Elizabeth Madox Roberts : Ritual, Selfhood and Sisterhood
In 1926 Elizabeth Madox Roberts published her first novel, The Time of Man, a work that plunged her into the literary limelight. A Book-of-the-Month Club selection and hailed by some as the "most beautiful piece of writing to come out of America," the novel established her as a major American writer. Subsequent novels appeared in 1927, 1928 and 1930. According to Sherwood Anderson, "by 1930, it was impossible to discuss American fiction without reference to Elizabeth Madox Roberts." By the time of her death in 1941, she had produced three more novels, two collections of short stories and a collection of poetry, all widely reviewed. Unfortunately, today much of her work is out of print and none of it taught in our universities. Such neglect of a major literary figure, noted by critics as eminent as Robert Penn Warren, stems from three factors: The questionable practice of labeling certain writers "regional"; the "misreading" of her oeuvre as "love stories"; Miss Roberts' insistence that only wholeness of the individual--not social nor economic studies and legislation--could regenerate the myth emblemed in the Kentucky Frontier and thus heal the "wasteland." This study includes poems from Song in the Meadow, selected short stories from The Haunted Mirror and Not by Strange Gods, and four novels: The Time of Man, My Heart and My Flesh , The Great Meadow, He Sent Forth a Raven. Citations from the author's notes and correspondence held in the Appalachian Archives at the University of Kentucky, the Filson Club and the Library of Congress support the findings. Added support comes from travel to the regional setting of her work, thorough study of Kentucky history, and personal interviews with women who shared Miss Roberts' social, political and spiritual era. Beginning with an Everyman figure in "The Sonnet of Jack," Miss Roberts takes her from "bare breath," through "points of contact" with others and her own inner self, to a self-defined, self-directed being in the last two novels. The heroes, most all women, are linked to mythic figures such as Dione and Prometheus, or to Christ. Their stories, centered in a single female consciousness, turn on mundane "rituals"--gathering eggs, falling in love, death, birth, naming, getting married, or the handing down of an object or of family history. By the development of the will as a spiritual energy to cut through the inertia of decayed myths and Patriarchy, these heroes reconcile their own duality, transform brute desires into nurturing love, transmute the violence of the past into creative energy, and find promise in the connectedness of individual and collective experience. Above all, they embody the creative power of the pioneer woman and connect her to the present. Their coming-to-being and growth of consciousness make these heroes worthy studies and their creator a strong voice for contemporary Woman.
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