My Heart and My Flesh Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1927

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Poetic

Time of work: The early twentieth century

Locale: Anneville, Kentucky

Characters DiscussedTheodosia Bell

Theodosia My Heart and My FleshBell, 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

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

Anthony Bell, Theodosia’s grandfather, a onetime schoolteacher, 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

BibliographyAdams, 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.
Categories: Characters