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.

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“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

Kenneth Roberts in the Blogosphere

Google is a great tool.  You can search an untold number of websites to find what you’re looking for (most of the time).  One thing I want to see accomplished with this site is a “coming together” of Kenneth Roberts fans.  To accomplish this, I will highlight blog posts dealing with Kenneth Roberts in some form or fashion.  Google, then, helps to accomplish this!

Today I stumbled across a post written by someone anonymous (at the blog titled Fairhope Farms) about Kenneth Roberts’ Rabble in Arms– my favorite novel of all times.  In it she discusses the vividness of Roberts’ language and his attention to detail (in its various forms).  I also admire her for admitting she appreciates Benedict Arnold and Roberts’ portrayal of Arnold (I will hopefully deal with this in a latter post).  Anyway, see this post by clicking here.

***Update 5:22 P.M.*** I’ve added an RSS feed that will include recent posts that deal with Kenneth Roberts in some form or fashion.

“The Kenneth Roberts Reader”

1945 ed. of The Reader

1945 ed. of The Reader

 I’ve recently picked up The Kenneth Roberts Reader for some light reading.  Though I have many of the books included in this reader, there are others included that I do not have.  If you are a little familiar with KR or just recently found out who he was, try finding this book in a used book store; this book is a great way to introduce you to KR’s style and his various works.  The best way, however, to become familiar with KR is just to buy his books and dive in.

Here’s a question I want to look into as a result of reading this book: Why was Ben Ames Williams chosen to write the introduction to this book?  What was his relation to KR?  Hope to find an answer soon and let you know!  In the meantime, find the book and start reading!

Kenneth Roberts – According to Ben Ames Williams

For Ken, who expects from the historian a remote impartiality, himself always has a thesis to demonstrate.  His thesis is the unrecognized truth; and he will with the most laborious research write a book to prove that on a given subject everyone who believes what everyone else believes is wrong!  It was characteristic of him that he began his career as a novelist by making the best possible case for Benedict Arnold.

Ben Ames Williams, “Introduction” in The Kenneth Roberts Reader (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc, 1945), ix.

Kenneth Roberts’ House For Sale

Picture courtesy of Pack Maynard & Assoc. Realty

Picture courtesy of Pack Maynard & Assoc. Real Estate

I came across an interesting find during my search for info on Kenneth Roberts – the house he built is now up for sale in Kennebunkport, ME for around only $7.95 million (I say this facetiously because I do not have this kind of money).   It’s a beautiful home and you can view a slide show of the home by clicking here.  I found the realty posting on Pack Maynard & Associates Realty’s website.  It’s a beautiful home set in beautiful country; you really get a sense of Roberts’ appreciation for Maine country. 

You can also get the sense that he wanted privacy.  In the introduction to The Kenneth Roberts Reader, the editor states in a footnote (n. 2, viii) that Kenneth Roberts had a 1/2 mile long drive way.  As one traveled this driveway, he was encountered with one sign that stated “DEAD END ROAD, NARROW AND DANGEROUS: PLEASE DON’T TRESPASS” (Doubleday in The Kenneth Roberts Reader, n. 2, viii) and another that stated “NOT A PUBLIC ROAD” (ibid, viii).

I hope to one day visit Maine and have the chance to see this home.

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