Kenneth Roberts is on Facebook!

You can now like the Kenneth Roberts – The Unofficial Site page on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/rockypastures. You will be able to see when the blog is updated, events scheduled, and follow the wall posts of Kenneth Roberts fans.  Feel free to upload any photos that are Kenneth Roberts related as well.

Rocky Pastures: Before There Was the Walled Garden, Part I

Walled Garden with the water feature (missing the statue). One can only imagine the greenery and flowers that filled this garden. Photo courtesy of Paula Robinson Rossouw.

***The following is part of a series to promote Rocky Pastures and the Design Show House the Kennebunkport Historical Society is sponsoring at the estate on June 23 – July 14. You can visit the KHS site here. One of the designers, a friend of this blog, can be visited here.***

In his biography, I Wanted to Write, Kenneth Roberts tells of his search for a quiet place in which to do his research and writing undisturbed.  The genesis of this long search for solitude is difficult for me to pin down (in I Wanted to Write, page 143, in the midst of retelling his travels in Europe as a foreign correspondent on immigration [I believe this is correct], which is roughly around 1919 if my reading is correct), but what can be said is that Robert searched high and low in both Europe and America for his ideal spot in which to write in peace. 

Roberts’ first attempt was an old stable he converted into a home and named Stall Hall (the subject of Part II of this post).  Though he spent several years at this place, his wish for complete solitude was not fully realized due to the nearby golf course and the encroaching neighbors.  In his essay “The Little Home in the Country,” Roberts says of Stall Hall: 

No subtle premonition warned me that the local golf club might build a practice tee beneath my workroom windows: no ominous portent indicated that neighbors would feel an urge to place garages in my front and rear.

One method Roberts pursued to gain privacy from his neighbors and the seasonal golfers utilized his love of nature.  In “The Little Home in the Country,” Roberts provides a humorous account of his trials and errors when trying to plant bushes and vines that were to serve as a barrier to the outside world.

The focus of Roberts’ wit and sarcasm are those “persons who write whimsical pieces for the papers, giving readers the idea that a farmhouse can be remodeled as cheaply and as easily as one can buy a second-hand automobile.”  The implicit target of his humor and sarcasm, though, is himself and his sometimes futile attempts at growing greenery with the ease promised by the experts in the nurserymen’s annuals.  Roberts tells of his battle with unruly hedges (the Laurel-leaf Willow), stout snout beetles that were to ants as cows are to humans, and fruitless fruit trees.  Roberts most trying battle was with the bittersweet vines. 

In the case of my vines…the tip of each bittersweet tendril acts as a summer resort for innumerable aphids; and when these tips rest against a painted surface, the aphids leave unsightly smudges on it – smudges that can be obliterated only with two coats of paint.

The tendrils are long and springy.  When pruned, they sway convulsively, slapping the pruner across the mouth with tips heavily populated with aphids. As a result, for every five minutes spent by the pruner on bittersweet vines, he spends five hours removing aphids from himself…

Roberts search for solitude, then, seemed elusive while at Stall Hall considering his battles with encroaching golfers and neighbors, and the endless pursuit for the perfectly behaving greenery.

Roberts' study opened into the walled garden. These two spots best encapsulate Roberts and his passions. Photo courtesy of Paula Robinson Rossouw.

When Roberts built Rocky Pastures, though, he succeeded in finding his long sought-for solitude by having his study surrounded by a walled garden.  Though the walled garden is now more of a walled courtyard, one can only imagine the greenery and flowers adording the walled garden, easily viewable from Roberts’ study.  In my opinion, these two spots – more than any other at Rocky Pastures (except the duck pond) – encapsulate Kenneth Roberts the man, especially his passions.

Roberts’ hard-earned solitude was not easily gained though, as recounted above.  In addition to his yearly battle with nature, Roberts had to fight yearly with Stall Hall itself…

Kenneth Roberts in the Blogosphere: A Shout Out to an Old Friend

Wow.  At the risk of sounding repetitive, I am amazed at how much has been sitting in the hopper since April 2011 that I just forgot about.  Russ Grimm from the blog My Military History has been a rather helpful friend to this blog since its inception.  Today I saw his numerous comments providing links to old newspaper and magazine archives that discuss Kenneth Roberts and his works in his contemporary setting.  Say what you will about Google, but they have made research easier when it comes to research.

KennethRoberts on Rogers' Rangers in MilwaukeeJournal-Aug271942

Take this article, for instance, written on August 27, 1942 by the Milwaukee Journal in which they take parts of Kenneth Roberts’ account of how Roger’s rangers were formed as a way of explaining a new special unit of soldiers being formed in the US forces.  This unit, designed to “strike swiftly, silently, and efficiently,” took their name from Rogers’ Rangers; the new, modern rangers, then, were not something new, but a unit that adopted and adapted a method of warfare almost two centuries old – a method well documented in Roberts’ research and in his novel Northwest Passage

I definitely have my work cut out for me now, as I have a treasure trove in Google’s news archives to find old articles written on Roberts.  The timing, though, isn’t the best…I have a seminar paper to write, but I’d rather be wading through news archives…Again, Russ, thank you very much for your help!  (See also his most recent post in which he provides links on the Battle of Cowpens, which happens to be the subject and title of Roberts’ last book, The Battle of Cowpens, which was published posthumously.)

Kenneth Roberts in the Blogosphere: “Laudator Temporis Acti ” on K.R. and Beans

Since bringing this blog out from hibernation, I’ve noticed that I have some posts that have been sitting in the hopper for almost 2 1/2 years.  One I thought worthy of bring forth is mention of a blog post from Michael Gilleland’s Laudator Temporis Acti  in which a brief list is given of the number of instances Kenneth Roberts wrote on baked beans, ranging from his writings of his grandma’s kitchen in Good Maine Food, to his essay titledAn Inquiry into Diets, and throughout his various novels.

Kenneth Roberts was unashamedly fond of food, particularly his grandmother’s food, which seemed to be his standard for anything he ate. He loved his grandmother’s ketchup (“I became almost a ketchup drunkard; for when I couldn’t get it, I yearned for it.” “Grandma’s Kitchen in The Kenneth Roberts’ Reader).  He even gave detailed instructions on how she made the ketchup. 

Roberts was also fond of his grandmother’s baked beans (the subject of Gilleland’s post), for which he provides instructions on how to prepare.  He introduces the instructions with the following:

To bake one’s own beans, in these enlightened days of canned foods, is doubtless too much trouble, particularly if the cook wishes to spend her Saturday afternoons motoring, playing bridge, or attending football games (“Grandma’s Kitchen”)

Roberts’ sharp wit and dry sense of humor extends beyond the current events of his day to food and its preparation!  Interestingly, while appreciation for Roberts’ work in historical fiction has waned over the years (with exceptions, of course), it seems the web is abuzz over Roberts’ writings on food.  Hopefully one’s exposure to Roberts’ writings on food opens their eyes to his other works.

Rocky Pastures: Kenneth Roberts’ Secluded Hideaway – Sort Of

Rocky Pastures' entrance gates. Courtesy Paula Robinson-Rossouw

Rocky Pastures is nesteled in the woods of Southern Maine, offering privacy and seclusion from the masses for Kenneth Roberts – or so he thought.  According to the editor of The Kenneth Roberts Reader, Nelson Doubleday, the driveway leading to Roberts’ home is half a mile long.  This driveway, however, was not enough to deter vacationers and curious fans, so Roberts installed two directionboards.  According to Doubleday, one sign read “PRIVATE: DEAD END ROAD, NARROW AND DANGEROUS: PLEASE DON’T TRESPASS,” and the other read “NOT A PUBLIC ROAD” (Kenneth Roberts Reader, viii n. 2). 

Unfortunately for Roberts, the long driveway and the ominous directionboards did not work.  Doubleday tells us that “Ken says cynically that summer vacationists persistently ignore both signs” (Kenneth Roberts Reader, viii n. 2).   While it may seem ironic that Rocky Pastures will soon be visited by many people, Paula Robinson-Rossouw says that:

Given his very dry sense of humor, I’m sure Kenneth Roberts would have appreciated the irony of his sanctuary being opened to the public for the first time! What he disliked most about idle sightseers was the fact that they disturbed his intensive writing schedule, but he did open the grounds of Rocky Pastures once to demonstrate Henry Gross’s water dowsing skills. I’m sure Kenneth Roberts would be happy to know that his beautiful estate is helping to raise funds for the Kennebunkport Historical Society. After all, history was his great passion – along with dowsing.

Personally, I was not aware that Roberts had opened up his home to visitors at one time, but knowing how much he believed in Henry Gross’ ability, this makes sense.  What also makes sense is Roberts’ intense writing and research schedule, which explains his desire for seclusion from idle sightseers.  I wonder, though,  if the directionboards are still standing alongside the driveway to Rocky Pastures…

Rocky Pastures: Design Show House Info

On June 23-July 14, the Kennebunkport Historical Society will be hosting a Design Show House at Kenneth Roberts’ estate, Rocky Pastures.  According to the website for the show, this is the first time the estate has been opened to the public.  Various designers will be designing the rooms of Roberts’ house.  The cost per person to view the estate is $20.  The tickets are available through the Society, the Kennebunk /Kennebunkport Chamber of Commerce and the Nonantum Resort. 

If you’re up to an evening gala on the grounds of Rocky Pastures, then join the Society on Friday evening, June 22 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.  Tickets are $75 per person and $60 per person for Society members. For tickets, call the Society at 967-2751 or email kporths@roadrunner.com All gala tickets must be pre-purchased (information from the Designer Show House website).

There wil also be guest speakers during the public viewing (see the Designer Show House website for dates and speakers).

All in all, this is a great opportunity for not only Kenneth Roberts fans, but history buffs as well.  The house, though for sale, is currently privately owned and went through a major renovation in 2006, so the estate is in great condition and looks very much like when Roberts lived there.   Though built in 1938, the house has an old-world feel to it and is located in a beautiful, wooded area near a duck pond.  Visiting Rocky Pastures, then, will be like a step back in time for history buffs and an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of Maine for any who appreciate natural beauty.

Take the opportunity to visit the Facebook page for the Design Show House at: https://www.facebook.com/DesignerShowHouse.  And while you’re at it, join the Kenneth Roberts fan page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/76921638924/

Rocky Pastures: A New Series of Posts

Rocky Pastures. Courtesy Paula Robinson-Rossouw

One of Kenneth Roberts lasting legacies is his Kennebunkport, Maine estate, Rocky Pastures – a beautifull, sprawling estate nestled in the woods and far enough away from the main roads to keep the curious onlookers away (if I recall correctly, Kenneth Roberts stated his annoyance at those who would still make their way to his home, as if the long driveway and a sign he’d placed along the way was not  hint enough that he’d rather have privacy than visitors).  Several times I have posted on Rocky Pasture’s being put up for sale, and recently it has attracted attention from Paula Robinson-Rossouw, a designer (see here) taking part in an upcoming public show at Rocky Pastures.

Paula has proven to be a great friend to this website and a great contact regarding the current goings on at Rocky Pastures.  Since I live about a 24 hour’s drive from Kennebunkport, she has willingly sent over some pictures of Rocky Pastures she’s recently taken, and will send over some pictures of the interior of the house after it’s ready for the show.  As such, I’ll be doing a short series of posts of these pictures so you can see what the estate looks like (and if you’re interested in buying it, see here!).  I hope that I can provide some anecdotes from Roberts’ life along with some of these pictures as well.

In addition to the pictures, I will also be passing along information to the Designer Show House (dates, times, Facebook page, etc.) as I receive the information.  If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comment section and someone will answer your question.  I will make another post after this one with some basic information about the Designer Show House taking place at Rocky Pastures.

With that said, let me pass along a picture Paula sent along of a water fountain in the walled garden of Rocky Pastures as it is today:

Here are Paula's dogs in the spot where Kenneth Roberts posed with his dogs 73 years ago. (Photo courtesy of Paula Robinson-Rossouw)

Now, here is a picture of Roberts with his dogs in the same part (but notice there’s a fountain in the spot) with his dogs.  I think it’s funny that, unlike Paula’s dogs, it seems Kenneth Roberts’ dogs want nothing to do with the photo shoot!

Kenneth Roberts posing with his dogs by the fountain in the walled garden of Rocky Pastures. Courtesy "Vintage Maine Images" and the Maine Historical Society
http://www.vintagemaineimages.com/bin/Detail?ln=1381

I will post more on the Design Show House shortly.  Stay tuned!

K.R. in the Blogosphere: Did Kenneth Roberts help inspire the creation of Pepe Le Pew? Not likely.

Below is a post I wrote back in March of 2011.  I had come across a supposed letter from famous animator Chuck Jones in which it stated that one of Kenneth Roberts’ works was the source of inspiration for Pepe le Pew (The post was originally written 3/10/11).

I stumbled upon a blog post at Letters of Note in which the author provides a facsimile of a letter written by Chuck Jones (a “legendary animator”) to a class of students about the benefits of reading.  In this letter he tells where he received inspiration for several Looney Toones characters, such as Wile E. Coyote, Bugs Bunny, etc.  What’s of interest to this blog is his statement: “I found the entire romantic personality of Pepe Le Pew in a book written by Kenneth Roberts, Captain Hook.”

To my knowledge, Kenneth Roberts has never written a book titled Captain Hook.  If the Kenneth Roberts Jones references is indeed the Kenneth Roberts of this site, then he probably meant to reference Captain Caution.  It’s been a while since I’ve read this book to know which character served as inspiration for Pepe Le Pew, so if you have an idea, let me know.

The real mystery, though, would be if the Kenneth Roberts that Jones refers to is another Kenneth Roberts that wrote a book titled Captain Hook.  However, I have yet to come across a book with such title AND author.

Nevertheless, a fun piece of Kenneth Roberts trivia!

***Update 3/16: The letter had apparently been up for auction on ebay (check here) but, according to the seller, was sold as of yesterday.  Here is an image the seller posted of the letter:

Interestingly, the image at Letters of Note still had the address of those to whom the letter is addressed, but the address was pixelated in order to “erase” the address.

So, in the midst of my studies, I periodically try to hunt down this “Captain Hook” that Roberts did or did not write.  This letter has grabbed my attention!

During my search for the supposed “Captain Hook” written by Roberts, I was able to find out the following (written 3/19/11 but not published):

I recently wrote a post that highlighted a supposed letter written by famed animator Chuck Jones in which he lists several books that inspired some of his characters (the original post I referenced was from Letters of Note).  Of interest to this blog was the mention of Kenneth Roberts and his book Captain Hook.

I had stated in my post that Roberts has never written a book titled Captain Hook, and that perhaps Jones had either written the incorrect title (meaning to say Captain Caution) or had the wrong author.  To search for the correct answer, I had written the writer (Robert) for the blog Chuck Redux – a site devoted solely to Chuck Jones’ memory and works – and asked him about this letter.

According to Robert – whose authority I trust regarding the works and life of Chuck Jones – Jones had never stated that he was inspired by a literary work for the character Pepe le Pew.  In light of Jones’ photographic memory, such a mistake in a letter from him causes concern regarding the authenticity of the letter.  Other aspects of the letter have raised red flags as well.

In short, the Roberts reference is not correct and Roberts was not an influence on Pepe le Pew, and the letter’s authenticity is in question.  Unfortunately, the letter is making its way throughout the blogosphere as many have caught on to the post at Letters of Note AND the letter has been sold from the ebay auction.

Hopefully more to come.

By the way, check out Robert’s great blog on Chuck Jones.  As a fan of Looney Tunes (growing up and now), this blog is a great way to know the animator that created those characters we grew up with.

I’d withheld publishing these posts in 2011 as Robert checked out the authenticity of the letter, and as time passed, I forgot to update. So there you go!  A bit of news that’s more than likely untrue, but interesting nonetheless.

Kenneth Roberts the Man: Why He Wrote Historical Fiction

If you’ve been reading this blog the past few days, there’s been a lively discussion regarding the nature of Roberts’ research, of which I am not an expert to determine the truthfulness or falsity of what he presents.  As such, while I appreciate the comments from Stephen Sniegoski and Mark York, I remain in my belief that Roberts sought to portray information accurately, and will do so until I can read York’s book and weigh the evidence myself.  I do acknowledge, though, that no historian was 100% objective, completely unfettered by his own worldview and biases. Roberts, I am sure, and practically all historians (more some than others, though), struggle with this.  And, to be fair, this is not unusual – we must all, when given facts, interpret them.  At times, we can be spot on, and other times miss the mark.  When it comes to Roberts, the subject of this blog and a writer I am rather familiar with, I believe he did strive to do history well and accurately. 

Thus, in light of the recent discussion, my tendency is to first give Roberts the benefit of the doubt.  In his autobiography I Wanted to Write (particularly pages 166-169), Roberts discusses what brought him to begin writing historical fiction, and not just history.  This journey began when his curiosity was piqued regarding his family’s role in the American Revolution and in the War of 1812.  When he sought answers from his family, he came up empty of answers and overrunning with more questions.  He then turned to histories for answers.

I had tried to get some of these things straightened out in my mind by reading histories that purported to explain them; but in every case–not in most cases, but in every case–I found that the books explained nothing fully or satisfactorily.  They were drab, dull, unconvincing, rich in omissions, and crowded with statements that couldn’t possibly be true (167).

He goes on to mention other historians of ability (Francis Parkman and William Hickling Prescott, both of whom I am unfamiliar), but pointed out their deficiencies when it came to the American Revolution.  At some point, he came to a turning point in his career:

Before the summer ended I was disgusted beyond words by the incredible dullness and scantiness of so-called histories.  I realized that I could never find out what I wanted to know…unless I assembled all the necessary information from every obtainable source; then put all that information together in a book in which characters acted and talked.

That, it dawned on me, was what I must do.  Even though nobody read what I wrote, it ought to be done, because nobody had every done it before–and there ought to be at least one book that would give the good people of Maine an honest, detailed and easily understood account of how their forebears got along.  I hadn’t the slightest desire then to write what is known as an historical novel, not have I ever had any intention of doing so.  In fact, I have always had a profound aversion to most historical novels, because the people in them aren’t real people, and neither act nor talk like anyone I’ve ever known (168).

Based upon this, and other statements Roberts made elsewhere, I don’t think he sought to write a novel that happened to deal with history; I believe he sought to write history that was readable to the general public, and that means was through the novel.  Later in I Wanted to Write, Roberts discusses the time when Oliver Wiswell was being considered for a Pulitzer, giving us a glimpse into how he viewed his own works. 

Roberts had received news that Oliver Wiswell had not received the Pulitzer, having been ruled out “on the ground that it wasn’t really a novel, but history disguised as fiction” (356).  He would later write in one of his journals: “‘Apparently the Pulitzer Committee considers itself privileged to change the rules on literature as well as Pulitzer’s prize rules; but no matter what the Pulitzer Committee things or says, Oliver Wiswell will continue to be a novel as well as history” (356-57, emphasis mine).  I believe what we see here is that Roberts did not see his work as fiction, nor did he see his work as primarily a novel and secondarily a history.  I believe that Roberts truly believed he was writing a novel AND history; perhaps, based upon his earlier comments mentioned above, Roberts saw himself as writing a history through the vehicle of a novel.

Thus, I don’t think it’s fair to say that Roberts embellished things for the sake of his novel.  Did he get facts wrong?  I’m sure he did.  But to argue that it was due to personal bias or any other reason is to judge Roberts’ intent, which cannot be argued with 100% certainty, but rather to argue plausibly – the likeliness of Roberts embellishing fact for the sake of his novel or the factual error existing for other reasons.  To argue Roberts embellished fact for the sake of the novel, then,  is to place the burden of proof on the one making the claim, and this is a rather difficult claim to back, in my opinion.  

I Wanted to Write is an excellent glimpse into Roberts’ reasons for and motivation behind his writings.  It is also a glimpse into the numerous hours (more like months, even years) he put into research before and during his work on a particular book. If what he relays in his autobiography is honest and of unselfish motivation, then I think we should read his works in light of what he tells us, and handle possible factual errors accordingly.

With this said, I would like to reiterate how exciting it is to see Roberts’ work playing a role in today’s scholarship.  Let’s hope that more follow York by taking Roberts’ works seriously and critically.

K.R. in Current Works: Mark York’s “Patriot on the Kennebec”

Today via the comment section of this blog, I was introduced to Mark York and his work titled Patriot on the Kennebec: Major Reuben Colburn, Benedict Arnold and the March to Quebec, 1775 .  According to York, here is a short blurb on his book:

In late 1775, a few months after the first shots of the Revolution were fired, Benedict Arnold led more than one thousand troops into Quebec to attack the British there. Departing from Massachusetts, by the time they reached Pittston, Maine, they were in desperate need of supplies and equipment to carry them the rest of the way. Many patriotic Mainers contributed, including Major Reuben Colburn, who constructed a flotilla of bateaux for the weary troops. Despite his service in the Continental army, many blamed Colburn when several of the vessels did not withstand the harsh journey. In this narrative, the roles played by Colburn and his fellow Mainers in Arnold’s march are reexamined and revealed.

In my reply to his comment, I’d asked Mark if he could provide a short summary on how he interacts with Kenneth Roberts’ works in his own Patriot on the Kennebec.  Mark kindly responded in an email with the following:

The journals of the members of the expedition Roberts collected and compiled in March to Quebec are critical to the study, but some of Roberts’ pet peeves, chinks in his historical armor, that he reveals in the margins of March are also disproven by the journals themselves. For example, the banquet at Fort Western and Aaron Burr’s exploits. The meal happened, and yet since his relative, Edward Nason, was an enlisted man, he would have been sleeping outside in the rain and not feasting inside with the Howards, Reuben Colburn, Burr and other officers. There was also some unflattering portrayals of the guides from my neck of the woods in Arundel that are sort of insulting. Roberts was a man of privilege, but he could be unapologetic and uncaring of anyone not so lucky.

My essay in the opening of Patriot reflects these flaws while praising his efforts and making my job so much easier. Yet, I believe I’ve broken new ground in uncovering things about the expedition that other authors have miscalculated. Robert’s and I agree on the complex story of Natanis and Sabatis, though. He reveals his initial bias against my central Maine people in the dialogue of Arundel. ” I was prepared to mislike Colburn for Washington and Arnold’s fondness for bateaux, but I had wronged him.”

I find this very intriguing.  While Roberts was indeed a great writer and to be appreciated for his research and writing, he was not without his foibles and errors.  What I appreciate about Mark is that despite his appreciation for Roberts (or maybe because of ?), he is willing to critique Roberts and point out possible errors in his works.

I look forward to reading this book and I hope you get a chance to purchase this book.  You can find it via Amazon by clicking here.

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