entitled "A Boy in the House," has nothing to do with Jalna at all. Yet its title is thoroughly and perfectly Mazonian. What fascinates her as material for fiction is not the casual relationships which we develop with those whom we meet in business, in social intercourse, in professional contacts and the like, but the tight and often tense relationships which develop between people who are willy-nilly spending a good deal of their lives in one another's pockets. The house is the symbol of the things that tie us together in these tight family bundles, the pressures that we not only cannot escape but do not want to escape. It is significant that the word "house" or the name of a house occurs so often in her titles. It need not be Jalna, but wherever it is the household is the unit she studies, the forces that play within it are the warp and woof of her tale.

B. K. Sandwell "The Work of Mazo de la Roche," in Saturday Night (copyright © 1952 by Saturday Night), Vol. 68, No. 5, November 8, 1952, p. 7.

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