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Hot Docs Festival 2012: A review of The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche

I’m pretty annoyed at you, Queen’s University’s English Department. HOW did I take “Selected Women Writers,” “Canadian Poetry and Prose” and “Autobiography and Life-writing” and NEVER ONCE encounter prominent Canadian author and turn-of-the-century enigma Mazo de la Roche??

Writer and director Maya Gallus provided a much-needed introduction to this literary pioneer, who, despite being one of the most successful female writers in Canadian history, is in danger of slipping into obscurity. But perhaps that is what she would have wanted.

Mazo De la Roche (originally “Maizie Roche”) was born in 1879 in rural Ontario, and grew up across the province, moving frequently to accommodate her father’s many jobs and her mother’s failing health. A lonely child, she found solace in storytelling, inventing a magical world called ‘The Play’ where she could interact with fictional characters. The Play and De la Roche’s life were changed forever when, in 1886, the Roches adopted Mazo’s younger cousin Caroline Clement.

Clement and De la Roche became lifelong friends and companions, moving to London together and even adopting children simultaneously in the 1930s. Speculation about their “Boston Marriage” and the personas the two created to avoid such speculation are the focus of this documentary, told through interviews with contemporary authors and historians as well as De la Roche’s daughter, readings from De la Roche’s autobiography, letters, and interviews, and dramatized conjecture.

After her novel Jalna won a 1927 contest in The Atlantic for “the most interesting novel from anywhere in the world,” De la Roche became a sought-after literary figure, and one of Canada’s first world famous authors. She ultimately published 16 books in the Jalna series, and 37 books in total. Clips from both present day and past interviews are used artfully to paint a picture of a life deliberately obfuscated by the person who lived it. De la Roche often fictionalized aspects of her own life even as she wrote her own life into her fiction, and this documentary does its best to both separate and show the links between the two.

The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche

Sun, Apr. 29th, 4:45 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1, buy tickets here.
Mon, Apr 30th, 6:30 pm, Isabel Bader Theatre, buy tickets here.
Sun, May 6th, 4:15 pm, Cumberland 3, buy tickets here.

~ Monica Heisey

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