The chief interest of the novel lies in the intense inner life of Theodosia. She is presented from the outset as a girl of extreme sensitivity, aware of subtle currents of feeling which escape her elders. She is also alienated from her environment, both human and natural, and afflicted with melancholy; Roberts, in her notes about the novel, described Theodosia as “a wandering spirit, a lost thing.” Theodosia herself is acutely aware of her malaise: “It seemed to her that she lived with only a part of her being, that only a small edge of her person lifted up into the light of the day.” She is, in consequence, preoccupied with the search for self-knowledge and for the innermost core of existence, refusing to be content with anything less. The sight of a tree fills her with a “passion to know all of this strange thing,” and it is the same with her family: She ponders her half sister Americy “to the roots of her life and her being,” and as her grandfather lies dying she attempts to discover his soul, his irreducible essence, for if she can locate the soul of another being, surely she can also locate her own? In everything, Theodosia searches for ultimate reality and meaning, that which is “perpetually existent, unchanged, beyond delusion,” driven on by a sense of the insufficiency of things as they are.
Roberts lavishes so much attention on Theodosia that other characters are indistinctly realized, revealing themselves largely through their interactions with the protagonist. Perhaps the most sympathetic is Theodosia’s grandfather, Anthony Bell. Formerly a teacher and scholar, he has...
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