13 December 2011

Jalna's Dirty Little Secret Exposed! (Part II)

Continuing yesterday's post on Ronald Hambleton's The Secret of Jalna, this cautionary tale concerning literary executors:

"What is the secret of Jalna?" begins the cover copy, then peppers the prospective purchaser with further questions: "Did a house called Jalna really exist? Who was Mazo de la Roche and why did she hide her origins? What kept the Jalna stories off television for ten years after her death?"

Anyone wondering as to the existence of a house called Jalna would have found the answer in Hambleton's previous book, Mazo de la Roche of Jalna (1966). A polite biography, it went far in exploring de la Roche's life and why it was that she hid her origins, all the while skirting speculation that she and life-long companion cousin Caroline Clement were Sapphic sisters.

Ultimately, The Secret of Jalna is very much a reflection the ill-conceived series. A rough gathering of short pieces on de la Roche's life, ancestry and writings, it jumps around with no real purpose. Anyone familiar with Mazo de la Roche of Jalna will find nothing new other than the answer to that fourth question, "What kept the Jalna stories off television for ten years after her death?":
In her lifetime, Mazo de la Roche stubbornly refused to permit any of her books to be broadcast on either radio or television in any sponsored broadcast; and though her will did not come right out and forbid commercial adaptations of her books, she left no doubt of her own opinion.

Hambleton goes on to add: "Today, the creator of the world of Jalna is dead, and the world is no longer self-renewing."


Following de la Roche's 1961 death, repeated efforts were made to turn the Whiteoak Chronicles into a series. By 1970, two-thirds of her estate – represented by adopted children René and Esmée – were on board; the hold out was companion Caroline, "the only inheritor of the attitude of mind of her late cousin."

The paragraphs that follow are the most peculiar and revealing of the book. The reader is told: "Caroline Clement knew that Mazo, had she been living, would certainly not have agreed; but now, after ten years? For Caroline Clement is herself an old woman, subject to illness, easily tired yet plagued by insomnia, living on without Mazo."

Hambleton sketches a disturbing picture of an elderly, blind, frail woman being wooed over afternoon tea by Head of CBC Television Drama Fletcher Markle, George Desmond of the network's copyright department and story consultant April Sinclair (who was present "because of her English accent; it would help to put Caroline at ease"):
Caroline was sent flowers, talking books, and cassettes of her favourite music to hear during her solitary hours.
Then, after the agreement was signed, Mrs. Sinclair was given the task of telling Caroline Clement that other material was being added to up-date the Whiteoaks, since after all, Caroline had been invited to attend a private showing of the pilot episode together with the rest of the family. (She refused to attend, and gave it as her wish that no member of the family, nor her friends John Gray and Lovat Dickson, attend either that or any other arranged showing.)
Caroline heard her out, then said nothing for a long moment. At last she asked, in a quiet, numbed voice, "Can I do anything to stop it?"
April Sinclair said no.
Nothing more need be said, except for this: The series deserved to fail.

The Globe & Mail, 3 March 1972

Object: A 175-page mass market paperback, printed on heavy paper, with 122 illustrations and a Whiteoak family tree. My copy, purchased a few months ago from a London, Ontario bookseller for one dollar, features a few spidery notations relating to Miss de la Roche's grandparents.

Access: Held by the Toronto Public Library and roughly half of our universities. Fifteen copies are listed for sale online at prices ranging in price from US$1 to US$99.16. Condition is not a factor. A Burlington, Ontario bookseller adds the book to the sixteen title Whiteoak Chronicle. "Later and/or first printings" of the Pan paperback editions, all are "Good or better with most being better". Price: US$200. Good luck to him.

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