Mazo de la Roche’s Wakefield’s Course (1942)

Among my grandmother’s copies of the Jalna books, this is the only volume (so far, at least) which splits upon opening. Most of the bindings are well and evenly worn, so that the volumes fall open comfortably at almost any spot, whether closer to the front or to the back or smack in the middle.

Wakefield’s Course separates in two segments right at the beginning – you can hold them in your hands and read them like tiny magazines – and it seems poised to separate into a third and fourth past that. It wasn’t until I’d reached page 200 that I felt I could allow the book to settle into my grasp.

Most likely it’s a matter of glue distribution – or the lack thereof – but it’s easy to imagine that this relatively adventurous story of Wakefield in England, pursuing an acting career, held a singular charm.

The other young Whiteoak boys have dabbled in poetry and music, but Wake’s is perhaps the most scandalous pastime. But soon enough there is another scandal – and it is a doozy – so that Wake’s thespian urges fade into the background (partly, also, because he leaves England behind).

In the meantime, Renny is off to Ireland to buy a horse. Which provides an opportunity to reflect on the family’s Irish-side, and Renny, in particular, to consider his ancestry: the conjunction of matriarch Adeline’s Court heritage with patriarch Phillip’s English heritage.

Malahide Court is still alive and well, filled with enthusiasm for Renny’s visit. Malahide remains a curious character, slightly smarmy but still a great fan of Adeline (so, not all bad then).

“Dear boy,” said Malahide, “how glad I am to see you! What recollections you bring of my happy time at Jalna! Then your grandmother was alive. She was my idea of what a woman of noble breeding should be – the truth is, I loved her! Though she was eighty and I half that age!”

The intersecting themes of family and home take centre stage, through the journeys of the volume’s first half and the returns of the volume’s conclusion: “It was good to be home again. No matter where you went or how you enjoyed yourself, it was good to be home again.”

There is a slight shift in tone here, as Renny becomes more contemplative than usual. Perhaps this is inspired by his observations of the younger generation as they begin to find their feet (although he was not particularly thrilled with Wakefield’s most recent explorations, anymore than he was a fan of his last phase, in the previous book, which hasn’t been discussed, it was such a fun surprise).

“Each was needed to complete the design. He was conscious of his own dire deficiencies but felt, without humility, that he was needed too. Somehow he was the receptacle of what had once lived in his forefathers. He was tough-figured and strong. That was something he would guard and pass on to his son.”

But likely, it says more about the author than the characters, as Mazo de la Roche was writing in the early years of WWII and more preoccupied with the idea of moral inheritances and legacies than fiscal ones (for a change).

And, speaking of children, there is another on the way, but the father is having difficulty adjusting to the idea: “It had seemed to him that parenthood was against the nature of each of them.”

Actually, he is having difficulty adjusting to the idea of his partner being a mother:

“He could not picture [her] as a mother. [She] simply couldn’t be a mother. She hadn’t the body for it or the instinct. She was a cold crystal receptacle for passion. Anything more would shatter her.”

As dramatic as this passage is, as much as I giggled over strange and contradictory specificity of it – after all, what could be more easily shattered than a “cold crystal receptacle for passion” but apparently the little matter of motherhood would be the straw on the proverbial camel’s back – this seems to be the quintessential Jalna woman.

Think back to matriarch Adeline’s distance from little Gussie and onwards to every other woman – except two (one of Jalna and one not of Jalna) who has birthed a child in this saga. All the most interesting are disinterested or distracted mothers, all passionate and devoted to other pursuits (usually a man, a Whiteoak man, more specifically).

And, yes, another is introduced in Wakefield’s Course. But you likely guessed that, didn’t you.

2018-08-09T10:42:12+00:00

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