________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 29. . . .March 30, 2012


Morning at Jalna.

Mazo de la Roche.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 1960/2011.
283 pp., trade pbk. & e-book, $24.99 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-55488-915-0 (pbk.).

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by J. Lynn Fraser.

** /4



Although he may never be aware of it Julian Fellowes, creator of the British television melodrama Downton Abbey (among other projects), has done a service to Canadian author Mazo de la Roche's "Whiteoaks of Jalna" series of novels. His romantic vision of the British class system, as represented in the lives of the 'upstairs/downstairs' inhabitants of the Downton Abbey household, will make it easier for Canadian readers to comprehend the lives of the Whiteoaks who live on the Jalna estate and in Roche's imagination. Roche's Southern Ontario Gothic romance has the same intertwining story lines regarding inheritance concerns, the effect of the economy and wars on family fortunes, illicit/puritanical behaviour and concern with social standing and keeping up appearances as Fellowes' story lines in Downton Abbey.

      The difference between the two is that Fellowes' depiction of class and race prejudice has been sanitized while Roche's language is less politically correct as in one character's statement "A typical Englishman." Her husband spoke half-admiringly, half in resentment. "A stubborn, self-opinionated type" (p. 13) and as seen in the following excerpt (p. 111):

"My advice is --- pack the Southerners back to their own country where they'll be take care of. Otherwise you will injure your own health."

"Did you hear those blacks howling?" asked Philip, "Strange! They are quiet now."

"They are quiet," said Adeline, with great calmness, "because I have dosed them."

"Dosed them!" Exclaimed the doctor. "With what?"


"Good God!" cried Dr. Ramsay. "Where are they?"

     Characters in Downton Abbey, such as the Dowage Countess, often make intended and unintended humorous comments stemming from their class constrained lives. Roche's novel Morning at Jalna has moments of levity (p. 17):

"They're having a civil war," said Nicholas.

"Does that mean they're fighting to be civilized? asked little Ernest.

Augusta put an arm about him. "No, little silly," she said. "They are very elegant and well-mannered,"...

     As in the Downton Abbey series, Roche's novel provides opportunities to learn about attitudes held by various classes in Canada's past. It is also an opportunity to learn about the language, manners, dress, customs, and concerns of a bygone era. Roche's use of metaphor would be helpful to students to understand how language and environment can be used to mirror both characters' lives and story developments (pp. 94-95):

A million leaves shut them in....But now --- what luxuriance, what madness of growth! Clusters of little green grapes thrived in the course of its wandering. The vine was relentless, seeking to smother what gave it support.

     When reading Roche's novel, the reader must take into account the era in which Roche wrote each particular book in her series as well as the era that she wrote about. In that context, as well as reading the book through the filter of the conventions of Downton Abbey's melodrama and Southern Ontario Gothic literature, the book Morning at Jalna might be enjoyed and might prove instructive to readers.


Located in Toronto, ON, J. Lynn Fraser is an author and freelance writer. She writes for national and international magazines, non-profits, and corporations.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.