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Robert Keable: From Magdalene Scholar to Notorious Novelist

Benson Hall, Magdalene College
Join us for an enlightening and captivating evening as we delve into the remarkable life and career of Robert Keable (1905).

Robert Keable, the first-ever Magdalene student to achieve a First in the History Tripos at Cambridge, initially set his course towards a promising career within the Church. However, his life took a fascinating turn as he ventured beyond the confines of academia and into the world.

Simon Keable, Robert's grandson, esteemed speaker and Robert Keable expert, will take us on a captivating journey through the pivotal moments in Robert Keable's life. Beginning with his time at Cambridge, we will explore the profound influence of the Benson brothers on Keable's early career. From there, we'll dive into the transformative experiences that led Keable to far-flung places such as Bradford, Zanzibar, and wartime Basutoland (now Lesotho).

Keable's life took a dramatic turn when he served in France with the South African Native Labour Contingent. This extraordinary experience shaped his perspective and inspired him to pen the bestseller Simon Called Peter, catapulting him into the limelight as a celebrity novelist.

When Robert Keable’s First World War novel Simon Called Peter was published, critics called it ‘offensive’, ‘a libel’ and reeking of ‘drink and lust’. Scott Fitzgerald suggested it was ‘utterly immoral’ and referenced it in The Great Gatsby. The novel became a huge international best-seller, a Broadway play and the sequel made into a Hollywood movie, and it made its author an international celebrity. What critics did not know was that the novel, about a military chaplain and a young woman having an affair during the war, was autobiographical.

During this engaging talk, we will also delve into Keable's unique views on the teaching of history, which he passionately expressed in his literary works. Expect a lively and wide-ranging discussion, Robert Keable's journey from scholar to novelist is a testament to the power of transformation and the pursuit of one's true calling. Join us on Thursday, November 2nd, at 5:00 PM in Benson Hall, and embark on this captivating exploration of a life well-lived.


Benson Hall, Magdalene College

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