Story-wise, this is the fourteenth volume in the Jalna series, and the house is about a hundred years old. There is time to reflect here, so that when a new character, like Humphrey Bell, is introduced, readers are reminded of all the other characters who have lived in his cottage near Jalna.
This kind of accumulated detail makes readers feel even more enmeshed in the family goings-on, for these summaries cover only the high points, so they give dedicated readers the opportunity to reminisce and muse upon the passage of time, without being burdensome.
In this instance, it’s less about Humphrey and more about memory and tradition. We have been here from the beginning: that kind of thing.
We have seen other Aprils. And we know the swell of Virginia Creeper like we know the familiar flora surrounding our own dwelling. (Perhaps better. For how many of us have returned to the same building over decades.)
“Behind the rosy leafbuds of the Virginia creeper the rosy brick showed solid and strong. Woodwork and shutters had been freshly painted the year before and still looked fresh.”
This is not only a story of survival: Jalna is thriving. “A lot has gone on under that roof. It seems to me that the house knows all about it.”
The 200 acres that young Maurice inherited from the Court family in Ireland sounds impressive, until you consider that it is less than half the size of the family estate in Canada, the 500 acres originally purchased by Captain Philip Whiteoak and his wife, Adeline, more than a century before. (This is a settler narrative, through and through.)
Change is afoot but Jalna remains solid and secure, finally on the other side of two world wars and a Depression. And largely because the women on the scene have marched forward, constantly and determinedly: Adeline the matriarch, Adeline the granddaughter, and many between.
“I don’t believe you will ever know what surrender means.”
“I don’t think I shall,” she returned serenely.
Mazo de la Roche lived an independent life too, daring to do what many women of her generation did not, sharing her home with her cousin, Caroline, for most of her life. She seems eager to write of Adeline’s “aggression” (which is how even Adeline’s mother views her behaviour) and one wonders if that accusation was wielded against her as well.
Adeline trumpets her assuredness to her mother: “Girls do practically everything today that boys do. They wear their clothes, take up their professions, or business.”
And when the mothers aren’t on the scene, there is even more evidence of change. “Well, if I thought enough of a man to have him in my room at night, I’d think enough of him to marry him.”
That’s not Adeline, but this next passage is, and what a change from the young woman who declared, only in the last volume, that she would never love another man as she loves her father.
“’Oh, if only you could meet him,’ she cried. ‘You’d understand everything. He’s so sensitive, so proud –’ She hesitated and then added, almost in a whisper, — “so poor.’”
Poor Adeline. She has fallen in love with a poor man. A poor man who has been married once before. A poor man bound to care for his sister and mother overseas.
But there are still two books left in the series: time enough to have more tenants in the cottage and time enough for Adeline to find a wealthier match. After all, it was just a few chapters ago that she was committed to the single life.