Kenneth Roberts’ Memorabilia: Roberts’ Inscription in Antiquamania

A running theme throughout this website is the joy of finding a steal – a Kenneth Roberts’ work in great condition, a hard-to-find work, and even a signed copy of his work. One particular work that is difficult find is his Antiquamania, published in 1928 by Doublday, Doran, & Company. Much harder to find is a signed copy of Antiquamania. According to Roberts in his autobiography – I Wanted to Write – he published the book on antiques while in Italy (the period during which he was building the “American Wing” of his house in Italy). He says of Antiquamania:

even though delightfully illustrated with drawings by Mr. Tarkington, [it] was as unproductive as the other volumes had been. Its circulation was 1,165 (181).

Recently, some new Kenneth Roberts fans – Melissa and Drew – emailed me a picture of their recently acquired copy of Antiquamania that was signed and inscribed by Kenneth Roberts. See the image below (posted with permission):

The inscription reads:

Rare old Currier & Ives print, Flying Ants in September, discovered by Professor Kilgallen is an Arundel lumber pile and presented to Paul Allen by Kenneth Roberts.

Hanover, N.H./October 11, 1937

It appears that the picture at the top of the page is the Currier & Ives print discussed in the inscription. If I had to guess, Roberts’ humor shines forth here, matching the humor of the book itself.

Now, I’m no expert on handwriting, much less Roberts’ signature, but the signature and inscription above appear legit.

In a recent post, I’d posted pictures of signatures that I have (and know to be real), and another signature that I have that appeared to be forged (see the post here). The image on the top is the signature I’m confident is real, and the one on the bottom is the questionable one:

This is a Roberts signature located in a presentation copy of Boon Island.

This is the imprint and signature found in the book I received recently.

After that post, I had someone email me questioning my assertion, and now I am not so confident that the signature is a forgery. I’m not 100% confident it’s Roberts’ signature and inscription, though. I do know that Roberts’ wife Anna helped him considerably in his work, so it’s perhaps Anna’s writing on behalf of Kenneth Roberts (note the “of” in the inscription, as if the writer is writing in the third person. This is not something that someone would do if writing in the first person.). However, I do not have a way of knowing for sure right now. Hopefully more on this later, though!

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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 in the Blogosphere: “Great Performances” on Lydia Bailey

Here are some kind words from Linda Aragoni, of Great Performances, in a post titled “Only Returning Vets Could Love Lydia” in reference to Kenneth Roberts’ novel Lydia Bailey.

Aragoni says two things that caught my attention.  First:

Hamlin says the things most soldiers just home from the front lines would like to say. I suspect his bitterness made Lydia Bailey a success among folks who had just come through World War II.

Interesting thought … something that never came to mind when reading the novel.  A second thing she says in her post is:

Today’s returning vets may have the same gripes, but they wouldn’t go for Roberts’ writing. All Roberts’ meticulous research can’t hide the implausible plot. And his flat, one-dimensional characters and paragraph-length sentences would sink the novel.

I must agree that Hamlin, the lead character in Lydia Bailey, is rather predictable and bland.  Like I’ve said before, Lydia Bailey is probably one of my least favorite novels of K.R. primarily because of the forced, predictable romance aspect; I think this goes hand in hand with her comment about the characters.

In regards to  her statement “paragraph-length sentences would sink the novel,” it’s sad to say, but she may be correct.  Today’s novels do not read like novels of only 60 years ago.  Paragraphs are very short and sentence structure is very simple.  This is sad, in my opinion, for I find Roberts’ style makes his novels come alive and real.  Today’s novels in general, well, leave much to be desired.

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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