Author: Elizabeth Madox Roberts
First published: 1927
Locale: Anneville, Kentucky
Time: The early twentieth century
Theodosia Bell, the roan-haired, beautiful daughter of Horace and the granddaughter of Anthony. As a female child reared in the South (Kentucky), she is groomed for a life of comfort and privilege. Because her grandfather excelled at playing the violin, Theodosia becomes a student of the same instrument. Her need for personal achievement is satisfied as she becomes an accomplished musician. She is frustrated, however, that she has not inherited her grandfather's hands, and she finds that this lack limits her potential as a violinist. When her mother dies, Theodosia is required to nurse her ailing grandfather. He is, at times, delirious, and calls out the names of persons whom Theodosia does not know. Seeking enlightenment, she reads his personal papers, in which she learns that she is the half sister of Americy Froman, Lethe Ross, and the stable boy, Stiggins, all three of whom are of mixed race. Because of her conditioning, Theodosia is repulsed by this information, but she cannot resist a need to learn more about these people, whom she has known all of her life but has regarded as inferior. She seems destined to be alone when her grandfather dies and her father, whose incestuous advances she has managed to avoid, abandons her. In the end, after contracting tuberculosis and nearly starving to death, she shows her inner strength when she overcomes the speculation and rumors about her past and is accepted as a member of her new community. She is aided by Caleb Burns's declaration of love for her.
Horace Bell, Theodosia's irresponsible father. He has fathered children by women other than his wife—women not of his own race—and has done little, if anything, to bring comfort to any of them. His long-suffering wife is well aware of his activities, which he makes no effort to hide. The prosperity and respectability of his ancestors, rather than his own achievements, are the basis for his position in the community. When his father dies, leaving everything to Theodosia, he joins a law firm in another town and has his daughter send him his belongings.
Anthony Bell, Theodosia's grandfather, a onetime school-teacher, scholar, and musician. He is intermittently ill but instills in his granddaughter a love of books and music. He has lost the family fortune through bad judgment.
Americy Froman, a mulatto half sister of Theodosia. She is afraid of Theodosia's attempt at friendship, which, although she is aware that they have the same father, she does not understand. She loves to sing, and her desire to learn gradually overcomes her fear of friendship with Theodosia, who promises to teach Americy chords on the guitar in exchange for laundry services.
Lethe Ross, a mulatto half sister of Theodosia. Openly suspicious, Lethe is even less eager than Americy to respond to Theodosia's overtures. The two establish a brief bond, however, when each realizes that the other's betrayal by a man has forced her into a different type of sisterhood.
Stiggins, the mulatto half brother of Theodosia. Stiggins is retarded. He lives in the public stable, where he is abused and made to do the meanest of chores in exchange for a bed in the straw and bits of bad food. Theodosia is dismayed to recognize that Stiggins is the inheritor of her grandfather's violinist hands. Americy and Stiggins, in spite of Theodosia's warnings, enter into an incestuous relationship.
Conway Brooke, a good-looking man, confident and at ease with himself. Theodosia delights in him, and, though he seems uncommitted to anything, he is her favorite suitor. She tries to please him. He dies in a house fire.
Albert Stiles, a broad, strong student of agriculture and a tobacco farmer. He pursues Theodosia and tells her that he will have her by a certain deadline. When she most needs him after their mutual friend, Conway, dies, he abandons her in favor of another woman.
Frank Railey, a scholarly, rugged-looking, predictable law student. Sure that he can have her, he uses Theodosia when she is most vulnerable.
Caleb Burns, a man who raises excellent registered shorthorn cattle. He is intelligent but not bookish, earnest but not wealthy, guileless, and forthcoming. He loves Theodosia from the moment he first sees her in a peddler's cart.