Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

My Heart and My Flesh was Roberts’s second novel, published only a year after The Time of Man (1926) had won for her immediate recognition and acclaim. Her reputation continued to grow with the publication of The Great Meadow (1930), but after her last major novel, He Sent Forth a Raven (1935), her popularity and critical standing went into a rapid decline. She has frequently been categorized as a regionalist, but this is a somewhat unfair label, since her novels, although they are all set in Kentucky, are concerned with profound and universal themes. More charitable critics have compared her to William Faulkner, D. H. Lawrence, and Emily Dickinson. It is likely that she will continue to occupy a minor but distinct place in the roll call of twentieth century American novelists.

Although My Heart and My Flesh has never been one of Roberts’s most popular novels, its enduring value lies in the author’s ability to set out a timeless theme with unusual force and conviction. The novel faces the darker aspects of human existence without succumbing to nihilism and despair; it celebrates the virtues of simplicity and endurance, and it affirms the ultimate triumph of life and of the spirit. It is also notable for Roberts’s highly distinctive prose style—she called it “symbolism working through poetic realism”—and there are many passages of rich, poetic prose which the reader may savor many times.

My Heart and My Flesh is not light reading, nor is it enjoyable in the superficial sense of the word, but it is richly satisfying for the reader who enters its spirit and contemplates its themes.