• Follow me on Twitter

  • Kenneth Roberts FB Page

  • Like this blog?

    Add to Technorati Favorites
  • Meta

  • Advertisements

Kenneth Roberts On American College Football

If you are new to Kenneth Roberts, or are primarily familiar with his novels, then I suggest that you pick up a copy of The Kenneth Roberts Reader (Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1945; also reprinted Down East Books, 2002). The reader is a collection of essays Roberts published in The Saturday Evening Post and excerpts from his novels. The essays from SEP help the reader to get a better picture of Kenneth Roberts the man – his humor, his wit, his quirks, and his pet peeves. He was very observant…and opinionated.

Oxford Rugby 1901

Roberts’ reader contains an essay titled “Oxford Oddities” (originally published in For Authors Only and Other Gloomy Essays [Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1935]) in which Roberts elaborates on his observations of Oxford and its students. True to form, Roberts finds much of the British and their ways odd (relative to American ways), and comments on how Oxford students approach studies, social life, and extracurricular activities. Underlying most of his observations is his pro-American view of American ways. That is everything except American football.

One feature of “Oxford Oddities” is Roberts’ account of his attendance at a rugby match in London (see this post where I highlight Skip Grimm’s post on this account). I’ve read Roberts’ account before, but when I read it again the other day, I noticed something that was hidden last time – his snarky view of American football.

British Fans vs. American Fans

A large percentage of the sixty thousand patronized those snack bars before the game; yet, incredible as it may seem, there were no drunks, no fights in the stands, no beating of strangers over the head by overstimulated enthusiasts (160).

There were sixty thousand people at the game, which was played on neutral grounds near London…Apparently the sixty thousand spectators had come with no ulterior motive, as is so often the case in America, and were actually eager, not to say determined, to let nothing, not even alcohol, interfere with their enjoyment of the game. This may or may not be an indication that the English understand nothing about pleasure (160-61).

If I’m reading Roberts correctly, it appears that he is making a stab at American football fans who, in his (unstated) opinion, attend games with ulterior motives other than the enjoyment of the game. If the British don’t let alcohol get in the way of enjoying the game, then do Americans see the football game as an opportunity to drink? Whatever the case, it appears Roberts saw British rugby fans as more tame than American football fans.

Fan Attendance

At most games, even at important ones, there are not many more spectators than players. This is due to the fact that those who, in America, would be spectators are off somewhere playing a game of something against somebody else (159).

Prior to this excerpt, Roberts noted the sheer number of extracurricular sports teams and participants among Oxford students (and other Brits?). In his opening of this section on rugby, Roberts says:

The method in vogue at Oxford for selecting the members of a varsity team is interesting and not without merit, even when compared with the American system of keeping eighty or a hundred men working all season without an opportunity to play in a game (159).

We see, first, a knock against how American colleges form their football teams: 80-100 team members for a sport where a little more than a ¼ will play. At Oxford, teams are smaller because (in part) so many are playing. This further impacts the patronage of the games, for when one game is going on, other games are in action as well.

Game Day

The game was played on a Wednesday, that being the day after the universities had closed for the Christmas vac. Apparently it never occurs to the English to wait for Saturday in order to play big games. They play when it’s convenient, and if their dates don’t quite suit the convenience of the public, nobody – not even the public – seems annoyed (161).

As all American college football fans know, gameday is Saturday. It’s not until recent years (with the advent of cable TV and ESPN) that we see college football played on weekdays. Apparently, Roberts found it annoying that Americans expected college football to be played on Saturdays, for his tone regarding the English seems to be one of pleasant surprised. Games are played “when it’s convenient,” and if the game day is inconvenient for some, they are not annoyed.

Cost of Tickets

My seats were on what would correspond to the 50-yard line, and cost 7/6 apiece, or $1.87 – and to the best of my knowledge and belief, no football game in the history of the world was ever worth more than $1.87 (161).

Cornell-Penn Fan Guide, 1922

The first thing I noted was the price of a ticket. Today, tickets at the 50-yard line of a college football game are premium tickets (outside of the box seats). Honestly, I’ve never tried to buy such a ticket, but it’s common knowledge that the more premium a seat is, the more you have to pay. Further, if the game pits two powerhouses or rivals against each other, then you’ll be paying even more.

I’m not sure if Roberts was complaining about the price, but what we see here is not an economic complaint per se, but a complaint about the worth of American college football. Roberts never says how many games he had attended in his lifetime, but he must have attended enough to know their worth (in his eyes). It’s worth noting that Roberts attended Cornell University [1908], so he more than likely attended games against Ivy Schools like Yale, Dartmouth, and Harvard. Back in his day, the big games were played by the Ivy Schools.

Coaches’ Salaries

There are no long intermissions, nor do the players leave the field to receive the mental stimulus of a pep talk from a $10,000 coach (160).

This is perhaps my favorite quote from Roberts in “Oxford Oddities.” Complaints about how much college football coaches today abound. Just last month Jimbo Fisher was given the highest paid contract with Texas A&M at $75 million for 10 years. Though college football is an “amateur” sport, the amount of money raked in by football programs leave many skeptical about the “amateur” nature of the sport. Complaints about coach salaries, then, are the norm today.

Complaints about money and college football, however, is not a new phenomenon. The quote just given is in the context of Roberts’ discussion of intermission at rugby games. Where American college football games have lengthy intermissions (too long for Roberts’ liking, apparently), rugby has a very short intermission where teams don’t even leave the field. In the midst of discussing rugby intermission, Roberts slides in a comment about the state of American college football.

The coach, who is seen worthy of a $10,000 contract, does little more than give students a “mental stimulus of a pep talk” at half time. Obviously, in Roberts’ opinion, college football coaches are grossly overpaid.  [$10,000 is nothing today. However, if Google can be trusted, the average salary in 1935 was $1,600/year. Some college coaches, then, were paid almost 10 times more than the average American.]

On American Football

It was as fast and exciting a contest as I ever saw, and more exciting than 90 percent of the big American football games I have seen (161).

If Roberts’ attitude toward American college football was not apparent enough, he makes himself crystal clear by claiming the rugby game was more exciting than practically every American college football games he’d witnessed before. Such an assertion is anathema today, and even then.

Though I’m a Roberts fan, this is one thing I just don’t get. I grew up in Louisiana, where LSU football was (and is) king. SEC football reigns in the South, just as college football reigns in many parts of America. To put non-major sports – like rugby – above college football is…well…it’s just unheard of. But, for Roberts, rugby was more watchable than college football, and he could careless about the national sentiment about college football.

And so we have a look into Roberts’ view of American college football. Quite an interesting peak into the man Kenneth Roberts on a topic we normally do not see him address.

Advertisements

Kenneth Roberts the Man: On So-Called Experts

(This post is similar to a  post from 3 years ago, though here I hope to point out something I didn’t then.  The quote below also appears in that post in a much shorter form.)

As one reads through Kenneth Roberts’ essays, she will notice his disgust with the so-called experts of his day on issues such as planting, fishing, and diets.  The way in which he directs his disgust towards them, though, is quite humorous as he makes himself the ignorant, hapless soul (regarding whatever topic he is discussing) while mentioning the experts and their views in rather glowing, hyperbolic language.    The result is akin to the philosopher’s tool of reductio ad absurdum: the picture Roberts’ paints in reality makes the “expert” look rather silly and ignorant while Roberts emerges from the essay unscathed by the fad of the day.

Perhaps the best illustration of Roberts’ method is presented in a quote from his essay “An Inquiry Into Diets” found in his For Authors Only and The Kenneth Roberts Reader:

One of the foremost diet books says that if a person follows the proper diet, he becomes tranquil, thoughtful, and philosophic; overwork is impossible; business worries are unknown; irritation vanishes.  It was all too clear to me that I was in a bad way; for whenever my eye struck a newspaper report of the activities of the House of Representatives, I became irritated.  Almost everything that was done in the House of Representatives seemed irritating…

When I read about such things, I not only become irritated: I become profane – so profane that my language sometimes shocks even myself.

This, of course, is another sure indication of acidosis.  If I were on a proper diet, nothing could imitate me.  I would remain tranquil and philosophic while reading about the House of Representatives.  I would continue  to be tranquil and philosophic, event though the House of Representatives should be successful in its efforts to bring the nation to insolvency and ruin.

I may as well be frank.  The diet books had me, to put it crudely, scared (In The Kenneth Roberts Reader, 88-89).

And such is Roberts’ attitude toward dieticians in this particular example, and to so-called experts on the whole.    In a day when it seems we’re inundated with a cacophony of voices telling us what to do, it is somewhat refreshing to know that this is nothing new, but has gone on for quite some time.  And in the midst of the noise of self-proclaimed experts, Kenneth Roberts added his voice among those voices calling people back to common sense and reason.

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: “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…

Kenneth Roberts on Diets: A Satire Against “Experts” and Their Gullible Followers

It is well documented that Kenneth Roberts was a very opinionated man, whether he was railing against politics, historians, or the current culture.  Perhaps not as well know, though, was his love for food and his never-ending quest for food cooked like his grandma’s (see his essay “A Maine Kitchen” in Trending into Maine, or “Grandma’s Kitchen” in The Kenneth Roberts Reader).

In his essay titled “An Inquiry into Diets,” Roberts tells of his foray into the crowded forest of diet books (it seems that even in his time, Americans were vainly obsessed with their figure).  Roberts gives the account of an acquaintance approaching him with the request to procure for her the best diet books available at that time (I am unsure if this actually occurred or not).  What ensues is a humorous, satirical story of Roberts’ dizzying journey amongst the leading diet “experts” and their contradictory, nebulous, unfounded advice.

Roberts provides much material worthy of being quoted here; however, due to the lack of space, time and the concern of breaking copyright, here are only a few:

…every diet, in the opinion of one or more diet experts, is either based on the erroneous ideas of a faddist, or is downright dangerous.

Hitherto, in consulting references on any given subject, I have usually been able to discard the majority as inaccurate, biased, unreliable, or untruthful … Diet books are different.  Most of them are written by medical experts who have studied for years to find out exactly what happens to seven cents’ worth of liver when it meets a Welch’s bacillus in the upper colon of a sedentary worker aged forty-five.

I further discovered that although a person may consider himself in perfect health, and may feel comfortable and happy, he is – unless he is eating foods that the diet books say he ought to eat – as effectively poisoned as though nurtured for years on poison-ivy salads with bichloride of mercury dressing.

 Lastly, Roberts tells of his discovery from the dietitians that starches, sugars and proteins, if mixed in a meal, causes intestinal fermentation, which leads to acidosis, which, according to Roberts

…is too large a subject for me to handle, in these few notes, except in the sketchiest manner.  Not even the authors of the diet books are able to handle it satisfactorily.  However, all of us are suffering from acidosis; and so far as i can tell, everybody has suffered from acidosis since the beginning of the world – unless he has been so happy as to stuble upon the proper diet.

However, if one were to just follow the proper diet,

he becomes tranquil, thoughtful, and philosophic; overwork is impossible; business worries are unknown; irritation vanishes.  It was all to clear to me that I was in a bad way; for whenever my eye struck a newspaper report of the activities of the House of Representatives, I became irritated.  Almost everything that was done in the House of Representatives seemed irritating; but the most frequent and explosive irritation was caused by that body’s eagerness to wreck the finances of the nation; its delight in wasting more and more of the people’s money; its inability to balance the budget in any sensible manner…

When I read about such things, I not only become irritated: I become profane – so profane that my language sometimes shocks even myself.

This, of course, is another sure indication of acidosis.  If I were on a proper diet, nothing could irritate me.  I would remain tranquil and philosophic while reading about the House of Representatives.  I would continue to be tranquil and philosophic, even though the House of Representatives should be successful in its efforts to bring the nation to insolvency and ruin.

(Note: this last quote gives a little glimpse into his politics as well.)

Not even the dietitians – and by implication their gullible, too-accepting followers – escaped Roberts’ searing gaze upon the culture of his time.  A great glimpse into Kenneth Roberts the man, and even a timely word for us today, as we are still flooded by advice from many “experts” that conflict with each other and even themselves.

“The Kenneth Roberts Reader” & Ben Ames Williams

In a recent post regarding The Kenneth Roberts Reader, I posed the question about why Ben Ames Williams was chosen to write the introduction, and not Booth Tarkington.  Now, I realize in the grand scheme of things, the answer to this question has absolutely no bearing on anything; rather, this question is really a result of curiosity. 

I posed the question in an e-mail to Jack Bales, author of Kenneth Roberts and Kenneth Roberts: The Man and His Works, and to John at townsendbooks.com (he has a large collection of Kenneth Roberts books), below are their answers:

Jack Bales: Kenneth Roberts and Ben Ames Williams were actually close friends and often socialized together.  In fact, along with Booth Tarkington, B.A. Williams was one of Kenneth Roberts’ closest friends.  Jack Bales covers this friendship in his second book titled Kenneth Roberts.

John: Though he was somewhat unsure of the exact link, John states that it could have been a reciprocated favor, as Kenneth Roberts wrote an introduction for one of Williams’ books The Happy End (1939).

So, there you go!

 

%d bloggers like this: