Thirty-Two Short Views of Mazo de la Roche

I read Thirty-Two Short Views of Mazo de la Roche by Daniel L. Bratton almost one year after I read Jalna. Bratton focussed on de la Roche’s autobiography, Ringing the Changes, often however to refute her own life story. He tried to uncover the truth about the author and used her own works to parallel her life experiences, arguing that her hidden life was exposed in her characters. We learned about all of her works, which included her pre-Jalna novels, short stories, nonfiction and children’s books. What reminded me of Jack Kerouac was de la Roche’s tendency to move house often, from childhood throughout adulthood.

The title of this book misled me at first as I interpreted it as a collection of 32 essays by different writers. Instead this is a book comprised of 32 short chapters all written by Bratton. The most informative, as well as amusing, chapters centred on Timothy Findley and his relationship with de la Roche and her work. In his youth Findley portrayed Finch Whiteoak in a de la Roche play and later worked on the scripts for the “Jalna” TV series in 1972, where the CBC made the unfortunate decision to update the novels by bringing the characters into the present day. Findley did not believe that the novels needed to be sent through a time machine in order to attract an audience. However the earliest memory Findley had of de la Roche occurred when he was still a boy:

“My mother and I were walking on Bloor Street, near where the Ladies’ Club used to be, and a big black car with a chauffeur stopped and Mazo was let out and she looked something like the character actress in the movies–Edna May Oliver–tall, angular, not pretty. But she had presence–she had style and absolute graces. My mother said to me–I was still a child–‘Look, and remember this. That is Mazo de la Roche!’ As though one were seeing God. This fed, of course, into my relationship with the Jalna novels. And the Whiteoaks.”

Bratton wrote a speedy read, supplemented with a few photographs but mainly composed of pages of solid text with minimal paragraphs. In spite of the unwelcome formatting I raced through the book and was left with a thirst to learn more about the author. I have another de la Roche biography next on my reading list.

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