Kenneth Roberts in the Blogosphere: “Feast of Nemesis” on Oliver Wiswell

Feast of Nemesis provides short, but interesting thoughts on Roberts’ novel, Oliver Wiswell, of whom the main character is a Tory during the American Revolutionary War.

According to the post, Oliver Wiswell is contemporary:

The tragic dilemma of Oliver Wiswell and the tories is a central tragedy of our time. They learn what modern exiles have to learn: 1) that decency, thrift, sobriety, intelligence have no value in a civil war; 2) that there is no hope for the vanquished in a social revolution except to start life over again in a new country.

The post further states that “like all Roberts romances, Oliver Wiswell is also important history.”  I’m not sure I’d say that all of Roberts’ novels were primarily romances; rather, they were primarily history that involved romance within the plot.  I don’t think Roberts wrote with the idea of developing a new romance.  If this were so, his novels were all the same because the romance aspect seems to be rather identical in all of his novels.  Anyway, I digress.  The post goes on to say in regards to the novel as 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, through 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.

Again, interesting perspective in regards to one of K.R.’s most famous novels.

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Kenneth Roberts: Nothin’ like Grandma’s cookin’!

As mentioned in a previous post, Kenneth Roberts, an already opinionated man, was very opinionated about food.  Nothing, it seemed, was as good as Maine food, and in particular his grandmother’s cooking.  In an essay titled “Grandmother’s Kitchen” in The Kenneth Roberts Reader (originally titled “A Maine Kitchen” in Trending into Maine), Roberts’ states:

It was in Grandma’s home that I developed a fondness for Maine cooking … and to the end of my days the simple foods that were the basis of most of our meals will seem to me more delicious than all the ‘specialties of the house’ that can be produced by the world’s most famous chefs.

Strong words coming from one whom, I’m sure, had access to some of the finest restaurants of his time.  These words, however, ring true with many of us, I assume.  Many times when we eat outside of the home, comparisons are made to how someone, particularly mom or grandma, in our family cooks.  For me, it’s my mom’s Cajun cooking.  (Mmmm, I’m hungry now…)

In the essay “Grandmother’s Kitchen,” Roberts gives the account of when he and a dinner party visited a well-known restaurant in Palm Beach, FL.  Despite his reluctance and doubt, and on the word of the restaurant owner, Roberts ordered the hash of which only his grandmother could make correctly!  Unfortunately for Roberts, the chef did not live up to Grandma’s standard:

There was considerable talk about that hash when the guests arrived.  The thought of genuine Maine hash inflamed them; but when at last it was brought, the potatoes were cut in lumps the size of machine-gun bullets: the meat was in chunks; the whole dreadful mixture had been made dry and crumbly over a hot fire.  Beyond a doubt the guests talked about that hash for the remainder of the year, but not in the way the restaurant owner had anticipated.

It makes me wonder what Roberts would say about today’s hash, especially of the likes sold at McDonald’s during breakfast.

In the midst of his discussion on his excursions into eating hash made by people other than his grandmother, Roberts takes a side trip into discussing the way ketchup ought to taste, for “[k]etchup is an important adjunct to many Maine dishes, particularly in families whose manner of cooking comes down to them from seafaring ancestors.”  Ketchup, according to Roberts, must not be sweetened, for it would be “an offense against God and man, against nature and good taste.”

For the Roberts family, Grandma’s ketchup was famous and highly sought after.  According to Roberts,

…we could never get enough of it.  We were allowed to have it on beans, fish cakes, and hash, since those dishes were acknowledged to be incomplete without them; but when we went so far as to demand it on bread, as we often did, we were peremptorily refused and had to go down in the cellar and steal it – which we also often did. 

For Roberts, such was his craving for his grandmother’s ketchup that he “became almost a ketchup drunkard; for when I couldn’t get it, I yearned for it.”  Roberts had to beg her for the recipe, which had never been published, until he shared it in his essay (mentioned earlier, “A Maine Kitchen”) “for the benefit of those who aren’t satisfied with the commercial makeshifts that masquerade under the name of ketchup.”

Interestingly, Roberts’ grandmother’s ketchup recipe is still used today, as evidenced by Nora at  The Great American Project Cooking Project and her post titled “Ketchup’s Secret Ingredient.”

Roberts, a man known for his tenacious search for historical fact, carried this tenacity into his search for the re-creation of Grandma’s home cooking.  In doing so, we get another glimpse at Kenneth Robert the man.

Edith Faulstich-Fisher on the Siberian Expedition

Long before Kenneth Roberts found fame for his historical fiction novels, he spent time in Siberia with the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I as a Military Intelligence Officer.  To my knowledge, little is known about Roberts’ time in Siberia other than what he wrote of it (for instance, he mentions his time there in his autobiography I Wanted to Write). 

Today I came across a blog devoted to Edith Faulstich-Fisher who spent the later part of her life to chronicling the AEF from the viewpoint of the soldiers.  Kenneth Roberts played a small role in this work as the late Ms. Faulstich-Fisher corresponded with him as she researched for this work.  According to the preface of her book (available on the blog here), Roberts provided her a list of the men who served in the AEF between 1918-20.

This seems like it would be a fascinating read for any Kenneth Roberts fan as one can learn about the Siberian Expedition through the mouths of those who served there.  Another great glimpse (indirectly)  into the life of Kenneth Roberts the man.

Did You Know: K.R. the Playright

Did you know that Kenneth Roberts co-authored a play titled “The Brotherhood of Man: A One Act Drama?”    According to Jack Bales, biographer of Kenneth Roberts, the play first appeared “in the Saturday Evening Post for August 30, 1919.”  He co-authored the play with Robert Garland, a fellow army comrade.  The play was republished by Samuel French, Inc. in 1934 (information provided by Jack Bales).

Kenneth Roberts in the Blogosphere: Links to Blogs Referencing K.R.

I’ve had a rather fruitful day of finding references to Kenneth Roberts in the blogosphere today!  I will be writing some posts on these blogs, but for the time being, here are the links for you to follow:

  1. Great Performances on Lydia Bailey
  2. Laudator Temporis Acti  on K.R. and beans
  3. Economic Thinking Books on K.R.
  4. Feast of Nemesis on Oliver Wiswell
  5. Boston 1775 on K.R. and Robert Rogers

Kenneth Roberts on Diets: A Satire Against “Experts” and Their Gullible Followers

It is well documented that Kenneth Roberts was a very opinionated man, whether he was railing against politics, historians, or the current culture.  Perhaps not as well know, though, was his love for food and his never-ending quest for food cooked like his grandma’s (see his essay “A Maine Kitchen” in Trending into Maine, or “Grandma’s Kitchen” in The Kenneth Roberts Reader).

In his essay titled “An Inquiry into Diets,” Roberts tells of his foray into the crowded forest of diet books (it seems that even in his time, Americans were vainly obsessed with their figure).  Roberts gives the account of an acquaintance approaching him with the request to procure for her the best diet books available at that time (I am unsure if this actually occurred or not).  What ensues is a humorous, satirical story of Roberts’ dizzying journey amongst the leading diet “experts” and their contradictory, nebulous, unfounded advice.

Roberts provides much material worthy of being quoted here; however, due to the lack of space, time and the concern of breaking copyright, here are only a few:

…every diet, in the opinion of one or more diet experts, is either based on the erroneous ideas of a faddist, or is downright dangerous.

Hitherto, in consulting references on any given subject, I have usually been able to discard the majority as inaccurate, biased, unreliable, or untruthful … Diet books are different.  Most of them are written by medical experts who have studied for years to find out exactly what happens to seven cents’ worth of liver when it meets a Welch’s bacillus in the upper colon of a sedentary worker aged forty-five.

I further discovered that although a person may consider himself in perfect health, and may feel comfortable and happy, he is – unless he is eating foods that the diet books say he ought to eat – as effectively poisoned as though nurtured for years on poison-ivy salads with bichloride of mercury dressing.

 Lastly, Roberts tells of his discovery from the dietitians that starches, sugars and proteins, if mixed in a meal, causes intestinal fermentation, which leads to acidosis, which, according to Roberts

…is too large a subject for me to handle, in these few notes, except in the sketchiest manner.  Not even the authors of the diet books are able to handle it satisfactorily.  However, all of us are suffering from acidosis; and so far as i can tell, everybody has suffered from acidosis since the beginning of the world – unless he has been so happy as to stuble upon the proper diet.

However, if one were to just follow the proper diet,

he becomes tranquil, thoughtful, and philosophic; overwork is impossible; business worries are unknown; irritation vanishes.  It was all to clear to me that I was in a bad way; for whenever my eye struck a newspaper report of the activities of the House of Representatives, I became irritated.  Almost everything that was done in the House of Representatives seemed irritating; but the most frequent and explosive irritation was caused by that body’s eagerness to wreck the finances of the nation; its delight in wasting more and more of the people’s money; its inability to balance the budget in any sensible manner…

When I read about such things, I not only become irritated: I become profane – so profane that my language sometimes shocks even myself.

This, of course, is another sure indication of acidosis.  If I were on a proper diet, nothing could irritate me.  I would remain tranquil and philosophic while reading about the House of Representatives.  I would continue to be tranquil and philosophic, even though the House of Representatives should be successful in its efforts to bring the nation to insolvency and ruin.

(Note: this last quote gives a little glimpse into his politics as well.)

Not even the dietitians – and by implication their gullible, too-accepting followers – escaped Roberts’ searing gaze upon the culture of his time.  A great glimpse into Kenneth Roberts the man, and even a timely word for us today, as we are still flooded by advice from many “experts” that conflict with each other and even themselves.

A Blast from the Past: NY Times Review of “Lydia Bailey” the Movie

Lydia BaileyHere’s a nice blast from the past – a movie review (NY Times, May 31, 1952) on the movie “Lydia Bailey” based upon Kenneth Roberts’ novel with the same title.  The movie starred Dale Robertson as Albion Hamlin (main character) and Anne Francis (Lydia Bailey).  (See NY Times overview of the movie here or IMBD’s overview here.)

Apparently, the reviewer did not like the movie; the reviewer accuses Roberts of ignoring historical fact when writing this novel:

The strite-ridden out colorful history of Haiti’s struggle for independence, which has attracted such noted writers as Eugene O’Neill and Kenneth Roberts, has been fancifully warped in “Lydia Bailey,” Twentieth Century-Fox’s Technicolor version of Mr. Roberts’ novel, which turned up at the Roxy yesterday. Neither Mr. Roberts—whose canvas, incidentally, encompassed a much wider area than just Haiti—nor the scenarists were interested in documenting facts. Thus, this period adventure, which merely nods to history on occasion, succeeds in being a briskly paced, swashbuckling yarn in which an American lawyer’s search for and romance with a beautiful heiress is a prop for plots, warfare, hairbreadth escapes and multi-hued jungle scenery (emphasis mine).

I admit, Lydia Bailey is not my favorite K.R. novel; I felt the romance aspect was a bit forced and was given too much attention.  Nevertheless, the accusation that Kenneth Roberts occasionally gives a nod to history is quite a strong claim considering the detail and attention Roberts’ gave to historical fact in his research and earlier writings – so, in light of the fact the reviewer gave no support for his claim, I find it an unfair accusation against Roberts, finding the claim more of an opinion of someone who did not like the movie.

Interesting: here’s a link to a Lydia Bailey movie poster on ebay.

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