In chatting about the previous volume, Renny’s Daughter (1951), I mused on the future of Adeline’s romance. Because in the volume before, Return to Jalna (1956) she had committed to remaining unmarried to spend her adult life at her father’s side.
(The volumes were written out of story-order. Mazo de la Roche was always writing back to fill in the gaps in the series, satisfying her fans’ and her personal desire for more of this family’s story.)
Here we swing back once more: “…oh, Daddy, you are so sweet to me…. There’s no one in the world like you. Never, never shall I want to leave you.”
A whole lot of drama.
Were this not the penultimate volume, one might predict another sixteen, filled with “loves him more”, “loves him less”.
And no wonder, for the romances and courtships in this saga are romantic in a Rhett-Butler-on-the-stairs way.
It’s hard to commit in the presence of this kind of ambivalence.
Adeline is devoted to her beau for years, at a distance, but when the engaged couple spends time together, things get…complicated. (Ironically, this behaviour is not what brings their engagement to an end.)
“He plunged after her into the darkness, as into a well. He caught her and drew her again to him. Again his passion repelled her. She struck him, and, disentangling herself, fled along the path. He found his way after her as best he could. They passed by the wood and the orchard without speaking. At last the house, with a light burning in the hall, was before them. They separated silently for their own rooms.”
Even the character who is said to be modelled most closely after Mazo de la Roche herself, Finch, the pianist, does not find happiness with a partner. “No other woman – no other marriage – not for him. The piano his woman,” insists Finch. But he is as changeable as young Adeline.
(In real life, Mazo de la Roche remained committed to her cousin, Caroline; in real life also, Mazo’s adopted daughter insists that there was nothing romantic about Mazo and Caroline’s life-long devotion. Just a coincidence, then, that Finch’s most satisfying relationship was with another young man, not a wife.)
The true satisfaction in this saga rests in the enduring home, the dependability of family and tradition, and the small details which contribute to comfort and pleasure.
“The bulldog had long cherished an ambition to gnaw his bone in the middle of the kitchen floor. This Mrs. Wragge had forbidden and stiffened her order with a broom-handle. But now Bill brought his enormous knuckle-bone and, with snufflings and grindings worked his will on it. The spaniel Sport had long been dissatisfied with his bed and now solidly established himself on the sofa in the library, and, as this was his season for shedding his coat, his hairs were everywhere. The little cairn terrier was in a continual state of excitement. With the acute intelligence of his breed he realized that things were not as they should be, but all his runnings here and there, all his barking, could not set them right.”
The racy swimsuit on this volume’s cover might be designed to draw readers in, but it’s the homefires which convince them to linger.