CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 25. . . .March 5, 2010.
Mazo de la Roche.
Toronto, ON; Dundurn Press, 2009.
285 pp., pbk., $24.99.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by J. Lynn Fraser.
Originally published in 1936, Whiteoak Heritage is the eleventh of 16 books in the ‘Whiteoaks of Jalna’ series. The novel is a romance in every sense: setting, narrative, values, and language. The writing is florid and self-indulgently descriptive as is illustrated in this passage:
Close beside the locust tree was the rose trellis, over which a hardy climbing rose sprawled, unpruned. Already this year’s shoots, finding no tendril hold on the overcrowded trellis, were pushing their way through the grass or thrusting outward towards an imaginary support. The roses grew in clusters, were pink, and had an old-fashioned sentimental perfume. (p.134)
Reading through this novel, the reader will wonder why the author’s sprawling words were not pruned. In this, however, the book serves as a very good example of bad writing. For the older student, the novel could be used as a lesson in an English or Creative Writing course of what should be avoided in writing. Nonetheless, Mazo de la Roche, the author, does successfully present the views of a variety of characters, and the world she creates is consistent and could offer insight into the author’s era as well as the era she is writing about. The vocabulary of the novel is old fashioned, and some of her comments, by today’s standards, are sometimes racist.
The younger reader could also benefit from the obviousness of the author’s metaphors and other literary devices. The author’s characteristic references, for instance, to animals and architecture as symbols of order/disorder as well as individuals struggling with outer civility/social mores and inner passion can be seen in, for example, “The wild disorder of this house, its gypsy-like casualness, was as thrilling to Pheasant as the charm and order of Mrs. Stroud’s” (p.128).
In this respect, the author’s writing and symbolism can be compared to that of Wuthering Heights and, for that reason, would make for an interesting classroom discussion in comparing de la Roche’s Southern Ontario gothic with that of Emily Brontë’s interpretation of the gothic novel. In both, power struggles, repressed sexuality and restricting social mores, family drama, and money feature prominently. In a Media or Communications course, this novel could be used as a commentary on society’s ongoing fascination with these issues but as applied to celebrity news.
For the thoughtful and creative teacher, Whiteoak Heritage could be a useful teaching resource.
Located in Toronto, ON, J. Lynn Fraser is an author and freelance writer whose magazine articles appear in national and international publications.
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