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The Time of Man: A Novel
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2001
The little known classic by Elizabeth Madox Roberts, The Time of Man, is a novel that deserves to be read, not just by scholars in the field of twentieth century literature, but by all who love a well crafted, universally moving tale of what it means to be alive in any time.
The novel tells the story of a young woman, Ellen Chesser, as she struggles to survive with her family in the knobs country of Kentucky; her coming of age reflects the universal challenges all humans must face on one level or another, and is captured beautifully in the subtle, poetic prose of Roberts.
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to find a golden needle in a haystack, one that could very easily change your life, as great literature often will.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2001
Cited as a contemporary of William Faulkner and a major influence on Robert Penn Warren, Roberts is currently one of the most neglected American authors of the 20th century, and of the Southern Renaissance. The Time of Man is a quintessential Modernist novel, intricately structured and passionately written in Roberts' lively style. She renders her landscape with precision and a deep sense of place, and her characters come alive in the numinous Knobs of rural Kentucky. Introductions by Wade Hall and Robert Penn Warren. A must for any student of the Modernist period and a great pleasure to read. A neglected American classic.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Ms. Roberts' book is the least pretentious piece of literature I have ever read. We see the world through the eyes of an early twentieth century mountain girl from Eastern Kentucky, where women, due to the nature of the harsh and demanding environment, frequently come to resemble 'buzzards' well before their prime. The following is one of my favorite passages; in this scene the main character, Ellen Chesser, takes heart in her own monotinous existence upon reading an incription on a tombstone of a local brahmin:

"That's Judge Gowan, she whispered, awed by the personality erected by the legend against the stone. "He owned the Gowan farm and the Gowan horses and the Gowan peacocks...across the road from Mr. Al's place...and he left Ms. Anne , his wife, all he had when he died, and people a-goen to law about it big in court. And when he died there was marchen and white plumes on hats and a band a-playen, and his picture is a-hangen up in the courthouse, life size, they say...And when he was a-liven he used to ride up to town in a high buggy with a big shiny horse, a-steppin up on the road and him a sitten big, and always had a plenty to eat and a suit of clothes to wear and a (servant) * to shine his shoes for him of a weekday even. Ben told me. And he was a-willen big money to his wife when he died and always a-sitten judge in court. A big man he was. That's you." Her voice was whispering the words. And then after a long pause she added. "He's Judge Gowan in court, a-sitten big, but I'm better'n he is. I'm a-liven and he's dead. I'm better. I'm Ellen Chesser and I'm a-liven and you Judge James Bartholemew Gowan, but all the same I'm better. I'm a-liven."

* I took licence by replacing a racially offensive word with a more modern acceptable one.

While so much of literature today seems cloaked in superficial materialism and characters only take on significance when engaged in the most outlandish of behaviors, how wonderful it is to see writing simply but profoundly relected through the eyes of a poor Kentucky girl.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2009
Where does one begin discussing this book? The first novel of a little-known poet, it catapulted Elizabeth Madox Roberts to international fame, was reprinted by the Modern Library, and assured its author a devoted following that included such luminaries as Yvor Winters, Harte Crane, Allen Tate, Glenway Wescot, and Robert Penn Warren. Yet some eighty-plus years later, "The Time of Man" and its author are sadly neglected, though to be sure, there are glimmers of hope that this neglect is slowly being rectified.

Robert Penn Warren's 1963 assessment of the novel now serves as one of the introductions to the University Press of Kentucky edition. Warren speculates that the novel fell victim to attitudes of the 1930s: any work of fiction that depicted characters finding dignity "within" poverty and deprivation was viewed as subtle complicity with degrading socio-economic conditions, rather than a protest against them. Elizabeth Madox Roberts is no guiltier of this than Eudora Welty, who wrote of Depression-era Mississippi: "Whatever you may think of those lives as symbols of a bad time, the human beings who were living those lives thought a good deal more of them than that." Welty adds, "Trouble, even to the point of disaster, has its pale, and these defiant things of the spirit repeatedly go beyond it, joy the same as courage."

Well, there is joy and courage aplenty in "The Time of Man," and one would be hard pressed to find a character whose spirit is more defiant than Ellen Chesser's. Daughter of a poor, itinerant farmer who barely scratches out a living, the novel begins with childhood, and the opening scene finds Ellen tracing her name with her finger on empty air. Many years and many hard battles later, when her own teenage children are outdoors, dancing by firelight, Ellen is persuaded to join them. Suddenly she notices her shadow on the ground and is amazed by its ease and lightness. What lies between these two scenes is simply the time of man--the progression of a human life in all its sorrow and joy, in a time and place where all life stirs to the rhythms of the natural world, in all its beauty and rigor. The small measure of peace that Ellen finds in maturity is taxed yet again as the novel draws to its somber yet hopeful conclusion.

It's reassuring to note that the emotions captured in this novel are timeless and transcend setting and historical time period, the hallmark of any great work of fiction. Elizabeth Madox Roberts gives each period of Ellen's life an epic treatment--childhood hurt and disappointment; first love; first heart ache; true love and the inevitable drifting apart that so often follows; childbirth and the deaths of loved ones. Throughout all this are the seasonal sowing and reaping, the endless struggle with nature that is both beautiful and menacing. "A drouth came, hard and brittle in the soil and in the sturdy little pasture herbs, but soft and pliant in the hazes that gathered over the far hills."

It would be impossible to single out one stage in Ellen's life that is the most beautifully rendered, but Roberts outdoes herself when depicting Ellen's struggle to cope with the loss of her first love. The family has relocated yet again, and the new place offers but one consolation: Ellen's barren room is the only one she has ever slept in that didn't leak. On a rainy winter night, she begins to pull herself together. "Ellen felt the snugness of the night, the dark outside, the falling wet, the dry security of the indoors, so that in her room, shut away from the elements, she felt the security to be within herself as if she were detached by the prison-like whiteness of the dry walls from her own memories, to begin her being anew." Here, all the dominant aspects of the book--poverty, the elements, and the tireless struggle to find meaning and dignity in life--are brought together in a transcendent, tender moment.

I have a master's degree in English. More importantly, I've devoted my entire life to reading as many great books as I can lay my hands on. In actuality not much of a boast, as it would take several lifetimes to do the job really well. I say all that only to offer this: no book I've ever encountered in my life is more worthy of being read and remembered than "The Time of Man."
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I read this book when I saw that my copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1940 edition) cited it as an example of the psychological self-consciousness of authors of "middle America." The work is laid in Kentucky, dealing entirely with poor farmers. It uses the idiom of central Kentucky, which I had no trouble following, and tells of Ellen Chesser from age 13 to mid-age: poor, hard-working, stark--with a certain poetry in her awful existence. Really plotless, it just tells of her losing her first love, Jonas, marrying Jasper Kent, his straying, and her recovering him. I felt it was well worth reading, and can understand the "nearly universal acclaim" which greeted its publication in 1926.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2013
It's very wordy and a long slog, but there's an interesting story buried in it. And if you're someone who enjoys getting lost in well-evoked setting, you'll be in clover.
This is a coming of age story set in rural Kentucky in the early 20th Century. It follows Ellen Chesser from 13 years old until late middle age. Ellen's introspection is well handled as she matures throughout the course of the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2014
This is excellent writing. It is slow reading because the story takes place so long ago when everything moved along slower. Also, I read slowly because I'm a writer and I go back and re-read constantly. Roberts was an excellent writer who gave her characters great depth even though they were people with simple needs and experiences. I read this book on the recommendation of Earl Hamner (who wrote the Waltons, Falcon Crest and some Twilight Zone episodes) and I wasn't disappointed. I read it along with a livelier, more current book, which helped pick up the pace. It's not a quick read, it needs to be nibbled on and slowly digested.

Cynthia Briggs/Author
Pork Chops and Applesauce: A Collection of Recipes and Reflections
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2014
I always enjoy a look into lives of people who have to work hard to survive. I had some of those hard times growing up, but nothing like the people in this book. I enjoyed it very much, and it has been a long time since I read it and think I will dig it out and read it again.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2008
From its unusually innovative opening sentence through to its moving ending, this novel deserves a place alongside more well-known early 20th century American classics. Every student of Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Sinclair Lewis, etc. should own, and read, this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2015
Beautifully written! A classic!!
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