The Great Meadow

Written by Elizabeth Madox Roberts
Review by Jane Kessler

This is a reprint of a book originally published in 1930 and shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. The story is set in 18th-century Virginia and the Kentucky wilderness. Diony Hall, a young woman, marries and leaves her family to start a new life in Kentucky with her husband, Berk Jarvis, and his family. Kentucky is dangerous Indian country, but Berk is drawn by the promise of its cheap, fertile land. Diony’s mother warns them that “white men are outside their rights when they go there,” but Berk is young and determined to tame the wilderness.

This is not a long story, just 200 pages, but a lot happens as they travel west to Harrod’s Fort. Diony stays at the fort and Berk goes out every day to hunt, plant, and build their house. The hardships of their daily life on the trip west and at the fort are unflinchingly portrayed. They suffer many privations and live with the constant fear of Indian attacks. Tragedy strikes when Berk’s mother is killed by Indians. His drive to avenge his mother’s death puts Diony in a vulnerable position.

I found this to be more than a pioneer adventure story. The story is told in beautiful, lyrical prose, and the stunning beauty of the natural landscape is frequently described. Diony, although a young woman, is brave and determined, and spends much time contemplating her experiences in the wilderness, trying to make sense of it. Highly recommended.