(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Northwest Passage is divided into two parts dramatizing the career of Major Robert Rogers as the leader of Rogers’s Rangers during the French and Indian War and his subsequent failure as an explorer seeking a cross-continental northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean. Sharing focus is the novel’s single narrator Langdon Towne, a young artist from Maine who first joins Rogers in part 1, on Rogers’s 1759 military expedition against the hostile Indian village of St. Francis near the Canadian border, from which the French-supported Indians have conducted bloody raids into New England settlements. Towne’s career thereafter intersects with that of Rogers, who is revealed through the narrator’s eyes. Towne is the dominant figure in part 2, which shows him in London developing into a successful artist as Rogers attempts to gain expeditionary backing there, and later in North America and England as Rogers fails and falls in fortune and reputation. Towne’s progressive development provides the story’s unity.

In part 1, suspended Harvard student Langdon Towne of Kittery, Maine, faces the displeasure of his father and his young beloved Elizabeth Browne, who both disdain Towne’s artistic ambitions. Moreover, Towne’s injudicious statements necessitate his fleeing town with friend Hunk Marriner to avoid arrest. In flight, they meet Rogers, about to lead his rangers from Crown Point on Lake Champlain on a reprisal mission against St. Francis village, and they join his company. Rogers...

(The entire section is 615 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bales, Jack. Kenneth Roberts. New York: Twayne, 1993. An informative literary biography, including a seven-page analysis of Northwest Passage placing focus on the historical and fictional protagonist. Includes chronology, selected bibliography, and index.

Bales, Jack. Kenneth Roberts: The Man and His Work. London: Scarecrow Press, 1989. Contains a substantial biographical essay and an extensive annotated bibliography of criticism, with seven pages of book reviews on Northwest Passage. Detailed appendices list special collections of Roberts material, interviews, and speeches.

Bettinger, B. E. “Land Where Our Fathers Died.” New Republic, July 14, 1937, 287. Review of Northwest Passage praising the author’s narrative skill in creating “vivid history” and recommending it to anyone interested in the making of the nation.

Harris, Janet. A Century of American History in Fiction: Kenneth Roberts’ Novels. New York: Gordon Press, 1976. A detailed study of the author’s works, including a perceptive analysis of Northwest Passage focusing on themes, characters, plots, and other elements. Includes chronology and comprehensive bibliography.

Roberts, Kenneth. I Wanted to Write. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1949. An autobiography about the writer’s literary career. Deals with the research, writing, revising, and rewriting associated with his novels, including Northwest Passage.