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Saturday Art: Influential Authors: Kenneth Roberts

Kenneth Roberts' Residence, Kennebunkport, Maine

Kenneth Roberts’ Residence, Kennebunkport, Maine

Kenneth Roberts wrote mainly historical novels after starting his working life as a journalist. From his wiki:

Kenneth Lewis Roberts (December 8, 1885 – July 21, 1957) was an American author of historical novels. Roberts worked first as a journalist, becoming nationally known for his work with the Saturday Evening Post from 1919 to 1928, and then as a popular novelist. Born in Kennebunk, Maine, Roberts specialized in Regionalist historical fiction. He often wrote about his native state and its terrain, also depicting other upper New England states and scenes. For example, the heroes of Arundel and Rabble in Arms are from Kennebunk (then called Arundel), while Langdon Towne, the chief character of Roberts’s Northwest Passage, is depicted as being from Kittery, Maine with friends in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Northwest Passage is probably Roberts’ best known work. I would hazard to guess that this may well be due to the movie which starred Spencer Tracy and Robert Young. I’m not positive as to whether I read the book first but I think the movie might have been my introduction to Roberts’ work and then I picked up the book.

I know I have not read all of Roberts’ work but one of the hallmarks of his writing is to offer a somewhat sympathetic view of the people who were Loyalists/Tories during the Revolutionary War. Benedict Arnold is a major character in the first book, Arundel and the follow-up, Rabble In Arms. These books serve as a reminder that Arnold was first a hero of the Revolution before defecting to the Crown and having his name become synonymous with traitor.

Much of Roberts’ work is set in Maine and northern New England areas. Since much of life in Maine during the time of the revolution and the early 19th century was based on seafaring, there are not too many movies of his work although the aforementioned Northwest Passage has been used as both the movie and a television series of the same name.

A couple of other Roberts’ books were made into movies as well. Captain Caution, set in 1812 became a Victor Mature movie while Lydia Bailey set during the Haitian revolution was made into a movie with Dale Robertson and Anne Francis in the title role.

As with many of the other authors I have covered here, Roberts’ life offers some interesting details. Again from his wiki (linked above):

After graduation, Roberts spent eight years working as a newspaperman for the Boston Post. In 1917, he enlisted in the American army for World War I, but he ended up as a lieutenant in the intelligence section of the American Expeditionary Force Siberia in the Russian Civil War instead of at the front in Europe. The contacts that he made in that role enabled him to become a European correspondent for the Saturday Evening Post after the war, where he became the first American journalist to cover the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, Adolf Hitler’s first attempt to gain power. Roberts described working for the Post’s legendary editor George Horace Lorimer as follows: “I told him my ideas, which he instantly rejected or accepted…. The price to be paid for a story was never discussed, and Lorimer was always generous.”[3]

I wonder if Roberts had any idea what was to come when he covered the Beer Hall Putsch?

Photo from Boston Public Library licensed under Creative Commons

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Small town Kentucky country boy lived all over the country. Currently in Ruskin, FL