de la Roche, Mazo (1879–1961)

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de la Roche, Mazo (1879–1961)

Popular and prolific Canadian writer. Born Mazo Roche ("de la" added later) on January 15, 1879, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; died on July 12, 1961; daughter of William Roche (a salesperson) and Alberta Lundy Roche (a carpenter); attended the Ontario School of Art in Toronto, Canada, and studied under George Agnew Reid; children: (adopted) Renee and Esme.

Awarded the Atlantic Monthly prize for fiction and received widespread recognition for her novel, Jalna (1927); traveled abroad for first time and remained in England, making her home there for a number of years (1929); with her cousin Caroline Clement, adopted two orphaned children of friends (1931); returned to Toronto and re-established a home there (1938).

Selected writings:

Explorers of the Dawn (1922); Possession (1923); Low Life: A Comedy in One Act (1925); Delight (1926); Come True (1927); Jalna (1927); Low Life and Other Plays (1929); The Return of the Emigrant (1929); Whiteoaks of Jalna (1929); Portrait of a Dog (1930); Finch's Fortune (1931); Lark Ascending (1932); The Thunder of New Wings (1932); The Master of Jalna (1933); Beside a Norman Tower (1934); Young Renny (1935); Whiteoaks: A Play (1936); Whiteoak Harvest (1936); The Very House (1937); Growth of a Man (1938); The Sacred Bullock and Other Stories of Animals (1939); White Oak Heritage (1940); Wakefield's Course (1941); The Two Saplings (1942); Quebec: Historic Seaport (1944); The Building of Jalna (1944); Return to Jalna (1946); Mary Wakefield (1949); Renny's Daughter (1951); A Boy in the House (1952); A Boy in the House and Other Stories (1952); Whiteoak Brothers: Jalna 1923 (1953); Variable Winds at Jalna (1954); The Song of Lambert (1955); Ringing the Changes: An Autobiography (1957); Bill and Coo (1958); Centenary at Jalna (1958); Morning at Jalna (1960); Selected Stories of Mazo de la Roche (1979).

Play productions:

Low Life (Trinity Memorial Hall, Toronto, May 14, 1925); Come True (Hart House Theater, Toronto, May 16, 1927); The Return of the Emigrant, (Hart House Theater, Toronto, March 12, 1928); Whiteoaks, by de la Roche and Nancy Price (Little Theater in the Adelphi, London, April 13, 1936); The Mistress of Jalna (New Theater, Bromley, Kent, United Kingdom, November 12, 1951).

Mazo Roche was born January 15, 1879, the only child of William Roche, a salesperson, and Alberta Lundy Roche , a carpenter. Mazo adopted the French prefix de la to her family name when young. After spending several years in Newmarket, a village in Ontario north of Toronto, Canada, she and her family moved to Toronto and resided there from 1885 until 1910. Shortly after they had moved there, Caroline Clement , de la Roche's cousin, came to live with

them, and the two became constant, close companions, seldom separated in 70 years.

De la Roche attended the Ontario School of Art in Toronto for a period and studied under George Agnew Reid, the president of the Ontario Society of Artists. In 1910, her family moved to Rochedale, a fruit-and-stock farm west of Toronto, and they remained there until 1915, when William Roche died. Because of serious financial difficulties, the family was forced to move back to Toronto, and de la Roche, whose writing career had begun in 1902 with the publication of a short story in Munsey's Magazine, decided to develop a career for herself in writing. By 1927, she had achieved widespread recognition with her novel, Jalna, and had received the Atlantic Monthly prize for fiction. She also published a variety of works, including several plays, a collection of short stories, Explorers of the Dawn (1922), and two novels, Possession (1923) and Delight (1926). The latter story was written at her summer cottage near Clarkson, Ontario, and this setting provided the model for Jalna, the home of the Whiteoak family, the history of which was indelibly etched for de la Roche's readers in 16 novels from 1927 to 1960.

The chronicles of the Whiteoak family of Jalna made Mazo de la Roche one of Canada's most popular writers in the first half of the 20th century. More than 11 million copies in 193 English editions and 92 foreign editions of this family saga were sold during her lifetime. A sensitive and imaginative writer, she is associated with the movement toward greater realism in Canadian fiction during that period. The theme in all her work, including the Jalna series, is maintaining individual freedom but not at the expense of tradition.

In 1929, de la Roche went abroad for the first time. She made her home in England, and in 1931, de la Roche and Caroline Clement adopted two orphaned children of friends. They resided there until 1938, when rumors of war and de la Roche's poor health forced them to return to Toronto. During these years, Mazo mostly traveled and raised her two adopted children.

Besides the Whiteoak novels, she was also the author of varied works, including two children's books, The Song of Lambert (1955) and Bill and Coo (1958); a history of Quebec, published in 1944; an autobiography, Ringing the Changes (1957); two adaptations of the Whiteoak novels for the theater, Whiteoaks (produced and published 1936) and The Mistress of Jalna (produced in 1951); two collections of short stories; and four novels: Lark Ascending (1932), The Thunder of New Wings (1932), Growth of a Man (1938) and The Two Saplings (1942).


Daymond, D.M. "Mazo de la Roche," in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 68. Edited by W.H. New. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1988, pp. 106–112.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont

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de la Roche, Mazo (1879–1961)

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