Friday, January 13, 2017

FFB: Scaramouche -- Rafael Sabatini

The other day a friend and I were chatting by email about a book he'd just picked up, Scaramouche.  He'd read it and liked it, so I thought I'd give it a try.  The movie has been one of my favorites since I was a kid, and it begins with the book's famous opening line ("He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad"), which even as a kid I knew was one of the greats.  I have to confess that I don't think the book quite lives up to that opening, but it's fun, nevertheless.

Our Hero is Andre-Louis Moreau, the guy to whom the opening line applies.  He's thought to be the illegitimate son of the nobleman who's reared him.  It's the time of the French Revolution, and Moreau is more or less a detached observer of the madness of the world, not taking sides because he sees the futility of both.  When his best friend, a revolutionary, is killed by the Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr because of his dangerous eloquence, Moreau vows revenge and practices some dangerous eloquence of his own.  Forced to flee, he joins a troupe of traveling players and becomes their Scaramouche, a clownish schemer, and his writing and acting elevate the company to near greatness.  Moreau is in love with his leading lady, who is led astray by, you guessed it, the Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr.  

Forced to flee again, Moreau goes to work for a fencing master in Paris and becomes more than just an apt pupil.  After the master's death, Moreau takes over the school and becomes an expert fencer.

Meanwhile a lot is going on, including the French Revolution, Moreau again takes no part.  He smolders with resentment as his supposed cousin, Aline, considers marriage to, you guessed it, the Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr.  In the last third of the book, things begin to whirl along, with plenty of twists that, as Moreau puts it, anyone but a fool would have figured out already.  The reader is the only one who's figured them out, though, so there's a lot of explaining to do and a lot of conversation to be had after the Big Reveal.

If I'm remembering correctly, Sabatini knew five languages, and English was the last one he learned.  I admire anyone who can speak and write in one language, and I'm in awe of someone who can write a bestselling novel in his fifth language.  The novel flows right along, and while it's not action-packed, it's fast-moving.  There's high melodrama, plenty of coincidence, romance (even if Moreau is awfully thick-headed), and even a bit of humor.  The historical material seems spot on to me, but I'm not a history major.  The narration is old-fashioned in a way that bothered me not at all.  I enjoyed it so much that I might even read Captain Blood

7 comments:

Dan said...

I found it a bit slow-going myself.

Walker Martin said...

CAPTAIN BLOOD is good but my favorite Sabatini novel is THE SEA HAWK. I first read it in the back issues of ADVENTURE magazine when they serialized it.

George said...

Sabatini's THE SEA HAWK is my favorite, too. This guy knew how to write Adventure novels!

FreeLiveFree said...

I enjoyed Scaramouche but it was a bit slow going. I really loved Captain Blood, a true classic of adventure. I need to read The SEA HAWK.

Fred Blosser said...

I was a big Sabatini fan in high school, when you could still find those old Houghton-Mifflin and G&D editions in the library. I read SCARAMOUCHE, CAPTAIN BLOOD, THE SEA HAWK, and THE TAVERN KNIGHT, an early one, within the space of my 11th grade year. I expect today's readers will find it a bit slow-moving. The '50s Stewart Granger movie dished in more humor and action. I started the sequel, SCARAMOUCHE THE KING-MAKER, a few months ago, need to finish it. THE SWORD OF ISLAM and THE HOUNDS OF GOD are good 'uns too.

Mathew Paust said...

Saw the movie at an outdoor theater with family friends, the oldest daughter whom I found fascinating. Thus I remember not a whit of the movie, but it seems I missed a good one.

Sal said...

One of my favorites of that ilk. Sorry that others weren't as enamored.