ROBERTS, KENNETH [LEWIS] - American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

ROBERTS, KENNETH [LEWIS] (1885-1957). Chronicling the lives of Maine coastal families in most of his distinguished historical novels of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Kenneth Roberts acquired and put to use an impressive and detailed knowledge of nautical matters. Even when most of the action takes place on land, as it does in Arundel (1930), the scenes that he sets on shipboard reflect this knowledge. In Rabble in Arms (1933), which concerns the events leading up to the Revolutionary War Battle of Saratoga, a memorable part of the story is devoted to Benedict Arnold’s construction of a fleet of American ships on Lake Champlain that engaged a more powerful British fleet at the Battle of Valcour Island and bought needed time for the American forces.

Most directly maritime of all Roberts’ novels are The Lively Lady (1931) and Captain Caution (1934). Both works take place during the War of 1812 and recount the adventures of American civilian mariners who resourcefully augmented the undersized American navy with privateers, took the war to Great Britain, and helped turn the tide of affairs. These books are rich in details of shipbuilding, shipboard life, and naval tactics.

The early nineteenth-century events of the rebellion in Haiti led by Tous- saint L’Ouverture and America’s breaking of the power of the pirates* of Tripoli are joined in Lydia Bailey (1947). Relatively little of the novel’s action takes place on the sea, but American naval tactics at Tripoli, as seen from the land, are the subject of some dramatic chapters. Boon Island (1956) relates the events leading up to the 1710 shipwreck* of the Nottingham Galley on a desolate island off the Maine coast and the twenty-four-day ordeal of the survivors. [See also SEA-DELIVERANCE NARRATIVES]

Lawrence I. Berkove