A Blast From the Past: Milwaukee Journal on “Lydia Bailey”

I continue to enjoy perusing Google’s news archives, and today I want to share with you a book review of Lydia Bailey by H. Russell Austin in the January 5, 1947 edition of the Milwaukee Journal.  Though Roberts is virtually unknown today, there were several decades in the early- to mid-20th century in which his works were eagerly read and anticipated.  Like any great author, not all of his works received the acclaim of reviewers, which is the case of Lydia Bailey in the Milwaukee Journal.

Austin opens up his review with a glowing compliment of Roberts’ status as a writer: “This perplexing book [Lydia Bailey] – the fruit of six years’ research and writing by one of our best historical novelists.”  Yet, despite this, Austin’s praise of Roberts, he says of Lydia Bailey: “It would be pleasant to add to this list of distinctions that ‘Lydia Bailey’ is one of Roberts’ best works and a great novel – but that would not be true.”

Austin supports his claim regarding Lydia Bailey by pointing out what he feels is the “central defect” – “in straining at the gnats of historical detail, [Roberts] has swallowed many camels, absurdities of plot and inconsistencies of character.”    He questions the believability of Albion Hamlin’s falling in love with Lydia Bailey just by seeing her portrait in someone’s home in Boston; what makes this scenario more unlikely is that Bailey is believed to be dead at the time Hamlin sees her portrait.  Austin points out other questionable aspects of Lydia Bailey: Hamlin’s bitterness toward his fiancee; Hamlin’s lobbying in Washington even though he’d previously been thrown in prison for contempt of court; and Bailey’s and Hamlin’s ability to command a brig on the Mediterranean despite their seemingly lack of experience.  He closes this section with “The list of lesser improbabilities is of wearying length.”

Despite Austin’s perceived weaknesses of Lydia Bailey, he points out the value of the novel – its detail on Toussaint L’Ouverture, the voodoo practices in Haiti and the farming techniques in Tripoli, and other historical nuggets.  Lastly, Austin closes with “You will also absorb some of Mr. Roberts’ excellent moral preaching on racial tolerance, national integrity, and the evil of consistency – a vice from which the author of this book seems marvelously free.”

[I find this last quote quite interesting considering Roberts’ quote in 1931  in the Post about Mexican immigrants. See my post on this issue.]

Unfortunately, I must agree with Austin’s assessment of Lydia Bailey; of his works, this is my least favorite of Roberts’ novels.  I feel that the romance aspect of the novel is rather far-fetched and strained, which unfortunately overshadows the otherwise excellent historical aspect of the novel.  Yet, no one ever bats .1000, even the great ones.


Kenneth Roberts: A Blast From the Past – St. Petersburg Times

Google News Archive is a treasure trove of old newspaper articles on Kenneth Roberts.  I found an interesting article from the St. Petersburg (FL) Times dated October 21, 1925.  At this time of Roberts’ career, he was a known writer for the Saturday Evening Post at this time, but had not as of yet made his name known for his historical fiction (Arundel was first published in 1929).

In an article titled “Kenneth Roberts Gathers Facts and Figures While Touring State for Post,” the Times presents a short blurb on Roberts’ stay in St. Petersburg.  Apparently, the town was excited that a Post writer would visit their town on a fact-gathering trip.  Unfortunately, Roberts provided little in terms of quotes or information for the paper.  The Times opens the article with:

A strong desire not to talk and an equally strong desire to find out as much about St. Petersburg and Florida in general as possible characterized the attitude of Kenneth L. Roberts, staff writer for the Saturday Evening Post, who left St. Petersburg Monday afternoon after a brief visit to the Sunshine City.

Roberts had little to say to the Times about his visit:

Mr. Roberts had little to say with regard to his impressions of the state and the Sunshine City.  Instead he seemed pointedly intent upon gathering as much information as possible from every source, with regard to living expenses in the state, hotel rates and prices of everything.

Apparently, Roberts had little to say to the Times.  I think these two paragraphs illustrate well the temperament of Kenneth Roberts – he was a man who, when working, did not want to be distracted with frivolities and other distractions.

One must admire the tenacity of the reporter, for the article goes on to mention the type of information Roberts was after while in St. Petersburg.  The reporter’s source? Mr. Dennis, the manager of the Princess Martha hotel.  Mr. Dennis divulges the vital information Roberts was after (information that “Mr. Roberts appeared eager to grasp”): the price of milk, eggs, beef and sugar.

Either the Times hit a slow news day, or they were eager to get anything on the visit of a well-known Post writer.  The article ends with a note of excitement:

Mr. and Mrs. Roberts left the hotel for Sarasota Monday afternoon with the expressed intention of returning to St. Petersburg within a short time during their travels through the state, and Mr. Robert’s investigation of the “Florida situation.”

Wanting more on Kenneth Roberts?

Are you wanting more on Kenneth Roberts, particularly write-ups on him contemporary to his times? Then follow this link from Google’s news archive search. There’s much to read, so enjoy! I will be pointing out things of interest as I come across them. Until then, have fun!

Kenneth Roberts in the Blogosphere: Dining Chicago and Hot Buttered Rum

It’s interesting where you’ll stumble across mentions of Kenneth Roberts, and today I find Kenneth Roberts mentioned on DiningChicago.com in a post titled “Drink this! Sweet, hot and rummy” by Leah Zeldes.  In this brief post, Leah provides a recipe for hot buttered rum and a brief description of where it originates and where Chicagoans can find it.  Here is Zeldes’ mention of Roberts:

Where it comes from: Hot buttered rum and similar rum toddies were created in Colonial America, and was a favorite tipple of 18th-century politicians, who reportedly plied prospective voters with the hot, spicy beverage. The drink experienced a revival in popularity in the late 1930s, after novelist Kenneth Roberts mentioned it in his bestseller “Northwest Passage.”

Roberts indeed provides a recipe for hot buttered rum in his Good Maine Food, and mentions it often in his novels, particularly in reference to a favorite character of mine – Cap Huff.

Now, it should be mentioned that the recipe Leah provides is not that of Kenneth Roberts. I am looking for this for those who want to know.

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