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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2 Responses

  1. Danny,
    I’m glad you enjoyed “Kenneth Roberts Was Audacious but Authentic.” It was originally written for my weekly local history column in the York County Coast Star in January 2008. I felt constrained by the 750 words per week format and I admit that it took me a while to accept that some research has to be omitted each week for the sake of flow.

    I will try to answer your questions.

    -The fairy tale reference came from a piece written by Roborts for the Saturday Evening Post titled, Speaking of Fairy Tales. In it the author wrote how his early love of fairy tales matured into a fascination with history when he found the 1824 day book of his Kennebunk ancestor, Eliab Stevens. Robert’s Post article was reprinted in the Kennebunk Star on October 5, 1919 because of its relevence to local history.

    -Orville Prescott is the name of the critic who described Kenneth Roberts’ difficult personality in his April 22, 1949 NYT review of “I Wanted to Write”. The critic’s words were later quoted in Robert’s NYT obituary. Prescott’s characterization of the man came as no surprize to Kennebunkporters who still tell first-hand anictodes illustrating KR’s temperment.

    -As Editor-in-Chief of the Cornell Widow, Kenneth Roberts criticized and satirized the university’s administration. For more on this see:
    Kenneth Roberts
    By Jack Bales
    Published by Twayne Publishers, 1993
    ISBN 0805776435, 9780805776430
    164 pages

    Respectfully,
    Sharon Cummins

    • Thank you for your response, Sharon, and I truly appreciate your clarification on my questions. One thing I’ve begun to learn as I’ve been reading up more on K.R. is his temperment. What I’ve taken as maybe an overstatement by some regarding K.R.’s temperment is actually the truth.

      If I came across as questioning your writing ability (in hind sight, I can see that tone emitting from my post), I apologize. Again, I appreciate your response and would love any feedback you may have regarding Kenneth Roberts and his place in American history.

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