Many years ago I found out about Mazo de la Roche, a Canadian writer who lived from 1879 to 1961 and may have been one of the first Canadian writers of soap opera, although they weren’t called that at the time and weren’t broadcast. According to Wikipedia, the first soap opera (called so because sponsored by soap manufacturers) premiered on radio in Chicago in 1930. At any rate, Mazo’s first book, Jalna, was published in 1927 and won the $10,000 Atlantic Monthly book award. This made 48 year old Mazo internationally famous and a bestselling author.
The series grew to 16 volumes and covered 100 years of the Whiteoaks family. Robertson Davies said in 1961, “"The creation of the Jalna books is the most single feat of literary invention in the brief history of Canada's literature." The series has sold more than nine million copies in 193 English and 92 foreign language editions (Canadian Encyclopedia). The film “Jalna” was made in 1935 and a CBC television series based on the books was produced in 1972.
The story of the Whiteoaks family begins in 1854 with The Building of Jalna (the books were not written in chronological order). It is the story of Adelaide and Captain Whiteoak settling at Lake Ontario and beginning to build their estate. I read the whole series a long time ago and found them as addictive as any good soap opera (Downton Abbey anyone?). Toward the end, though I also found myself thinking, I am sick of this family, though I couldn’t stop reading until it was over. The books are still available.
Perhaps even more fascinating than the Whiteoaks book series, is the life of Mazo Louise Roche, who was born in Newmarket Ontario, January 15. She added the “de la” herself, later. When she was seven, her parents adopted Mazo’s cousin Caroline. The two girls became lifelong companions and lived together as adults. In 1931 they adopted two orphan children about whom they told various stories. The two women kept their lives very private and when Mazo died, Caroline burned her diaries. The National Film Board of Canada made a film in 2011 called “The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche” which explores this writer’s unusual life through documentary and dramatic techniques. It’s available for download.
Canadian writer Joan Givner published in 1989, a biography called Mazo de la Roche, The Hidden Life. It’s available from the Saskatoon Public Library. From what I can see, the library also has many of Mazo’s Jalna books. If you want to read the series in order, check out Wikipedia.