Kenneth Roberts the Man: “Curmudgeonly Kenneth Roberts helped generations know their past”

Here’s a great article – “Curmudgeonly Kenneth Roberts helped generations know their past” – on The Working Waterfront on Kenneth Roberts the man (written by Harry Gratwick in the Dec. 07 – Jan. 08).  While most of the info mentioned in the article is familiar to me, he provides to quotes that shed further light on Kenneth Roberts the man.

Kenneth Roberts and American Education:

He had no use for American education: “A mind loaded with little scraps of information on Egyptian history, zoology, oriental art, the poets of the Renaissance and similar intellectual detritus is not trained,” he wrote. “It might be called a human New England attic: A repository of useless and forgotten things.”

Kenneth Roberts on his wife, Anna, whom he apparently loved dearly.  He speaks so fondly of her, I wish I could have met her; she seems to have been a significant key to his success.

In 1911 Roberts married Anna Mosser from Boston, and she must have been a saint. She typed and re-typed his manuscripts, often in unheated apartments during the winter. Until the success of Northwest Passage in 1936, they had very little money. He called her “patient and long suffering'” and he completely depended on her. “Anna says we can’t spend a penny until we get a check from the Post. All writers should learn to live on spaghetti for months on end. It’s delicious”.

At least Kenneth Roberts had a sense of humor.

“Anna says I ought to have a theme song, so I wrote one for her:
I wonder what’s eating him now:
At what he is raging-and how!
I wonder what’s making him squawk and yell,
Beef and howl and roar like hell.
I wonder what next he’ll rewrite?
All day and through most of the night
I wonder what tripe I will next have

Take some time to read this nice article.

Jeff Riggenbach on Kenneth Roberts and History

Jeff Riggenbach kindly responded to my recent post regarding his book and his mention of Kenneth Roberts.  Here’s what he said:

Danny, just for the record:

I do not regard KR as an opportunist.  I think he wrote his novels in perfect sincerity, to reflect the view his historical research had convinced him was the truth.  I think the change in American popular opinion toward England that took place at the end of the 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s helped make him a bestselling author, but not because he made any sort of cynical effort to take advantage of it.  On the contrary, KR went right on writing what he’d always written.  When public opinion changed, he was in the right place at the right time.


Thank you, Jeff, for your clarification and insight!

Kenneth Roberts on Mexicans – An Unflattering View of K.R. the Man

I came across a blog today (Making History Podcast: The Blog) that referenced Kenneth Roberts and his Post days in a post that seeks to show that “xenophobic and racist tirade[s]” against Mexicans is not a new issue (the reason for this post is Jay Severin – a shockjock – (never heard of him) and his recent dismissal from a radio show for his comments on Mexicans.  The author(s) of this post reference a quote made by Roberts in one of his articles for the Post:

And here is what Saturday Evening Post columnist Kenneth Roberts said, not last week but in 1931: “They are the criminal Mexicans, worthless in labor and always a social problem. They are also chronic beggars and sizzling with disease. This class should never pass the immigration officers on the border.”

They conclude their reference to K.R. with: “We are now, just as then, in the throes of an economic crisis where anxieties become attacks and the targets prove to be the nation’s most vulnerable populations.”

Roberts’ comment aside, I don’t think the analogy between Severin’s comment and Roberts’ comment is that relevant of an analogy.  The link the authors see is that Severin made his comment in a time of dire economic straits, a growing Hispanic population in America and during the middle of an outbreak of a Mexico-born virus.   The authors seem to pick Roberts’ comments in part because of the time he wrote it – 1931, the year the Great Depression began (but was the quote written before or after Black Friday?  They do not say, nor do they reference what edition of the Post in which the quote appears).  The authors do not, however, make any other connection to Severins’ comment and context.  Despite similar vitriol in the two quotes, Roberts’ comment is not necessarily a result of the economic crisis of his time, for it could be just a prejudiced comment made by a very opinionated man – a comment that would have been made no matter what state the economy was in.  Roberts just happens to express a similar view to that of Severin, which is more than likely just coincidental.

Nonetheless, this quote gives a rather unflattering glimpse of Kenneth Roberts – a man known for his being very opinionated.

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.

%d bloggers like this: