Reviewing a Classic: Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

My good Internet friend and an excellent reviewer, Heidenkind, encouraged me to read Scaramouche, a book I’d never heard of before – thank you very much, I do owe you! Her review of this novel can be found here.

Synopsis:

Andre-Louis Moreau is a godson of a local aristocrat, leading a relatively affluent but quiet, provincial life along with his beautiful cousin, Aline de Kercadiou. People whisper behind his back that he is actually the illegitimate son of the old Monsieur de Kercadiou but nobody knows for sure and the aristocrat in question denies those rumours. Educated in Paris, Andre wants to practice as a country lawyer; mind you he has every chance of making a great career in his chosen profession: he has the gift of the gab, plenty of cunning and enough acting capabilities to persuade and inspire both the crowds and the judges. Still the fate intervenes.

Andre’s best friend, Philippe, a quiet young man and a future abbe who believes in liberté, egalité, fraternité, (French for “Liberty, equality, fraternity-brotherhood)”a bit too literally, is killed in cold blood by the Marquis de la Tour d’Azyr, the most powerful aristocrat in Brittany. It is done  under the cover of a duel – de la Tour d’Azyr provoked the poor boy because he found him too loquacious and too persuasive, defending those underprivileged who are not worth it. Andre, who had to witness the whole affair from close quarters and saw instantly through the ruse,  swore revenge but soon enough he was shown that the law protects effectively even the vilest aristocrats. In order to make de la Tour d’Azyr pay for his crimes Andre decided to employ another tactics – he became a revolutionary rabble-rouser he’d never intended to be. Soon enough he was accused of sedition. He had to hide and, being a resourceful young man, he found the best place possible – in plain view.

When he encountered a troupe of mediocre country actors who travelled from town to town hoping to earn enough to have red wine with their meal he joined them. Andre, being far better educated and far more intelligent than their leader, Pantaloon (privately Monsieur Binet), soon took over and made them prosper beyond their wildest dreams. He even wanted to marry Pantaloon’s lovely daughter, Climene (or La Binet), and become a famous playwright in Paris, with her as an actress by his side. However the fate intervened once again and once again it did so using the Marquis de la Tour d’Azyr. Our evil aristocrat, seducing the mercenary Climene under the approving glance of her equally mercenary father, becomes a personal nemesis of Andre-Louis and vice versa. What will it take to defeat him? Why he and Andre have to meet so often?

My impressions:

How to do this novel justice? I would compare it to a lovely old dance, a menuet or a polonaise, with four main leads who constantly swirl around each other, cutting different figures, perfectly synchronized and in great symmetry, never missing a step.  Imagine yourself a book with such dialogues as the one quoted below, conducted between Andre and his pretty cousin, Aline:

“Can one ever be sure of anything in this world?” asks Aline, clearly disgruntled.

“Yes. One can be sure of being foolish.” answers the love of her life.

If only more fictional couples could talk with each other in such a way I would be a far happier reader! I might even like romance, very deep down of course!

I loved the main protagonist of this novel because he can hardly be called protagonist at all. Andre-Louis Moreau all his life had avoided the false lure of worthless and hollow sentimentality yet this book depicts his transformation from a cynic to a careful idealist. His attitude was histrionic to say the least of it; however life and fate played several cruel jokes on him. Fortunately the man had always had a great sense of humour and enough common sense to try to profit from whatever was thrown his way and he received a lot, living in times of the French Revolution.

He spots a troupe of commedia dell’arte actors and he becomes one of them, specializing in the role of the title  Scaramouche. Then he finds out that, no matter the circumstances, there is always a place in the world for Scaramouche, he just has to change his attire a bit. In four years he becomes, more or less willingly, a rabble-rouser, a politician, a revolutionary, a swordsman, and a buffoon—especially the latter. It makes him wiser and noticeably less cynical but not necessarily happy. Oh well, you can’t have everything, right? Even during the Great Revolution…

I loved the main baddie, Andre’s nemesis, as well. Monsieur le Marquis was a formidable opponent and not as black-and-white as it seemed at the very beginning. His character was constructed flawlessly, making you  wait for the next scene featuring his shenanigans, and the next, and the next. If you like well-rounded baddies, he is your guy. I couldn’t help but admire that aristocrat’s pride and perseverance; also his feelings towards Aline seemed genuine enough to be redeeming up to a point. Even when he behaved outrageously there was internal logic in his actions and a certain dignity.

Mentioning Aline, the genius of goodness and the main female protagonist…she seemed a bit too sweet and too bland even she had her moments, like when she was explaining her aunt why she didn’t want to accept de la Tour d’Azyr’s courtship anymore. I wish the author gave her more such opportunities!

Now our Climene or La Binet, an actress, a businesswoman and a fool, the temptress and the black swan – the fact that she disappeared so suddenly is my main carping, a minor carping but still. I loved observing that tart’s scheming and I loved the fact that she was very pretty and very shallow at the same time. I wished she succeeded beyond belief or was punished harshly – both options seemed to be equally tempting. Unfortunately I was never told which ending the author would choose for that woman and her father; you have to admit in such turbulent times it could have been both.

My last remark: the language is a bit archaic but still understandable, don’t be discouraged by the initial difficulties. The novel is certainly worth a bit of perseverance.

Final verdict:

This three-part novel opens with the memorable line: “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” The line was to become Sabatini’s epitaph, on his gravestone in Adelboden, Switzerland. I am pretty sure one such line is quite enough to make you immortal. Go and read this book – I don’t feel I’ve done it justice with my review. Good news: like all best things in life, it can be downloaded for free. You can find Scaramouche on Librivox|Project Gutenberg.

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4 Responses to Reviewing a Classic: Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  1. blodeuedd says:

    I should read it but I am all arghhhh too many books

  2. heidenkind says:

    Yay, another Scaramouche convert! 😀 I love this book so hard. It really is all about Andre Louis and he is a great character–even when he does bad things you understand why he’s doing them even if you don’t agree.

    Are you planning on reading Sabatini’s other novels like Captain Blood?

    • Are you planning on reading Sabatini’s other novels like Captain Blood?

      Yes even though I can’t forget that stupid performance by Eroll Flynn. I do hope the book will be better than the movie.

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