Scaramouche

Scaramouche / Rafael Sabatini

“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”

I think I’ve used that quote before on this blog, no?

Scaramouche is one of the all-time classic swashbuckling novels. Like Dumas, Sabatini has a gift for infusing exciting adventures with intense emotional depth. Scaramouche, a book set in France during the Revolution written by an Italian author, was originally written in English and so bleeble blop blorp blonk.

Brief plot summary

Andre-Louis is the illegitimate child of an unknown, probably noble, father. Traines as a lawyer, he was raised in Brittany with his godfather. When the local marquis kills his best friend in a duel, Andre-Louis decides to seek justice for the murder. A series of misadventures results in Andre-Louis becoming a wanted man for (perhaps unintentionally) inciting revolution. Going undercover with a group of Commedia dell’arte players, he takes on the guise of the stock character Scaramouche.

So how is it?

It quickly became one of my favorite books. Like Dumas, père, Sabatini is excellent at providing an intriguing moral dimension to his story. The fact that I’m a sucker for the lovable rogue archetype certainly helps as well.

Andre-Louis begins the tale an inveterate cynic. He adopts his friend’s idealistic rhetoric after his death and does in some sense become a supporter of the ideals behing the Revolution. Still, he ends up supporting both sides at various points in the novel.

Scaramouche is one of the best fictional portrayals of the Revolution I have encountered. Sabatini does an excellent job of portraying the conflicting values that lead up to the Revolution, and presents characters on all sides as people, trying to do their best. Scaramouche neatly avoids the classic pitfalls of Revolutionary-era fiction, neither treating the revolutionaries as horrid peasants unjustly attacking their betters (à la C.S. Forester or David Weber) nor presenting the Revolution as a glorious crusade for equality and justice untainted by corruption (à la various members of the ISO or the publishers of Jacobin). Sabatini’s approach enables those with strong opinions to (mostly) find plenty to like about this book.

Honestly, portraying opposing sides in a conflict as being comprised of flawed humans trying to do what they think is right is one of the easiest ways for an author to endear themselves to me. The fact that Scaramouche stars a sneaky, obnoxious character makes the whole thing even better for me.

The book is split into three parts, concentrating on three phases in Andre-Louis’ life and culminating with the storming of the Tuileries in 1792. The fact that the book ends before the Terror probably makes it easier for it to stay fairly sympathetic towards the Revolution, I’ll admit, but that suits my biases just fine.

Scaramouche is a tale of torture, revenge, chases, escapes, true love, miracles …

I may be thinking of the wrong book here.

Recommendation

Fans of adventure stories, Dumas, historical fiction, the Revolution, and similar should love Scaramouche (if they haven’t read it already). It’s public domain and freely available from Project gutenberg (see the link at the top of this post) so there’s no excuse not to try it out.

Other recommendations:

The count of Monte Cristo / Alexandre Dumas, père – Also public domain, but the Gutenberg ed. isn’t the best translation.
The princess bride / William Goldman
Captain Alatriste / Arturo Pérez-Reverte
The lies of Locke Lamora / Scott Lynch
The red and the black / Stendhal – I’ve only read this in French so can’t comment on the quality of this translation

 

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