________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 13 . . . . February 22, 2008


Finch's Fortune.

Mazo de la Roche.
Montreal, PQ: XYZ Publishing, 1931/2007.
484 pp., pbk., $24.95.
ISBN 978-894852-27-2.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by J. Lynn Fraser.

*** /4

Families are eternal. The complications and joys they evoke can be understood across generations. The same is true of financial fortunes. For these reasons, Finch's Fortune by Mazo de la Roche, first published in 1931, can still resonate in 2008 and beyond. This third novel, in the 16 novel overview of four generations of the Whiteoaks family, can still teach its readers about the complicated nature of human nature: desire, greed, confusion, power, love, competition, and resentment.

     When this novel's story takes place, the Whiteoaks already have a complicated relationship with each other. The inheritance of a fortune by 21-year-old Finch from his grandmother and his naïveté in dealing with that fortune exacerbates already tense and envious relationships. The reader sees the author's understanding human nature of this in passages such as:

Finch looked at him compassionately and yet with a feeling of himself being hurt. Arthur had rushed into the midst of their scene, gathered into his own hands the strands of the tapestry Finch had slowly been weaving, and, in a kind of panic of passion, was changing it into a pattern all of his own. Finch believed that it was the first time in Arthur's life that he had ever been frightened by his own feelings, felt the possibility of being thwarted in a desire.

     The understanding oneself and others, to varying degrees of success, is a theme in the novel. A family tree in the front of the novel helps to make some of the familial relationships clear.

     As Finch's age in this novel is quite close to the young readers for this book, his experiences will seem more accessible for them. The challenge for a teacher will be to have students see beyond the time and setting of the novel so that they understand what is universal in the discussion of human emotions the author makes clear.

     Although some of the language of the novel is particular to its time, the author's writing style is still accessible. Although words like ‘flibbertigibbert,' obviously, are not in use anymore, and words such as ‘queer' have an alternative meaning, language is an important device in the novel to used to convey the emotional limitations of the characters as well as class distinctions:

"Oh Alfred's a bundle o' nerves, ‘e is, along o' shell shock and worry over the way me innards took last night." She folded her stout arms on her heaving bosom and regarded Alyane with something approaching defiance. "An' were you wantin' anything special down ‘ere this morning, ‘m?"

     Here too the differences in language provide an opportunity for young readers to compare their use of language against that of characters'.

     Harsh reality and romanticism clash in the novel. How characters successfully resolve their hopes for themselves and their ability to negotiate life's harsher realities gives depth to the family conflict. Imagery is also important to understanding the novel's characters and their way of seeing their world:

A bright stream flowed between Jalna and the fox farm. Along it his spirit moved in exaltation, like a ship with all sails spread in full moonlight. The other face, pale, remote, with its close-set mouth, was as a distant promontory veiled by clouds.

     The key for a successful reading of this book, by young readers, is that they understand that human nature does not change even if setting, time, and language does.


J. Lynn Fraser, a freelance writer whose articles appear in national and international magazines and newspapers, has also written two nonfiction books for children.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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