“With her book, her roses and her cake she was separated from the other members of the family in a kind of frosty seclusion.”

Alayne’s frosty seclusion doesn’t sound all that bad, does it? But the point is that Alayne feels her separateness. And that’s not always comfortable.

Nor is she understood by the Whiteoak family members, even her husband, who seems to want to make her more comfortable, but without actually doing anything himself.

“He was elated by the idea of getting Alayne to read French with little Pauline. He felt that, if she would agree, it would be the means of drawing her and Clara Lebraux together. It would be good for each of them to find a friend in the other. It would be especially good for Alayne to have an interest outside Jalna, for her realized that often time hung heavy on her hands.”

And maybe he sincerely means for the two women to establish a connection. But it’s also possible that he’s thinking about his own connections with the two women. [cue: melodramatic music]

After all, Alayne has been involved with more than one Whiteoak; and this Whiteoak also seems to be involved with both of these women (although it’s hard to tell just what his connection is to Clara Lebraux).

Clara comes from a rural background, so she has a connection with the Whiteoak family in general which Alayne lacks. Alayne’s husband puts his finger on the point here: “If your father had been a horse dealer instead of a New England professor, we might understand each other better.”

He offers no solution, however, other than this vague idea about reading French with Clara’s daughter. He’s not a reader. He is much more comfortable in the stable than in the library, whereas Alayne craves bookish conversation, writing long letters to the publisher for whom she used to work, when he requests her opinion about new publications.

When the youngest Whiteoak seems to be bitten by the bookish bug, too, Alayne’s husband questions him, in an attempt to understand the urge to write (which an older brother shared as well):

“Why, that’s the whole thing – writing it! You see something you like. Then you want to make others see it. Only you want to make them see it more clearly than they could ever have seen it themselves.”
“But why? Why not see it yourself and be satisfied?”
“Because” – he knitted his slender black brows – “you want to give them a picture to keep. You want them to see it in the way you did.”

It would be easy to ascribe this opinion to Mazo de la Roche herself but apparently the character with whom she felt the greatest affinity is Finch Whiteoak, whose ambitions are musical in nature.

This affinity is particularly interesting given the speculation as to whether Mazo de la Roche’s lifelong intimate relationship with her cousin Caroline was strictly platonic (her descendants have fervently denied this).

Because certainly Finch’s relationship with Arthur Leigh is uncommonly passionate, with open talk of a kind of love and devotion distinct from all the other relationships in the series (so far, anyway).

For instance, when Arthur decides to marry, he requests Finch’s presence, not only at the ceremony but on the honeymoon:

“Finch, darling, I want your support…. You may think that my love for Sarah has come between you and me. You’re wrong. I think more of you than ever. And I want to have you near me in these weeks. I want the woman I love and the man I love beside me. I want the two different loves merged into one beautiful whole.”

And Finch is looking for ways to de-stress. Readers will guess, from the title, that the matriarch has died (she couldn’t hover around her own centenary forever, but to remain as spoiler-free as possible – given the spoilery title – I shan’t mention in which volume it happens) and she did leave her fortune to Finch.

(Almost thirty years transpired between the publication of the first Jalna book and this one, the third in the story-sequence, so readers would have learned of this inheritance by reading on with the series before Roche filled this gap in 1955.)

Half in England (at Augusta’s) and half at Jalna, this installment in the series reads quickly and easily and for all that some characters are growing more restless, others are settling. One advantage of such a sprawling cast is that there is always at least one plot-line to hold readers’ attentions.

Where bored and bookish types disappoint, the family cad’s adventures will entice.