I am about eleven years old, sitting cross-legged on the floor, in what we called the sewing room.
Next to the sewing machine is a brick-and-board bookcase filled with paperbacks.
(There was a bookcase in nearly every room, regardless of what the room was called. Now, even my kitchen contains bookcases.)
This is where the Marian Engel and Margaret Atwood lived.
This is where the John Jakes and James Michener lived.
But for the purposes of this slip into bookish nostalgia, it is where the Jalna series lived.
I delight in pulling all the books in series off the shelves and stacking them on the floor in a mish-mash, then reshelving them in series order.
Even today, I could probably still reassemble the Kent Family Chronicles perfectly, so that if you wished to begin at the beginning, you could begin to by reading the book at the left and read your way through to the right.
(You would have to begin with the daring title, The Bastard, a title I never uttered as a girl, which I can barely whisper now, so shocking was it to me with every de-shelving and re-shelving that anyone could title a book such a thing. In my experience, this word had nothing to do with ancestry and inheritance and everything to do with behaving scandalously.)
Countless times, even back then, I would ambitiously begin reading the first Jalna volume; countless times, I stalled only two or three pages into the book.
If someone had told me that Adeline would have a parrot, that might have done it. (It’s still a highlight for me.)
If someone had told me that there were some naughty bits in there – like in The Thorn Birds – that would have done it. At least, I would have read those pages. (I might not have been the kind of girl who said things she shouldn’t, but I certainly was the kind of girl who read things she shouldn’t.)
Nobody needed to tell me how much fun a series was – I loved them – but nothing could get me past the opening pages of the Jalna books until last year, when I began anew.
Reading this series – and deciding to allow it to take two years rather than cramming it into one – has been a constant through 2017 and 2018. Every couple of months, I pull a book from the Jalna shelf and reacquaint myself with the Whiteoaks family.
Last month I went to the reference library and perused some of the Mazo de la Roche materials which do not circulate in the system, including Ronald Hambleton’s Mazo de la Roche of Jalna (1966), which contained this quote:
“There is nothing very amazing about my being able to make the Whiteoaks seem real at whatever period I write of them. I just open the door of the house, it closes behind me, and there they are, all about me, more living than the outside world.” (from a letter to Alfred McIntyre)
Yesterday I shared my thoughts on the first volume in the series, which was the seventh published in it; this post also commemorates Mazo de la Roche’s death on July 12th, 1961.
If you enjoy twentieth-century fiction and family sagas, this series makes for great summer reading.
It’s not as flippant as Angela Thirkell but it’s not as serious as John Galsworthy.
And the eleven-year-old reading girl in me loves that there are sixteen volumes.
All in perfect order. Of course. Parrots included.