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Mazo de la Roche on dinner with the Whiteoaks

``Jalna'' (1927) won Mazo de la Roche a $10,000 prize from Atlantic Monthly. By 1949, she had 2 million readers. The exploits of the garrulous Whiteoak family take up 16 novels. Jalna was their forested Ontario estate, settled by their grandfather and named after the military station in India he was posted to before emigrating. De la Roche also wrote a play, ``Whiteoaks'' (1936), in which Ethel Barrymore played Grandmother. The conversation buzzed on in its former channel. What was it all about, Wake wondered vaguely, but he was too much interested in his dinner to care greatly. Phrases flew over his head, words clashed. Probably it was just one of the old discussions provocative of endless talk: what crops should be sown that year; what to make of Finch, who went to school in town; which of Grandmother's three sons had made the worst mess of his life -- Nicholas, who sat on her left, and who had squandered his patrimony on fast living in his youth; Ernest, who sat on her right, and who had ruined himself by nebulous speculations and the backing of notes for his brothers and his friends; or Philip, who lay in the churchyard who had made a second marriage (and that beneath him!) which had produced Eden, Piers, Finch, and Wakefield, unnecessary additions to the family's already too great burdens.

The dining room was a very large room, full of heavy furniture that would have overshadowed and depressed a weaker family. The sideboard, the cabinets, towered toward the ceiling. Heavy cornices flowered ponderously from above. Inside shutters and long curtains of yellow velours, caught back by cable-like cords, with tassels at the ends shaped like the wooden human figures in a Noah's ark, seemed definitely to shut out the rest of the world from the world of the Whiteoaks, where they squabbled, ate, drank, and indulged in their peculiar occupations.

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Those spaces on the wall not covered by furniture were covered by family portraits in oil, heavily framed, varied in one instance by the bright Christmas supplement of an English periodical, framed in red velvet by the mother of Renny and Meg, when she was a gay young bride.

Chief among the portraits was that of Captain Philip Whiteoak in his uniform of a British officer. He was Grandfather, who, if he were living, would have been more than a hundred, for he was older than Grandmother. The portrait showed a well-set-up gentleman of fair skin, waving brown hair, bold blue eyes, and sweet, stubborn mouth. From ``Jalna'' by Mazo de la Roche. Copyright 1927 by Little, Brown, & Co. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown, & Co.

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