Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The novel’s title refers to the cry of the psalmist, “My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” My Heart and My Flesh follows the story of Theodosia Bell in her journey toward self-discovery and fulfillment as she grows from childhood to adulthood in the fictional Kentucky town of Anneville. The trials through which she passes and the tragedies that befall her, leading to her final recovery and spiritual rebirth, form the core of the novel.
The first significant event that Theodosia must endure is the shattering of her complacent notions about her own superiority. Reared in a wealthy, privileged, and respectable family, she is devastated when she learns from her grandfather’s secret papers that two mulatto girls in the town, Americy and Lethe, whom she has always despised, are in fact her half sisters and that Stiggins, the idiot stable boy, is her half brother. As she attempts to come to terms with this knowledge, Theodosia moves haltingly and uncomprehendingly toward a measure of acceptance and love, without ever fully achieving either. Yet when she notices, to her amazement, that Stiggins possesses the elegant “fiddle hand” that she, who prides herself on her ability with the violin, lacks, the absurdity of her former notion of superiority becomes painfully apparent.
Many of the other events which shape Theodosia’s life are deaths. Her handsome and charming suitor Conway Brooke dies in his burning home, and her grief becomes more acute when Minnie Harter, a local girl and former neighbor of Conway, gives...
(The entire section is 640 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Adams, J. Donald. The Shape of Books to Come. New York: Viking Press, 1934. Adams was an early admirer of Roberts, and he compares her to Willa Cather and Ellen Glasgow. An interesting contemporary view of the novelist.
Auchincloss, Louis. Pioneers and Caretakers: A Study of Nine American Women Novelists. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1965. Auchincloss offers a compact overview of the life and work of Roberts, whose best and most popular novel was her first, The Time of Man; she never wrote anything to equal it.
Campbell, Harry M., and Ruel E. Foster. Elizabeth Madox Roberts: American Novelist. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. Full of information about Roberts’s career, yet poorly organized. Often dull to read, making this book unsuitable for any but the most dedicated students of Roberts.
McDowell, Frederick P. W. Elizabeth Madox Roberts. New York: Twayne, 1963. McDowell gives a useful critical overview of Roberts’s works, including her poetry and short stories. Offers a short biography of her life, which was mostly spent in Springfield, Kentucky.
Rovit, Earl H. Herald to Chaos: The Novels of Elizabeth Madox Roberts. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1960. A wonderful critique of Roberts’s novels, probably the best one available. Rovit describes Roberts’s style in a sensitive and perceptive manner and places her in the context of American, not simply Southern, literature.
Tate, Linda. “Elizabeth Madox Roberts: A Bibliographical Essay.” Resources for American Literary Study 18 (1992): 22-43. A valuable addition to studies of Roberts’s career and the history of her reputation.