Kenneth Roberts on the Web: A Glimpse Into His Political Views

Today I came across a short bio on Kenneth Roberts on MyKennebunks.com.  This bio is similar to many found on the web; however, it contains an interesting tidbit about K.R. and his political views.  The quote below comes from this short article:

Edgar Allen Beem, in an Aug. 1997 issue of Downeast magazine about Roberts’ symbolic novel, Boon Island, calls Roberts “an enormously popular novelist…, an ultra-conservative Republican who inveighed in print against the New Deal and against America’s liberal immigration policy.” It is said that he so hated Franklin Roosevelt that he glued Roosevelt dimes to the clamshells he used as ashtrays, the better to grind ashes into FDR’s face! His friend and summer neighbor, Booth Tarkington apparently shared his political views.

Incidentally, as I searched for the Beem article mentioned in the quote above, I discovered that this quote is actually from a bio on K.R. located on Waterboro Public Library‘s site.

Kenneth Roberts Group on Facebook

I created a fan group for Kenneth Roberts on Facebook. Join by clicking on this link to the group page: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=76921638924&ref=nf

Kenneth Roberts in The Saturday Evening Post

I’ve hit gold.  In what’s almost become a daily search for Kenneth Roberts info, I’ve come across today a bibliography of all (at least almost all) of Kenneth Roberts’ articles for The Saturday Evening Post (you will need to scroll down part ways to get to K.R.’s name).  Unfortunately, these links, which are provided by the website www.philsp.com, do not direct you to the actual articles (*sigh*).  Nonetheless, if you’re searching for past issues of The Post, you can refer to this list for the issues containing Roberts’ works.

Enjoy!

Anna M. Roberts in the Blogosphere: “A Kennebunkport Haunting”

Sharon Cummins from Old News from Southern Maine has provided us with more interesting tidbits about the life of Kenneth Roberts.  In the article “A Kennebunkport Haunting” (dated March 22, 2009), Ms. Cummins details an account of the appearances of ghosts at the Gideon Merrill house.  One eyewitness of these ghosts is Anna M. Roberts, Kenneth Roberts’ wife.  Here is what Ms. Cummins reports in her article:

Robert Currier, a gifted publicity instigator, recalled in a later interview that Mrs. Kenneth Roberts had been the first to bring the ghosts to his attention. She had seen the costumed apparitions in an attic window when nobody was home. Amused, he invited a psychic to the house who saw the same spirits the author’s wife had described.

Take a look at this article; definitely an interesting read for a small piece of Americana.

“Time” on Kenneth Roberts – 11/25/1940

Time 11/25/40 - courtesy of Time.com

Time 11/25/40 - courtesy of Time.com

As I continue to search for anything on Kenneth Roberts on the Web, I am beginning to find a little more out there than the run of the mill short bios.  This past Friday night I came across an archived article from Time.com dated 11/25/40.  The event that occasioned this article was the upcoming release of Kenneth Roberts’ Oliver Wiswell.  You can access this article by clicking this link, or by clicking the link provided in the right side-bar.

Several things stuck out to me in regards to Kenneth Roberts the person. 

First, K.R. was known during that time for his attention to historical detail.  The writer of the article compares him to James Fenimore Cooper for his historical detail (in the footnote, Roberts is quoted as saying that this comparison “… irritates me almost beyond endurance”).  In addition, Roberts was recognized for “his tirelessness in tracking down historical obscurities,” causing the article’s writer to comment that “he [Roberts] is probably the world’s No. 1 literary detective.”

Second, Kenneth Roberts was known as a controversial figure in his own right.  According to Time, K.R. published his historical findings, despite any potential of upsetting any hard-held beliefs regarding American history, for instance K.R.’s positive portrayal of Benedict Arnold in Arundel and Rabble in Arms.   With Oliver Wiswell, K.R. continued to go against the status-quo by providing a “sustained and uncompromising report of the American Revolution from the Tory viewpoint.” 

To take this view of K.R. even further, Roberts was no stranger to controversy even in his earlier writings.  Roberts’ Why Europe Leaves Home, published in 1922 as a result of his time in Europe, described the new-developing immigrating patterns of people in “war-dislocated Europe” (post-WWI).  Roberts then “warned vanishing Americans that unless they tightened restrictions on immigration, the U.S. would soon be a disposal plant for most of Europe’s human waste.”  Very bold words for that time, and how much more “politically incorrect” for today’s society!  The article’s writer goes on to claim that Roberts’ book helped to hasten along the passage of the Restrictive Immigration Law. 

Lastly, the writer of this article makes a claim that I believe is forgotten (or at the very least is one the way out) today amongst the general public – the claim is that Kenneth Roberts’ Oliver Wiswell is important history.  To quote:

Like all romances, Oliver Wiswell is also important history.  Novelist Roberts sees the American Revolution as a social revolution in which the colonial masses, stirred by rabble rousers like Sam Adams and John Hancock, brought the colonies to the brink from which they were later saved by the men who framed the Constitution.  This book explains why Americans became tories, why the tories, though [sic] they appear to have represented at least half of the population in the 13 colonies, were defeated, why the English were unable to quash the rabble in arms.

I believe that one can take this claim and extend to all, if not most, of Kenneth Roberts’ works.  I take it from what I’ve read so far of Kenneth Roberts that he did not write a novel for the sake of writing a novel; rather, Roberts wanted to write history – to educate America of her history – in a way that the reader is not bored with dry facts.  In doing so, Roberts mixed together the crafts of the historian and novelist in order to present American history according to the facts and date, not according to the lore developed through the passing of time which result in misconceptions of the actual events. (This is not to say that all history we learn in school is wrong; rather, that some things we may accept as true may in fact be otherwise.)

Roberts’ influence and impact upon American history was apparently widely recognized during his lifetime.  Unfortunately, the public’s knowledge of Roberts and his works has seemingly faded to almost non-existence.  Why is this so?  While I do not know the answer, I do hope that this site can help in bringing the knowledge of Kenneth Roberts and his works back to the general public.

“The Kenneth Roberts Reader” & Ben Ames Williams

In a recent post regarding The Kenneth Roberts Reader, I posed the question about why Ben Ames Williams was chosen to write the introduction, and not Booth Tarkington.  Now, I realize in the grand scheme of things, the answer to this question has absolutely no bearing on anything; rather, this question is really a result of curiosity. 

I posed the question in an e-mail to Jack Bales, author of Kenneth Roberts and Kenneth Roberts: The Man and His Works, and to John at townsendbooks.com (he has a large collection of Kenneth Roberts books), below are their answers:

Jack Bales: Kenneth Roberts and Ben Ames Williams were actually close friends and often socialized together.  In fact, along with Booth Tarkington, B.A. Williams was one of Kenneth Roberts’ closest friends.  Jack Bales covers this friendship in his second book titled Kenneth Roberts.

John: Though he was somewhat unsure of the exact link, John states that it could have been a reciprocated favor, as Kenneth Roberts wrote an introduction for one of Williams’ books The Happy End (1939).

So, there you go!

 

Kenneth Roberts in the Blogosphere: K.R. on Rugby (circa 1935)

I stumbled upon a short article (or blog post?) titled “Kenneth Roberts – On Rugby (circa 1935)” from Wes Clark‘s subsite Rugby Reader’s Review (article written and submitted by Russ Grimm).  In this post, Wes provides a snipet from K.R.’s The Kenneth Roberts Reader in which he provides his observations of a rugby game between Oxford and Cambridge.  Wes provides his own commentary at the end, highlighting K.R.’s other remarks against the English found throughout The Reader.

An interesting and fast read. Great job, Wes Russ, and thank you!

When History, Landscape, and Billboards Collide: “Roads of Remembrance”

I’ve just finished reading Roberts’ “Roads of Remembrance,” an essay originally contained in For Authors Only and also in The Kenneth Roberts Reader.  This essay is typical Roberts in regards to his vivide language and detail, painting a picture for the reader of what Roberts’ is invisioning.  It is also his typical (from what I gather) disdain for the consumerism of his day that was quickly encroaching upon what he saw as real America.

In this particular essay, Roberts contrasts various trails and roads used in major battles and/or campaigns in colonial America, Revolutionary War, and the Civil War with the new (at that time) paved highways that overlay these old trails.  Roberts recounts the struggles and difficulties, victories and losses encountered on these roads and trails in early American history – all for the cause of freedom and for the good of America.  Yet, with the passage of time, these sacred grounds became paved over with asphalt roads and vandalized with billboards – the sign of the new America.

Roberts is not so much concerned about the paved roads as he is the number of billboards lining the roads, disrupting the beauty of the countryside for the sake of commercialism.  The account below gives the reader a clear glimpse into Roberts’ disdain for this (apparently) new form of advertisement:

…The billboard industry in Maine, indeed, contends that billboards are improvements on the scenery rather than affronts to nature.

Not long since a native of Maine spoke his mind concerning the state’s policy of spending large sums in advertising Maine’s scenery; then permitting it to be splotched with billboards.

The billboard industry made reply: ‘It is not true that the billboard industry is spoiling the scenery and that boards are being erected without regard to the effect they may have in ruining bits of beauty.  The billboard industry requires that all billboards erected shall be so designed as to be things of beauty rather than eyesores and blots upon the landscape, and to maintain a high standard in every essential detail.’

If I [i.e. Roberts] correctly understand this reply, it contends that a lemon pie – provided it be an artistic lemon pie – can be splashed against a Rembrandt or a Velasquez without damaging the artistic value of the painting; but to me it would seem pure vandalism.

K. Roberts, “Roads of Remembrance” in The Kenneth Roberts Reader, New York: Doubleday, 1945, 11.

Oh, what would Roberts say today, the, with the advent of the interstates – roads that no longer wind along with the landscape as highways did in his days, but now bulldoze right through the countryside, making a straight line (practically) from point A to point B to save on gas and time.  And to the point of Roberts’ essay, billboards are still around, probably taller, more numerous, and more of a blight on our land than in his day.

An excellent read for a Kenneth Roberts fan, and I would say even for one who enjoys history.  Roberts’ humor, wit and cynicism of pop-culture is in full display in this essay.

“The Kenneth Roberts Reader”: Ben Ames Williams Introduction

As stated in an earlier post (“The Kenneth Roberts Reader“), I wanted to find out why Ben Ames Williams was chosen to write the introduction for The Kenneth Roberts Reader.  Unfortunately, I’ve met the same fate I’ve met in finding info on Kenneth Roberts on the Web.  About the only imformative I’ve found thus far on Ben Ames Williams is this article from Answers.com.  However, Kenneth Roberts is mention only in passing (the context is that the author of this article states that B.A. Williams was one of the most popular authors of his generation along with K.R. and Hervey Allen).  It seems, so far as I can see, B. A. Williams was chosen because he was popular at the same time K.R. was popular, and probably also because Williams had tried his hand at historical fiction as well (House Divided, per Answers.com).

Hopfully more to come on this…

Kenneth Roberts in “Old News from Southern Maine”

I came across an article by Sharon Cummins yesterday on Old News From Southern Maine on Kenneth Roberts – who resided in Maine – titled “Kenneth Roberts Was Audacious but Authentic.”  Though a bit jumpy as an article, it is a breath of fresh air compared to the same old short bios I keep finding on the Web about Kenneth Roberts.  Ms. Cummins provides several aspects about Kenneth Roberts’ works and person that I have not yet heard of.

When discussing K.R.’s work before his rise in popularity, she mentions that one of his early articles for the Post, ” ‘Good Will and Almond Shells,’ won him popular acclaim when it was made into the movie ‘The Shell Game’ in 1918.”  I’ve never heard of this movie, nor did I see K.R. mention this in his I Wanted to Write (it may be in this book, but I don’t recall seeing it).  She also writes how K.R.’s passion for history developed out of his “childhood love for fairy tales and myths” (she doesn’t go further to show or explain how this development occurs, but I believe this is due to limited time and space).  Interesting little tidbits regarding K.R.’s work that are worth checking up on.

Ms. Cummins also quotes an episode written by the editor for High Tide in 1940 (apparently a local paper – local to K.R. – in Maine) that gives us a glimpse into Kenneth Roberts the person:

Last Sunday was an average day,” wrote the editor of High Tide, “Mr. Roberts was sitting, guarding his better ducks (he has two classes) in his better duck pond; ran to get a shot gun when a hawk appeared over the pond.  (Between hawks, mink, and owls, it’s a race with death).  When he returned to the pond the hawk had taken warning, but a mink was placidly swimming about with its head above water.  Mr. Roberts fired… belatedly discovered that the mink was a friendly woodchuck; that he had also shot one of his blue-blood Formosa Teal ducks for which he had paid a handsome sum; regretfully at the duck for supper.”

To see one of the ponds at K.R.’s house, see the post below discussing the sale of his home and click on the link for the slide show.  Those ducks sure had it nice.

Take an article to read Ms. Cummins’ article – like I said earlier, it’s a breath of fresh air from those stale short bios.

****Update 10:34 pm****
I forgot to mention this earlier … Ms. Cummins’ article does leave the reader with a couple of unanswered questions:

  1. In the second paragraph, Ms. Cummins mentions that “a critic for the New York Times called [Kenneth Roberts] truculent, irascible, cantankerous, arrogant, sardonic, blunt, prickly, blustering,” etc.  This is well and good, but who is the NY Times critic in question?  When was this published?  Why is this critic important in relation to K.R.’s other critics?
  2. In discussing K.R.’s background, Ms. Cummins briefly mentions his time at Cornell University (class 1908), during which he “earned a reputation for pushing the controversy envelope.”  But, how did he earn this reputation?  Most can read on the Web that K.R. wrote Cornell’s school song, but there’s little to nothing on his reputation as such.  So, where did she get this information? 

Do you know these answers?  I hope to locate these answers…in the meantime, let me know if you know!

***Update #2 – 9:48 pm 4/19/09***
Ms. Cummins has kindly responded to my questions above … take the time to read her responses (well-informed!).  I must apologize if the tone is this letter comes across as questioning her credibility or writing; I in no way intend this to be.  Again, thanks to Ms. Cummins for her feedback.  -Danny

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