Posted May 3, 2006 by Sandra Djwa
Heather Kirk’s posting confuses me, as I am unable to find in Joan Givner’s biography Mazo de la Roche: The Hidden Life, any reference that says that de la Roche had been a child molester when she was a teenager. What Givner adds to the biographical record is an exposition of the close relationship between de la Roche and her cousin, Caroline Clement, information that de la Roche’s first biographer, Ronald Hambleton was obliged to omit. As a number of important primary documents, including diaries, were burned by Clement, and as de la Roche regularly re-invented some of the facts of her life, Givner tells us that she chose to develop some aspects of her biography by reading de la Roche’s fiction with the help of feminist criticism. Working with some of the findings of theorist Nancy Miller, Givner has placed side-by-side de la Roche’s “fictional fiction” and some of the “fictions of autobiography” so that the female self can be located in the inter-text between the two. This is an illuminating technique but it requires careful attention by the reader.
Givner’s research led her to believe that de la Roche was several years older than her cousin, Caroline Clement. Heather Kirk’s research has found evidence to indicate that de la Roche and Clement were the same age. In her article, “Caroline Clement: The Hidden Life of Mazo de la Roche’s Collaborator” Kirk states that “one aspect of …Mazo de la Roche: The Hidden Life was terribly wrong: de la Roche was not a child molester who victimized her cousin and life-long companion, Caroline Clement.” Kirk quotes from the writings of de la Roche, to establish that the two girls were seven when they first met and engaged in their “innocent ‘play’. Moreover” Kirk goes on, “Givner pronounced, the play was erotic. (49-54)” But when we turn to the cited pages in Givner’s biography, we find a different kind of Play and a different kind of relationship.
What Givner says is: “but if Caroline did not…change the Play overnight from an innocent pastime to a vehicle for erotic impulses, she did add the other dimension…” The other dimension referred to here was the need for a female character in a Play to act opposite de la Roche’s “dashing cavalier” – hitherto, all the characters in the Play-acting had been men. The paragraph in Kirk’s essay in Canadian Literature makes a leap to attribute to Givner the idea of amorous play and child molestation. But Givner is writing about a Play (always capitalized) in which two characters participate and which was initially acted out before an adult audience. The erotic impulses earlier referred to are the sexual stirrings of two young people sublimated into the characters they play. It is not a passage describing sexual activity between a child and a teenager. This is an important difference.
I read de la Roche’s fiction, Hambleton’s comments, and Givner’s biography to imply that ultimately there was a relationship between de la Roche and Caroline Clement: but if this is the case, the presentation of material in Givner’s biography indicates that it did not occur until much later in their lives when both were adults. Moreover all of this is inferred as I cannot find any explicit comment by Givner on the sexual nature of the relationship.
This posting is troubling because it offers a highly coloured interpretation that does not do justice to the subtlety of the text while compromising the reputation of a fine biographer.