The town Arundel became Kennebunkport, Maine, and it’s
where Kenneth Roberts was born and lived. Roberts wrote prodigiously
researched historical fiction about the region that is considered
highly accurate. He was a popular author of the 1930s and 1940s but is
not well known today. That’s too bad, since his novels are an
entertaining way into American history for those who considered history
Arundel is the first of a trilogy about the Revolutionary era. Its main action is the expedition Benedict Arnold led through nearly impenetrable forests in an attempt to capture Quebec from the British in 1775. The story is told by young Steven Nason, an Arundel innkeeper who volunteers for the mission. Arnold & Co. contend with terrible weather, hunger, cold, and insufficient supplies and support in a quest that is ultimately unsuccessful but still inspiring.
Nason (fictional but based on a Roberts ancestor) is an engaging narrator, speaking with the idealism of youth and in the idioms of the times. Especially interesting is what he has to say about “the bravest man I’ve ever known,” Benedict Arnold, then still an American patriot. (Arnold comes off as even more larger-than-life in the sequel to Arundel, Rabble in Arms.)
Along with his no-holds-barred portrayals of real people, Roberts created colorful fictional characters, including the treacherous Marie de Sabrevois, with whom Stevie is infatuated; Phoebe Marvin, who wears breeches and can navigate a ship as well as any man, and who waits patiently for Steve to realize where his heart is; and Cap Huff, the noisy, resourceful clown eager to steal anything the troops need.
Journals and letters written by participants in the Arnold expedition provided the historical basis for Arundel. Roberts later published them in a nonfiction book, March to Quebec: Journals of the Members of Arnold's Expedition.
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