The Secret of Jalna

The Secret of Jalna by Ronald Hambleton was written in 1972. It struck me immediately after I started this book how lost I would have been if I had no prior knowledge about Mazo de la Roche. Thankfully I had read several biographies about the author already, and read at least one of her books, Jalna. Hambleton intended the reader to be familiar with her life and work and thus jumped right into specific details.

A large portion of this book was devoted to the quest to bring the Jalna series to television. In fact, the front and back covers show photos from the Canadian miniseries, The Whiteoaks of Jalna from 1972. De la Roche herself wavered on the depiction of her works by actors. While she was instrumental in bringing her first novels to the stage, and was by all appearances in favour of the Hollywood movie, she was of two minds when it came to presenting her novels on television. Hambleton covered how de la Roche was pleased to hand over the rights to someone she supposedly trusted, then figuratively rip up the contract with that person the next day.

De la Roche inspired awe in others, as Timothy Findley’s reminiscence in Thirty-Two Short Views of Mazo de la Roche attests. She lived extravagantly yet cherished her privacy, which was granted to her. A lifestyle like that could not be sustained today surrounded by infectious paparazzi and selfie-obsessed fans. That said, she was skilled in deflecting unwelcome intrusions by adopting a personality quite foreign to her own demeanor:

“She used ironic insult, mimicry, artificial manners, whenever she wanted to put space between herself and others; in a sense, it was a way of drawing attention to a temporarily exhibitionist aspect of herself, in order that a deeper, more private aspect might go unremarked.”

She carried herself grandly in person and in her letters. Her written demands to her publishers were rarely challenged. Nor were her alterations to her own life story. Hambleton exposed many discrepancies between stories in her published autobiography and how she lived her actual life.

The back cover proudly trumpeted that there were 122 illustrations and Hambleton did not disappoint. He provided some photos of de la Roche that I had never seen before.

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