The narrator has four loves--one for each chamber of her heart: right atrium, right ventricle, left atrium, left ventricle: music (from her mother), painting (from her husband), language (shared with her son), and light. Each section, introduced by an anatomical engraving of the heart, describes how the love entered and developed in her life. Their relative importance is related to the size and thickness of the cardiac chambers. Carefully placed engravings of domestic scenes and landscapes, mostly nineteenth century, complete the essay.


Words and pictures combine to evoke the quiet passions of a grown woman, who claims to have no personal talent beyond selfless admiration. For three of the four, her "love" was sparked and nurtured by other people in her life. Her fourth love, of light, is a secret and, because it is hers alone, it will grow--like an enlarging left ventricle--to dominate everything else. The anatomical heart is juxtaposed to the metaphor of love; the disease of an enlarged heart is likened to all consuming passion that is perversely welcome, even celebrated. Death in this sense is an apotheosis.

Throughout this collection, the writer gives her twentieth-century sources for the illustrations, but unfortunately she does not provide their origin. The lacuna reminds us that this is not a historical or a social essay, but a work of art that combines words with pictures. The author calls these creative essays "stories."


The book in which this essay appeared won the Governor General's Award for English Fiction.

Primary Source

Forms of Devotion: Stories and Pictures



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