Kenneth Roberts in the Current News: Hodding Carter and Retracing Arnold’s March

Kenneth Roberts’ first novel, Arundel, is the tale of Benedict Arnold’s ill-fated march to Quebec through the wilderness of Maine. Readers experience the pain and toil of the soldiers as they traverse boggy land, carry heavy bateau across rapids, and fight cold and hunger on their way to capture Quebec. It was an epic march; despite the loss of men and supplies, a remnant of Arnold’s army was able to meet up with General Montgomery to attack Quebec (though they failed in capturing the city).

If you recall, Kenneth Roberts’, through the narrator of Arundel, blames Reuben Colburn for the failed expedition. Colburn had built the bateau used to traverse the waters, but they ended up being more of a burden than a help. Like many other historians, Roberts blames Colburn for using green wood to build the boats, as well as using the wrong kind of boat needed for the expedition. Continue reading

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Kenneth Roberts in the Blogosphere: Fishermen’s Voice

While searching for tidbits on Kenneth Roberts and his love nature/hunting/fishing, I came across an article written by Tom Seymour of the Fishermen’s Voice, whose subtitle on the webpage states: “News and Comment for and by the Fishermen of Maine.”  What’s of interest to this website is Tom’s article on Kenneth Roberts and the value of his works to American history and to the history of Maine (titled “Kenneth Roberts – Maine’s Contribution to American History”).

In this article, Seymour provides a general survey of Roberts’ writing career, particularly of the novels Roberts’ is most known for.  However, in this article, Seymour provides some tidbits of Roberts that I found intriguing and humorous:

Kenneth Roberts had a habit, according to his friend Ben Ames Williams, another great, Maine author, of believing what people told him. That innocence nearly cost him his life when, going on the word of acquaintances that skunk cabbage was edible, he put the thing to the test. Skunk cabbage only presents itself as edible when in a 100-percent dry state, something that requires not only tedious processing, but also takes one year or more to achieve. Otherwise, the plant excites such a fiery sensation in the mouth and further down the esophagus, that it can, indeed, prove deadly.

This annecdote is a great glimpse at Kenneth Roberts the man, whose intensity is matched only by few (in my opinion).

Seymour speaks highly of Roberts and his ability (rightly so).  He says of Roberts’ works:

Young people, from the 1930s to the present time, have cut their “history teeth” on the thought provoking, intense and suspenseful novels written by Kenneth Roberts, of Kennebunkport, Maine.

While I think it is true that students in the past cut their teeth on Roberts’ novels, I tend to think that it’s not so much the case any more these days as it’s rare to find someone who has at least heard of him, much less have read his novels.  Nevertheless, Seymour rightly points out that Roberts’ works is still of value today in that:

Roberts’ contribution to educating the youth (and older people as well) of America lies in his unerring historical accuracy and an innate ability to make interesting and immensely entertaining reading of what otherwise might remain dry, historical side notes.

This is a great read, even if you already know of Roberts’ and his contribution.  Thanks, Tom, for helping to keep alive the works of a great author!

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.

K.R. in the Blogosphere: Jack Bales’ bio of Kenneth Roberts

Okay, so what I found wasn’t on a blog, but instead on Dartmouth’s library website.  Nevertheless, I found a brief bio on Kenneth Roberts written by his biographer, Jack Bales (of whom I’ve written on in the past).  This short bio is a great glimps into Kenneth Roberts the man.

What stuck out to me was Bales’ discussion on Kenneth Roberts’ discouragement over the lack of sales and acclaim of his first several novels during the first 6 years of his writing (which included my all-time favorite novel, Rabble in Arms).  Bales states:

After exhaustively researching Benedict Arnold’s march to capture Quebec during the first year of the American Revolution, Roberts wrote Arundel (1930), which he soon followed with The Lively Lady (1931) and Rabble in Arms (I933). By I934, none of the books had sold very well, and as Roberts recalled years later, some prominent critics had pointedly disdained his literary efforts :

I understood them to say my dialogue was inept, I was deplorably weak in delineating character, knew nothing about plot-structure, couldn’t interpret history adequately and, generally speaking, would be well advised to turn to other means of livelihood. I’d worked hard on those books for [six] years without any noticeable reward or acclaim; and their reception and sales were discouraging in the extreme so much so that I was broke and on the verge of abandoning the course I’d charted for myself [six] years before. (Bales)

While Roberts was generally known as an opinionated, curmudgeonly man, this piece by Bales reveals that popular sentiment did not paint a full picture of Roberts.  Roberts ended up receiving a letter from the president of Dartmouth (Ernest Martin Hopkins) which praised his works, thus serving as a turning point in Roberts’ career.

This, then, brings us to an interesting piece of Roberts trivia: though Roberts was a native of Maine and loved Maine with practically his whole being, Dartmouth serves as the home of his works and correspondence because of Hopkins’ letter and Roberts’ receiving an honorary doctorate from Dartmouth.

 

Kenneth Roberts’ Ol’ Stompin’ Grounds & “Travel

Back in August I had the opportunity to visit Maine (albeit very briefly) to help a friend move the remainder of his belongings to the not-so-blue grass of Kentucky.  I couldn’t have been more excited; after years of longing to visit New England – even though I’ve never been there and I grew up in Louisiana – I finally had my chance to see the beloved state of Kenneth Roberts.  Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. 

Granted, I only saw a small part of the state (a very small part); in addition, it was the part of the state most frequented by tourists.  Nevertheless, I fell in love with it and hope to go back often.  I even passed through town mentioned in Hillary’s Travels with Hillary blog on places to visit in Maine (I see now why she has such a love for Maine!)!

Though, I did not get an opportunity to visit Roberts’ estate, I did pass through the county it’s located in! 

Enough of the gushing … below are some snapshots I took in Camden and Liberty (and one other town I forgot the name of).  They’re not much; it was my dad’s HP camera that was only 2 mega-pixels; further, I’m not a good photographer.

Kenneth Roberts in “Old News from Southern Maine”

I came across an article by Sharon Cummins yesterday on Old News From Southern Maine on Kenneth Roberts – who resided in Maine – titled “Kenneth Roberts Was Audacious but Authentic.”  Though a bit jumpy as an article, it is a breath of fresh air compared to the same old short bios I keep finding on the Web about Kenneth Roberts.  Ms. Cummins provides several aspects about Kenneth Roberts’ works and person that I have not yet heard of.

When discussing K.R.’s work before his rise in popularity, she mentions that one of his early articles for the Post, ” ‘Good Will and Almond Shells,’ won him popular acclaim when it was made into the movie ‘The Shell Game’ in 1918.”  I’ve never heard of this movie, nor did I see K.R. mention this in his I Wanted to Write (it may be in this book, but I don’t recall seeing it).  She also writes how K.R.’s passion for history developed out of his “childhood love for fairy tales and myths” (she doesn’t go further to show or explain how this development occurs, but I believe this is due to limited time and space).  Interesting little tidbits regarding K.R.’s work that are worth checking up on.

Ms. Cummins also quotes an episode written by the editor for High Tide in 1940 (apparently a local paper – local to K.R. – in Maine) that gives us a glimpse into Kenneth Roberts the person:

Last Sunday was an average day,” wrote the editor of High Tide, “Mr. Roberts was sitting, guarding his better ducks (he has two classes) in his better duck pond; ran to get a shot gun when a hawk appeared over the pond.  (Between hawks, mink, and owls, it’s a race with death).  When he returned to the pond the hawk had taken warning, but a mink was placidly swimming about with its head above water.  Mr. Roberts fired… belatedly discovered that the mink was a friendly woodchuck; that he had also shot one of his blue-blood Formosa Teal ducks for which he had paid a handsome sum; regretfully at the duck for supper.”

To see one of the ponds at K.R.’s house, see the post below discussing the sale of his home and click on the link for the slide show.  Those ducks sure had it nice.

Take an article to read Ms. Cummins’ article – like I said earlier, it’s a breath of fresh air from those stale short bios.

****Update 10:34 pm****
I forgot to mention this earlier … Ms. Cummins’ article does leave the reader with a couple of unanswered questions:

  1. In the second paragraph, Ms. Cummins mentions that “a critic for the New York Times called [Kenneth Roberts] truculent, irascible, cantankerous, arrogant, sardonic, blunt, prickly, blustering,” etc.  This is well and good, but who is the NY Times critic in question?  When was this published?  Why is this critic important in relation to K.R.’s other critics?
  2. In discussing K.R.’s background, Ms. Cummins briefly mentions his time at Cornell University (class 1908), during which he “earned a reputation for pushing the controversy envelope.”  But, how did he earn this reputation?  Most can read on the Web that K.R. wrote Cornell’s school song, but there’s little to nothing on his reputation as such.  So, where did she get this information? 

Do you know these answers?  I hope to locate these answers…in the meantime, let me know if you know!

***Update #2 – 9:48 pm 4/19/09***
Ms. Cummins has kindly responded to my questions above … take the time to read her responses (well-informed!).  I must apologize if the tone is this letter comes across as questioning her credibility or writing; I in no way intend this to be.  Again, thanks to Ms. Cummins for her feedback.  -Danny

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