Mazo de la Roche

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Douglas M. Daymond

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Although the success of the Jalna novels has tended to overshadow [de la Roche's] earlier works, they represent some of [her] most interesting writing and suggest the principal characteristics of all her work and the nature of her contribution to the development of the Canadian novel. At a time when Canadian fiction was dominated by historical novels and sentimental stories of village and rural life, de la Roche challenged the code of conduct associated with Victorian morality and dramatized the tension between instinct and convention. Possession, her first and in many respects one of her most successful novels, reveals her efforts to turn away from the typical local colour story and to temper the essentially pleasant world of escape with realism.

Possession is a mixture of elements of the romance and the novel. On the one hand, the lively and convincing presentation of highly individualistic characters, the immediacy with which domestic action is dramatized, the absence of a stable conclusion, and the realistic scenes depicting the way of life at Grimstone, contribute to the feeling of realism. On the other hand, the episodic nature of events, the sudden shifting from melodramatic confrontations to comic or pastoral scenes, the artificiality of some of the dialogue, and the emphasis on individual freedom and instinct, suggest the extent to which elements identified with the romance are incorporated in the novel. The result is romantic realism or … a "romance novel" in which the strict realism of the naturalist is blended with a conception of character and plot which is often sentimental and romantic. (p. 87)

Possession is divided into two parts which are equal in length though somewhat different in tone and development. The first twelve chapters, more tightly constructed and realistic, concern the experiences of Derek Vale…. In the following episodes, less credible twists of plot as well as romantic and sentimental vignettes tend to slow the novel's development until the sudden and somewhat unconvincing departure of Derek's Indian wife and the death of their child. (p. 89)

The theme of ownership and the ironies attached to it permeate Possession. Among the most interesting groups of characters in the novel are the original owners of the Grimstone estate, Indian families like the Sharroes and the Rains who have been forced to become itinerant fruit pickers. Their fate is implied in their way of life…. (p. 90)

The realization of the social landscape of the Grimstone region is supported by the presentation of the physical setting. Possession reveals de la Roche's sensitivity to this setting as well as her talent for sketching the landscape and her use of it as a means of reinforcing mood. In general, her descriptive passages are relatively short and often serve as introductions to episodes or as breaks in the narrative. The most convincing descriptions reveal a particular feeling for seasonal change…. (pp. 90-1)

Although the early chapters of Possession focus on Derek's experiences as a novice farmer, attention is increasingly directed toward his involvement with two women. Grace Jerrold and Fawnie Sharroe…. This traingle is carefully developed and creates the central tension in the novel—conflicting appeals of instinct and convention. (p. 91)

The contrast between Fawnie and Grace is the most fully developed of several contrasts in Possession which emphasize the primitive and instinctual as opposed to the civilized and conventional. (p. 93)

Possession is the first novel by a writer who was to become one of the most popular and prolific of Canadian novelists. Despite its limitations, Possession marks Mazo de la Roche as a prominent figure in the movement toward realism that characterized the Canadian novel in the early decades of the twentieth century. (p. 94)

Douglas M. Daymond, "'Possession': Realism in Mazo de la Roche's First Novel," in Journal of Canadian Fiction (reprinted by permission from Journal of Canadian Fiction, 2050 Mackay St., Montreal, Quebec H3G 2JI, Canada), Vol. IV, No. 3, 1975, pp. 87-94.

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