“I dare say old Red-head will be delighted. If there is one thing above another that pleases him it is an addition to the clan.”
That’s Renny and, it’s true, his heart beats for Jalna, which is where the Whiteoaks are.
But he has standards. He’s not about the body count. And if someone doesn’t want what’s best for Jalna, then he doesn’t want anything to do with them, so this new arrival might not be in Renny’s good books after all.
And even longtime residents are not necessarily committed to Jalna. Tensions which were developing throughout the last volume peak and marriages fray.
But even those who choose to leave still recognize the charm of Jalna:
“From the farm came at intervals the persistent lowing of a cow for her calf. The land was heavy with thick midsummer sunshine. The old house was heavy with thick midsummer sunshine. The old house was warmed through and through. The mellow sunshine was kind to it. The faded curtains and threadbare spots in rugs were enriched and glossed over by its radiance. The house sat like a drowsy old cat absorbing warmth in its every fibre.”
There is a cozy Christmas scene, too (in case the lowing cow was not enough):
“The Christmas tree stood in the library. Renny and the uncles had decorated it the night before. The trimmings were kept in a huge old bandbox in the attic and brought down year after year. They were of better and most lasting materials than are made to-day. How many times the gay cornucopias, decorated with gilt paper lace, had been refilled and hung on scented branches.”
Above all, these are stories about home (even though this remains a settlers’ narrative, which overlooks the fact that this land was someone else’s home before it ‘belonged’ to the Whiteoaks). But creating a home, making a space for yourself in someone else’s home, it’s harder than it looks.
“It seems a strange thing to me but I do earnestly believe that two marriages are broken up in this family. And if one is more finally broken up than the other, I believe it’s yours.”
Certainly, yes, there is competition for the most completely fragmented union. And the fallout is substantial. Challenging traditional ideas about womanhood along the way.
“You must think me an unnatural mother. But – I’m simply not able to have her with me now. Later on it will be different.”
And advice is given all-too-freely and just-as-gloriously ignored.
“You’ll spoil all your chances with him – if you force yourself on him now. Can’t you feel that sometimes a husband may want to be left alone?”
One of the relationships is mended, at least temporarily. “Now she had done everything for him she could do. Surely she had in a measure repaid the long years of friendship, of comfort and support he had given her – the short months of passion.”
But even the mending requires the sacrifice of yet another relationship. One woman bows out of the scene to afford another the opportunity of happiness.
This is unexpected, and perhaps just as likely to be reversed in a future volume. Because women are devilish. (This is Mazo de la Roche’s way of writing against type. And even if you remember who Miss Archer is, this is not a spoiler because the man to whom she speaks is unidentified.)
“I say she’s devilish,” he returned tranquilly. “But then, every woman worth her salt is that at times, don’t you think so?”
Miss Archer laughed, somehow not ill-pleased by the implication that she herself might on occasion be devilish.
The devilish women in the Jalna series are certainly the reason I keep reading. But, funnily enough, I suspect that contemporary readers were more enchanted by the men. Especially old Red-head.