Elizabeth Madox Roberts’ 1926 masterpiece The Time of Man brings thoughts of courage, inner strength, and love of land.
Unfortunately, most Kentuckians have never heard of her. Born October 30, 1881, in Perryville, she moved with her parents to Springfield in Washington County when she was 3 years old.
Her genius flowered at the University of Chicago, but she returned to Kentucky to live out her all-too-brief years. She died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1941.
Here is the beginning of her writing as it appears in The Time of Man:
Ellen wrote her name in the air with her finger, Ellen Chesser, leaning forward and writing on the horizontal plane. Beside her in the wagon her mother huddled under an old shawl to keep herself from the damp, complaining, “We ought to be a-goen on.”
It is the story of grueling tenant life.
There is misplaced love and coming to terms with reality. There is the wonder of creation:
It was another year. Late May sounds and smells spread over the plowed field, the tobacco field of the season before, ready again for plants.
One of Kentucky’s most trusted authors, Wade Hall, professor emeritus at Bellarmine University, says of The Time of Man: “It is a Kentucky book to the core, centered in the Knobs country of Nelson, Spencer, and Washington counties, and filled with names familiar to anyone who reads mailboxes in the area—families named Chesser, Bodine, Wakefield, Edelen, and Carico. The time is an indeterminate period near the turn of the 20th century before the coming of automobiles. It is a story with its elements stripped to the bare kernel.
“The Time of Man offers one of the great experiences in literature. If read slowly and patiently and savored like the many foods at a great feast, Roberts’ novel will enrich your life and expand its possibilities.”
Perhaps it is time to liven the shelves around our fireplaces with the great heritage of our Commonwealth. It is built on the foundation of good people with roots deeply planted in good, well-tended soil.
Windows of time are narrowing, but it’s never too late to turn new ground. Today, we plant the flowers of tomorrow. The fragrance refreshes. The colors paint our souls. We live. We love. We leave treasures for new generations.
This is the time for unselfish thinking and doing. This is the time for quiet moments spent in accord with fellow man. Our inner strength will gird us well. And we will stand a better chance for the gift of courage.
So let there be light, both here on greening Plum Lick and throughout the land, which sustains us all. Oh, thanks for the warmth of another summer! Do prepare us for a better autumn and winter.