Jo-Ann Fellows

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 604

The Jalna novels are a fictional expression of [the Loyalist Myth]…. The Jalna novels describe obliquely some very basic ideas of the Canadian national identity, at least of the English-speaking identity. Leaving aside a consideration of the novels as literature, they provide a most interesting source for the student of social and intellectual history.

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From the time that Philip Whiteoak and his young bride emigrated to Southern Ontario …, the family accepted intrinsically the idea that they held a certain position in society. This position was one of a kind of squirearchy, or to quote de la Roche, the Courts and Whiteoaks were "gentlemen, soldiers, 'goddamming' country squires." The family dominates the immediate neighbourhood—which means that they claimed a kind of feudal authority over a small, miscellaneous collection of country bumpkins, maiden ladies of humble means, the local clergymen and a few farm hands. (p. 284)

The elemental, basic quality of the authority exercised by the Whiteoaks is repeated often in the books. It is organic and timeless, based on the family group, the tribe, the clan and eventually the kingdom, with a religious re-inforcement…. The maintenance and the function of the family on the basis of these forces is the most important value in the novels. This authority demands a limiting of the choices available to the individuals in the family, but it is also provides for mutual protection and responsibility. (p. 286)

It is interesting that for all the obvious praise of "Britishness" in the book, de la Roche draws a romantic, vibrant young American woman on one side and offers for the British opposition, Aunt Augusta, old, quarrelsome and rather stupid. Aunt Augusta puts on superior airs that the other members of Jalna do not like and she makes occasional cracks about "colonials". The main contradiction of the Loyalist inheritance is illustrated in this comparison. The Loyalist tradition admired British ways and institutions but not necessarily the British. (p. 287)

The Whiteoaks … are not as important as the place itself, Jalna, and it is significant that Mazo de la Roche so titled the first novel in the series. The house and the land represent the traditions that are maintained, albeit in rather a run-down state, in the face of urban development, of the profit motive and of increasingly democratic political institutions….

The novels are a kind of cross between those of Faulkner and those of the Brontë sisters. The decay of a regional culture is aptly illustrated, and the flight into fantasy in the maintenance of the set of values that have lost their validity is obvious. Jalna and its neighbourhood are gorgeously unrealistic. The novels describe a world that has internal consistency, but that is decidedly detached from the real world. Jalna is an ideal, a kind of regional type, but it has no real connection to the hinterland and specifically, since mention is made occasionally of realistic details, to North America in the first half of the twentieth century. Jalna is a dream world with more similarities to Xanadu or Shangri-la than to Southern Ontario.

Jalna is the Loyalist Myth. It is the dream of the descendants and followers of the United Empire Loyalists. The family is of primary importance. Everything is subservient to the maintenance of strong family ties, and behind this feeling of kinship lurks the basic, fundamental feelings of a clan or kingdom or any sort of organization based on a hierarchical authority and a respect for inherited power and position. (p. 288)

Jo-Ann Fellows, "The 'British Connection' in the Jalna Novels of Mazo de la Roche: The Loyalist Myth Revisited," in The Dalhousie Review, Vol. 56, No. 2, Summer, 1976, pp. 283-90.

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