15 December 2011

The Pan Jalna (and the Careening Jalnawagon)

The Whiteoak books represent the idealized portrait of Canada, which all English people have. Life is hardly ever painful at Jalna. It's comfortable, it's exciting, there are domestic dramas going on. I think that Englishmen like to believe that anywhere abroad life goes on as it used to go on in England. We always like to think that life for our parents must have been wonderful and life for us is horrid. Englishmen reading about the Whiteoaks think that life is lived that way now, and we know that life is not lived that way in England – or in Canada.
– Lovat Dickson
In the final pages of his 1966 biography, Mazo de la Roche of Jalna, Ronald Hambleton remarks on the very different reception the author has been accorded by her "three most important audiences". American acclaim, brought when Jalna took the 1927 Atlantic Monthly Award for "novel of the year", faded as the series progressed. Canadians cooled as that it became apparent that de la Roche's focus was on a country that had long passed. Hambleton concludes, "in Britain her reception continued and continues to be warm."

By the mid-sixties, Pan, de la Roche's British paperback publisher since 1948, had sold more than two million copies of the series' titles. Things were still balmy on 20 May 1971, when The Whiteoaks of Jalna began filming. In The Secret of Jalna, the enthusiastic Ronald Hambleton writes of "the careening Jalnawagon, whose pace as a literary phenomenon has showed no signs of slackening since Mazo de la Roche pencilled the first lines in late 1925."

In 1972, Pan issued tie-in editions that featured stills from the series and did one more revamp. Now, the Jalnawagon runs no more... at least not for Pan. Toronto's Dundurn Press publishes the sixteen books of the Whiteoak Chronicles with a cover image of "Benares", the Mississauga home upon with Jalna was modelled. They're attractive enough, but I much prefer the Pan editions of the 'fifties and 'sixties. A visual feast:

Jalna panned:


  1. I have this feeling I am missing something by not reading these books....

  2. For at least two decades I've been telling myself that at some point I must at the very least read Jalna. I own a couple of very nice copies... and still I haven't made the effort. You go first, Tim - I promise I'll follow.

  3. Read the entire series as a teenager, thanks to my mom for buying the 1st three books as a Christmas present one year. I wonder if I would love them as much today, as I did back then. They hold a special place in my heart.

  4. I read all the books around the time of the CBC series (1971). This year, I decided to reread them for the first time, and am now on book 2 (of 16). I must say, I'm enjoying them every bit as much as the first time. They're just easy, escapist reading, like Agatha Christie. Sure they present an idealized, old-fashioned idea of Canada, but so what?