Oliver Wiswell 2 vol Limited Edition, Signed

It’s always a good find when you locate an item containing the signature of your favorite author. It’s even better when that find is at an affordable price!  When I set my goal to own every Kenneth Roberts book, I realized that I would not be able to own the more rare copies (lest I spend too much money and my kids go without food). Nevertheless, I’ve searched every book store, antique store, flea market, etc. for copies of Roberts’ books. Further, I’ve taken advantage of the 21st century and searched Ebay, Amazon, Abebooks, and Alibris for those more rare copies.

Well, I’ve had an awesome week when it comes to finding affordable Roberts works. First, I found a first-edition copy of Florida (1926) on auction starting at $10. I was the only bidder and was able to purchase this hard-to-find book for a mere $12 (after shipping). Granted, the spine of the book shows spotting and fading, but it’s a great find nonetheless and a great book to add to my (slowly) growing collection.

Second, recall from a previous post that I found another hard-to-find book – a first-edition copy of March to Quebec, a book that I’ve searched for high and low for years (I enjoy books of this kind).

Lastly, however, is the greatest find of my week. One Kenneth Roberts’ work that I was sure would be out of my range was the limited edition 2 volume set of Oliver Wiswell. This set was printed before the first official printing that went on the market. Of 1050 limited edition copies made, 1000 were for sale. Each set is signed by Kenneth Roberts and is numbered. Usually Roberts’ books that are signed and numbered are at least $150 and over, but I found a copy online for only $50!  Indeed I was very excited and bought it immediately.

Oliver Wiswell 2 volOliver Wiswell 2 vol

Roberts' signature on Oliver Wiswell 2 vol Limited Edition copy, 468/1050

Roberts’ signature on Oliver Wiswell 2 vol Limited Edition copy, 468/1050

For the price, the book is in awesome condition (despite the small scratch on vol. 2 and the chipping at the top of the spine of vol. 2). There is little, if any, fading, and the binding is still tight with no cracks in the hinges. One thing that stuck out to me was the quality of the paper. The paper is heavier than that used in the regular first-edition (I know, not the proper terminology) of Oliver Wiswell. Further, the edging is rougher than that of his other books (a feature I particularly like). The front and back boards are thicker than normal and of a different color than the “regular” Oliver Wiswell copies. The only thing I believe that is missing from this set (which I don’t mind at all) is a slip cover.

It’s a great find, and now I’m motivated to persistently search for other hard-to-find copies at great prices!

Labrador by Wilfred Grenfell

Labrador, by Wilfred Grenfell, 1909

Labrador, by Wilfred Grenfell, 1909

In my previous post on the Parker Pen ad featuring Kenneth Roberts (1938), I pointed out a feature of the ad that stood out to me. In small print, the Parker Pen Company noted that Kenneth Roberts was not paid for the use of his likeness on the ad; instead, per Roberts’ request, Parker was going to send an aid worker to the Grenfell Mission located in Labrador in the summer of 1938. This was the first time that I saw any mention of the Grenfell Mission in relation to Kenneth Roberts (and the first time I had even heard of the mission).

The ad has piqued my curiosity about the Grenfell Mission, and how Roberts became involved with the work in Labrador (at least to the point of directing funds to the mission). Of all the reading that I’ve done on Roberts, I’ve never seen any mention by him of this mission. Nevertheless, I want to learn more about the Grenfell Mission and its link to Roberts. Learning about such aspects of a person’s life can really help one to gain a fuller picture of the subject; that is, while Roberts’  novels give us a glimpse of Roberts the author and the man, looking into his interests can help to really see what drove Roberts – what made him who he was.

Well, today I found a neat surprise as I was looking through the “nostalgia” section at Half Price Books (their “antique” book section), and behold, I found a 1909 copy of “Labrador” by Wilfred Grenfell (among other contributors). While this book will not give me any information on how Roberts was connected to Grenfell Mission, it will definitely provide the background information needed to know who Grenfell was and the work he did in Labrador.

 

Kenneth Roberts Memorabilia: 1938 Parker Pen Ad

Today, July 18, is my birthday. As I’ve grown older, and especially when my two youngest daughters were born five days and 10 days after my birthday, I have become rather specific and picky as to what I want for my birthday. Yes, I still get birthday gifts, but I don’t expect to get a lot of gifts (as one does when they are a child); rather, some money to go to Half Price Books or to go to Music-G0-Round for my drums usually fits the bill. However, the previous fourteen birthdays have primarily been gifts toward books for my education. Occasionally would I get something for my drum set or a book that was outside the realm of my studies.

Parker Vacumatic pen ad featuring Kenneth Roberts in 1938

Parker Vacumatic pen ad featuring Kenneth Roberts in 1938

This year is different, however, as I am no longer in school.  I found a couple of Kenneth Roberts items on the web and pointed them out to my wife. One item that I received today for my birthday is a great ad from 1938. It is an ad for Parker Vacumatic pens featuring Kenneth Roberts. This ad is perfect for me in two ways: first, I am obviously a big Kenneth Roberts fan. Second, I really like old Parker pens. I have two Parker 51 pens that are still in working condition, and a Parker 61 pen/pencil set that has never been used (by the way, be sure to visit Parker51.com – a wonderful site on everything Parker 51). So, the Parker Vacumatic ad really combines two things like enjoy collecting: Kenneth Roberts works and old fountain pens (particularly Parker pens).

Several features about this ad stand out. First, it links a best-selling author with the use of a best-selling pen. Roberts had just published the best-selling Northwest Passage in 1937, and by using his likeness, Parker was riding Roberts’ wave of popularity. Behind Roberts’ picture is the first page of Roberts’ manuscript for Northwest Passage. The caption to the left of Roberts’ image reads:

In drafting the manuscript of Northwest Passage, his great novel of French and Indian wars and the gargantuan Major Robert Rogers, Kenneth Roberts wrote more than 2,000,000 words with his Parker Vacumatic; then rewrote and altered his rough draft to its final version of 300,000 words. The same unfailing pen helped Mr. Roberts create his famous portraits of Cap Huff and Benedict Arnold in Arundel and Rabble in Arms; King Dick, Capt. Boyle and Daniel Marvin in Lively Lady and Captain Caution.

While the ad’s mention of Roberts’ manuscript’s 2,000,000 words clearly intends to highlight the Parker Vacumatic’s durability and reliability, it also points to Roberts’ detailed and diligent work he put into his novels. Having just finished a dissertation that entailed editing and revising, I just cannot fathom writing 2,000,000 words, only to cut out 85% percent for a final tally of 300,000. I cringe at such a thought.

A second feature that stands out is the small print to the lower left-hand side of the ad. In small print, one reads:

 No payment has been or will be made to Mr. Roberts, for the use of his name in this advertisement; and the Parker Pen Company, at his and to show its appreciation, will this summer provide funds to send a welfare worker with the Grenfell Mission to Labrador.

No doubt Roberts had every right to accept money from Parker for the use of his name and image; however, I find that this statement sheds light on a side of Kenneth Roberts that is often overshadowed by his outspoken personality. (For information on the Grenfell Mission, visit this link. The mission was started by Wilfred Grenfell to establish permanent medical care in Labrador and the surrounding area.)

This ad is an amazing piece of history, particularly in the information one can glean about Kenneth Roberts the man. So, when looking through old magazines, don’t ignore the old ads. You never know what you may discover!

March to QuebecP.S. I stated above that I found a couple of items on the web. The second item is a first edition copy of March to Quebec with the dust jacket, both in good condition. I’m very excited about this find as well; I’ve been looking for this book for quite some time in antique stores, used book stores, etc., and could not find it. So, I had to resort to the web (thank you abebooks.com!). Nevertheless, I am excited and have it on my nightstand as we speak, waiting to be read.

Kenneth Roberts’ Characters: Cap Huff

Recently, a fan of Kenneth Roberts wrote the website asking how it was that Cap Huff could appear in Northwest Passage and Arundel, two novels whose settings were roughly twenty-five years apart. His question was a great one considering that Arundel is the first of the four-novel series chronicling the history of Arundel during the Revolutionary War, while Northwest Passage recounted Robert Rodgers and his Rangers primarily during the 1750s and 1760s.  I figured that there may be others who had a similar question, so I will post an adaptation of my response to the reader’s question (with some editing to make smoother reading and to add clarity):

Roberts’ Arundel is the first book in a four-part series on his ancestors and others from Arundel, and their involvement in the Revolutionary War up to the War of 1812. The main character of Arundel, Steven Nason, is based on one of Roberts’ ancestors from the Nason family who hailed from Kittery, Maine. Even though Northwest Passage is not a chronicle of Arundel’s past, the main protagonist of the story, Langdon Towne, lives in Kittery, Maine . Further, the Towne family was related to Roberts’ ancestors from the Nason family (Bales, 68); hence, a motivating factor for including the fictional Langdon Towne and setting the character in Maine. Now, on to Cap Huff.

[In response to the email's claim that Roberts included Huff in Northwest Passage because he liked the character] Indeed, Roberts liked Cap Huff. In Jack Bales’ biography on Roberts (1993), he mentions how Roberts wanted a character that was a “‘noisy oaf’ because in all the military troops he had ever seen there was ‘at least one noisy clown, constantly in trouble and eager to steal anything that he or his friends needed’” (Bales, p. 41 quoting from I Wanted to Write, 182).  Cap Huff’s appearance in Northwest Passage is not just because Roberts like him, but because there was a real connection between Arundel  and Northwest Passage.

If you look at the timeline of the books, Huff’s appearance in both stories makes sense. On page 6 of NP, Towne says of Cap Huff that Huff is from Kittery, Maine, and made a living carrying packages from Portsmouth to Falmouth. We actually see Cap Huff enter the story very early in the book. Mention is made in the first few pages that Towne knew Huff as a friend, not just as an acquaintance, and that Huff commented often on Towne’s art. Chapter 2 begins in the year 1759 when Towne was in his junior year of Harvard. It was also the year when Huff (along with Hunk Marriner) visited Towne at Harvard on their way to sell pelts and furs in Boston; on their return trip, they brought ingredients to make hot buttered rum. Huff made the rum in Towne’s room for Towne’s friends and others who straggled along. (There are other times when Towne mentions Huff, but what I recall here helps to make clearer the link between NP and Arundel.)

Though Arundel takes place in the American Revolutionary War, the story begins years before the War. In the beginning of the book, the narrator Steven Nason tells of how his grandfather hailed from Kittery, Maine, before moving to Wells, Maine, where Nason’s father was born.

Book I of Arundel begins in 1759 when Nason was 12 years old (placing the time frame of Arundel  parallel to the same time period when Langdon Towne met with Huff in Boston). Nason opens by recounting his first kiss with Mary, and then that evening, when Nason made it home, his house was full of guests, one of them being Cap Huff (“the noisiest person at the board,” 23). Nason spends a little time telling the reader about Huff, and on page 24, we learn that Huff knew little of his parents, but that in 1725 they were brought to Kittery after being saved from Indians. “Shortly thereafter this son being born” – that is Cap Huff (24). So, we are not told the year Huff was born, but we know that it was after 1725. So, in Northwest Passage and in Arundel, when the stories coincide in 1759, Cap huff was around 29 – 33 years old. This puts him around 46 – 50 years old when the Revolutionary War began and when Cap Huff makes a prominent appearance in Arundel (and Rabble in Arms).

As we can see, though both novels were set in different periods of Colonial American history, they overlap each other by virtue of Roberts’ use of his ancestors (the Townes and the Nasons) as the basis of the main protagonists of the novels and the roots they planted in Kittery, Maine and surrounding towns.

Kenneth Roberts in the Saturday Evening Post: “I Like Girls With Simple Tastes” – Part III

Kenneth Roberts’ “I Like Girls With Simple Tastes” (Saturday Evening Post 208:52, 6/27/36) is a fun read (Roberts’ classic humor is on full display) and an insightful look into Roberts’ tastes and personality. Admittedly, however, the article comes across as a random diatribe against sophisticated girls. Why would Roberts write such an article, and the Post feature the title and Roberts’ name prominently on the issues’ cover? Without any knowledge of the purpose behind Roberts’ article, one can easily dismiss “I Like Girls With Simple Tastes” as typical Roberts cantankerousness. The featured opinion piece is nothing more than an old, well-to-do author complaining about one aspect of the changing times. And to be fair, such an assessment would be accurate if there was no insight into the why behind Roberts’ penning a piece on sophisticated ladies.

Thankfully, page 104 of the 6/27/1936 issue of Saturday Evening Post provides readers with the very purpose why Roberts enlightened Post readers about the true meaning of sophistication. In an issue of the Saturday Evening Post prior to 6/27/36, an anonymous writer penned an article titled “Why I Like Men With Money.” The article drew the ire of many readers, resulting in “several hundred” letters to the editor complaining about Ms. Anonymous’ article (“Keeping Posted,” Saturday Evening Post 208: 52, 6/27/36, p. 104). One reader from Huntington, NY wrote: “The author of the article I Like Men With Money knew what she was doing when she did not sign her name…Who does she think she is, anyway–Queen Marie?” (104).

The Post responded to the reader’s letter, claiming that many were in agreement with him; the editors just thought it would be good for Post readers to meet one of the people as described in the article. They closed their letter by promising an article from the other side of the picture in an article to be titled as “I Like Girls With Simple Tastes.” Because of the reference to Queen Marie (I’m not familiar with this reference), the Post wrote Ms. Anonymous in an effort to clear up supposedly derogatory reference. Eventually, the comment from the reader from Huntington, NY drew the author of the contentious article from the shroud of anonymity into the hot spotlight of criticism. She sent a tersely worded wire to the Post granting her permission for the Post to reveal her name, refusing to be said of her that she was a “sissy” and signed her name to the wire as Alice-Leone Moats (104). (The writer of “Keeping Posted,” after quoting the wire in full, adds – as an indication of Ms. Moats’ character – that the “wire was sent collect” (104).

The stakes raised, the editors of the Post sought to assign an author to the future article “I Like Girls With Simple Tastes.”  Their guidelines for such an author were that the article had to be “written by (1) a man (2) a man who has been around (3) a man who carries his silver in a change purse. Adding (1), (2), and (3) gave us (6), or Kenneth Roberts” (104). (Great humor in this one statement). Thus, it was “into the middle of this situation, redolent with recrimination, defiance and invitations to torture, we lured the innocent Mr. Roberts” (104). After obtaining Roberts’ services, the editors were satisfied…to a point. Closing the piece, the writer dreams of a meeting between Moats and Roberts…a meeting in “New York. A little dinner, a show—” (104).

Rocky Patures: Estate Sale Video

Here is a great video on youtube showing Kenneth Roberts’ estate Rocky Pastures. The video was created for Prudential Prime Properties.

Kenneth Roberts in the Saturday Evening Post: “I Like Girls With Simple Tastes” – Part II

IMG_1804[1]Anyone familiar with Kenneth Roberts knows the reputation he had of being a crotchety man. In the forward to The Kenneth Roberts Reader, Ben Ames Williams recollects stories that highlight Roberts’ curmudgeony personality. If one were to think, however, that Roberts’ contemporaries misunderstood him or were perhaps a bit too sensitive, Roberts sets the record straight in the opening sentence of his June 27, 1936 article in the Saturday Evening Post titled “I Like Girls With Simple Tastes.”  With a penchant for getting straight to the point, Roberts begins by stating “As I grow older and more crotchety, I find myself becoming more and more intolerant of persons impossible of thinking straight, talking sensibly or behaving normally” (10). And with that opening salvo, Roberts provides his readers with a torrent of rapid-fire complaints about the day in which he lived.

Roberts’ dislikes ranges from over-paid actresses and under-paid authors to double-speaking politicians; from a public who idealized the founding fathers of America to “society columns which tend to glorify  the activities of young gentlemen and young ladies whose greatest contribution to the welfare of mankind seems to be a mild interest in motoring, cocktail drinking and divorce” (10).  Roberts’ dislikes include novices who view themselves as better writers than those of classical literature, and people who ignorantly champion a political ideal.

Yet, in 1936, nothing matched Roberts’ growing dislike of “the appearance and ideas of the annoyed-looking girls who sit behind the steering wheels of automobiles during the summer months and drive around the country with a contemptuous and careless air” (10). These girls, as Roberts understands it, portray an air of “sophistication,” and it is the desire for sophistication that “is at the bottom of much of the imbecility that is apparently permeating the United States of America and other nations with such rapidity” (10).

Roberts’ Encounter with Sophisticated Girls

"A group of sophisticated young things undertook to enlighten me." Saturday Evening Post 208:52 (6/27/36), p. 10.

“A group of sophisticated young things undertook to enlighten me.” Saturday Evening Post 208:52 (6/27/36), p. 10.

To illustrate his growing annoyance with sophisticated girls, Roberts recounts a visit he had with twelve sorority girls at a Mid-Western college in America. These ladies considered themselves “more sophisticated…and superior to” the undergraduates of surrounding colleges, and during this visit, they sought to enlighten Roberts about what it meant to be sophisticated.

Through his wit and sarcasm, Kenneth Roberts portrays his conversation with the sorority girls as a microcosm of the culture at large. Each girl prided themselves on being the “mental cream of the university,” with one being well-read in the New York Times, with another who mastered golf such that “she had achieved something which eludes many male mental giants–she played regularly in the low eighties” (10). Another sorority sister was an able poet, while another “held the undergraduate dating championship,” having had no less than four dates a day during her senior year (10).

When asked to define “sophistication,” the university’s cream of the crop provided rather empty, flimsy answers. For one, sophistication meant being well-dressed; that is, a sophisticated girl wears “gloves and a hat to classes, and carry a handbag. She must wear spectator sport clothes to football games in the autumn and active sport clothes in the spring” (10).

The poet defined sophistication as having the right social contacts. Yet, to obtain such contacts, one must dress and act in a sophisticated manner (11).

Baffled by what he had heard up, Roberts hypothesizes that the girls’ use of the word “sophisticated” and his own use of that same word were different. To help him understand what they meant by “sophisticated,” Roberts asked that they explain what they meant by “sophisticated men” (11).  The answers given were just as empty. A sophisticated man was one had “been places and done things” (11); one who knew “how to speak to a waiter so the waiter doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable” and “order a dinner without making you feel embarrassed” (11); he is one who is “seen everywhere” and is known by everyone, is mature, and is well-dressed (11). Further, a sophisticated man is one who can hold his liquor well.

One “fluffy blonde” stated that a sophisticated man was an “exhibitionist”; that is, one who didn’ t play chess or weird “things like that” (11). Finally, according to the poet, a sophisticated man “knows what to do and when to do it” (11).

The Real Definition of Sophistication

For Roberts, he didn’t have the heart to tell them what sophistication really meant. Citing the Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, Roberts informs his readers that “sophistication” (and the verb “to sophisticate”) has five meanings, which include ideas such as fallacy, sophistry, to mislead, “to deprive of simplicity,” and to deceive (11). Based upon this more substantive definition, Roberts concludes that when the young sorority girls he met with–and all others like them–talk about sophisticated men, they are actually referring to “young men who mislead; who are specious–who are in a word, bogus” (11). To admire something that is sophisticated is to admire something that is not genuine and not worth having (11).

The Object of Roberts’ Ire

"The sophisticated admirer of rich men explained her system of winning over a reluctant male to her taste in foods and wine" Saturday Evening Post 208:52 (6/27/36), p. 11

“The sophisticated admirer of rich men explained her system of winning over a reluctant male to her taste in foods and wine” Saturday Evening Post 208:52 (6/27/36), p. 11

The remainder of Roberts’ article is a response to an article written by a young, sophisticated lady (more on this in another post) who boldly claimed that she was interested only in men who had “the assurance, ease and arrogance that only money can give” (11).  Roberts’ questions such qualities, for it defines a “pretty poor specimen” (11).

Further, the young lady characterized the sophisticated man as one who was desired by other women, and one who “dares to break an engagement at the last moment if he is offered an opportunity to participate in something more interesting” (84). For Roberts, such characteristics fail to describe successful men, for they have not the time to be paraded around to be admired by other women, and they would not be successful if they made the habit of breaking commitments (84).

Much more can be said about Roberts summary of this young lady’s admiration of men with money–their affinity for first-class entertainment and an aversion to anything less; their knowledge of the finest wines–yet to do so would make an already long post longer.   He mentions, though, that her “philosophy of life” failed to “mention anything as stupid as books” (84 – classic Roberts’ sarcasm!). However, if she were to pine about books as she did food, wines, dress and money, Roberts was sure that she would prefer the “moment’s best seller to a cheap edition of one of Jane Austen’s novels” (84).

Sherry: A Case Study

According to Roberts, what the young sorority girls and the sophisticated author aimed for – a knowledge of the finer things of life – could not be attained by reading the latest social columns or best-sellers. Rather, it takes a lifetime to be an expert in something.

Roberts illustrates his point by sharing about his fondness of sherry. Yet, for a time, the amount of sherry he drank would not qualify him as an expert in the drink. This was driven home by a visit he made to a sherry-exporting firm in Spain. Here he was shown how sherry was made, stored, drawn, and packaged. The sampling room exposed Roberts to numerous kinds of sherry, whose consistency, color, and flavor varied based upon how they were made and how long they were stored (among other factors).

Despite everything he learned in his visit, Roberts acknowledges that he still lacks the extensive knowledge about sherry that would make him an expert. In fact, he confesses: “I still know very little about sherry” (86).

The sophisticated young girls of his day pretended to have extensive knowledge about wines, current events, etc. That which they portray (and I’m sure Roberts would say this of “sophisticated” men) is only a facade; they are misled into thinking they know more than they really do. For Roberts, he “can’t get along with girls whose tastes aren’t simple – chiefly because [he has] found their beliefs so irritatingly dishonest” (87).  He concludes

The reasoning of the ladies who like men with money is too intricate, too irritating, for me. I prefer girls who think more accurately; who are sufficiently unspoiled to understand the beauty and good taste of simplicity” (87).

***Updated 7/12/14 1:30 am – Corrected “Ben Ames” to “Ben Ames Williams”

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