The historical novel, “Arundel” by Kenneth Roberts, was published over 90 years ago. I read it as a teenager. I’m guessing I found it while attending Junior High. I love the book and over my school years at Mann Junior High and Clover Park High School I managed to read every historical fiction book Roberts wrote. In reading it today, I am struck with the same joy in the characters, their actions, and their efforts. I can still see the forests, the lakes, the canoe, the stream, and the knock on the noggin that follows the lead-in and the beginning of the adventures for Steven Nason.
The story of “Arundel” and an admiration of Benedict Arnold was carried forth in “Rabble in Arms,” which resides in middle drawer of my bedside cabinet. You never know when a film might not lead up to its hype.
I only have a handful of regrets in my life and one involved a trip to Cape Cod. We stayed with an old friend in West Dennis. With our friend Al, we visited all over the cape and historical places between there and Boston. The thought struck my mind that we should drive up to Maine, but looking at a map it seemed so far and Maine is such a large state. However, in checking the mileage on the net today, I was saddened to see that from Boston to Arundel was only 90 miles. Oh, well, then I eased my pain by eating lobster twice a day and managed to sneak in smelt, and chowder as well.
Three of Roberts’ books were made into the films: “Northwest Passage,” “Captain Caution,” and “Lydia Bailey.” “Caution” and “Bailey” were “B” movies starring Victor Mature, and Dale Robertson. Northwest Passage was a great MGM black and white film staring Spencer Tracy, and Robert Young. It has held up well, but the last time I saw it I winced at the behavior towards Native Americans.
Check out the Kenneth Roberts films on IMDB – imdb.com/name/nm0731314/
The History Trail Tag
This Youtube video features a rambling discussion about books by a native of Maine. The guy mentions “Arundel” and Kenneth Roberts for a three good minutes. You can skip to 11:00 and beg off at 14:00. That’s what I did.
I enjoyed each of the historical novels by Kenneth Roberts, but would suggest you read “Arundel” first (pre-revolution), followed by “Rabble in Arms” (during the revolution) and then read “Oliver Wiswell.” Wiswell was an eye opener. It’s written from the loyalist point of view. Most people in the colonies were content with the connection to England. I found it amazing with the back flip of perspective. It allows you to see the faults of the patriots and gives you the ability to look on the two sides of political contention today.
In reading more about Kenneth Roberts, I discovered that he wrote many essays. I will be combing the library for them. I am most interested in his essay “The Battle of Cowpens,” the battle that broke the back of the British in the south and set the stage for their surrender shortly after.
Generally, people are not all good, nor all bad, with a few exceptions. Kenneth Roberts fits that bill. In today’s world, Roberts would possibly be held up as a hero by the far right. He was against immigration: “If America doesn’t keep out the queer alien mongrelized people of Southern and Eastern Europe, her crop of citizens will eventually be dwarfed and mongrelized in turn.” He had unkind words to say about Jews and Mexicans as well. If he ran for office I would vote against him, but in writing about our past, he gets a thumbs up from me. His other comments? Well, I would just call them hysterical friction.
Two other reviews:
A Review on Amazon:
Arundel is one of the finest books I have ever read. The characters come alive in such a manner that rereading the tale has been a yearly pleasure for me. The time period covered in “Arundel” is unique, our country before it was a country, only colonies and some men with ideas. The cast of characters is a mix of fictional and real, Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr and others created in sync with the time and place. It is an epic tale of war, revenge, romance and friendship that entrances you from the beginning. I don’t recall every learning of Arnold’s fateful March to Quebec in school, only that he was a traitor to The Cause. In “Arundel” you get a glimpse of just maybe who he really was. The tale also encompasses our own illusions of what we want, or think we want to be content and how all that works out in the end.
A Review on Goodreads:
“Arundel” was the first book I read by Kenneth Roberts. It captured both my heart and my imagination.
This masterfully written account of Benedict Arnold’s doomed 1775 march to Quebec has all of the hallmarks of fine historical fiction – impeccable research, a fascinating human story, wonderful period detail, and, in this case, there’s humor, too. What Arnold’s forces endured during their journey through Maine is a story of steely determination and bravery in the face of unimaginable hardships and it’s one that should not be forgotten.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.