Thursday, July 05, 2012
54. Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
It's the story of a young man adopted into a noble, rural household in Brittany who comes of age just before the French Revolution. Though he is well-raised, because he is a godson, he does not actually accrue the benefits of the family that cared for him and he seeks his fortune in law. He himself is quite removed from the emotional fervour catching among his peers until his best friend is killed in a maliciously arranged duel by a cruel count. He swears revenge on this count and in doing so, ends up taking the side of the Republic. This springs him into a series of adventures, where he becomes an actor with a travelling theatre troupe, then a fencing master and finally a politician himself. It's partly a bildungsroman, but it is also a romance and the plot, while it wanders, always pulls itself back to his feud with the count.
It's a thoroughly fun read, very satisfying. I love these books where honour and manners play an important role. People in this world behave with certain levels of courtesy whether they are good or evil and it makes for such great interchanges and verbal conflicts.
What was also interesting about this book was the pacing. It is adventurous and swashbuckling, but there is also a long section dealing with him slowly improving in the theatre, gaining more and more authority in the troupe until he finally comes in conflict with the troupe leader. These parts are not full of action, but somehow they are very satisfying and you really are caught up in the story. It was written in 1921 and was not considered high literature, even a bit low (my mother was upbraided by her teacher when she chose it for a book report in grade 11). Reading it reminds me that a book can be gripping and thrilling without having tons of physical action and conflict.
The backdrop of the French Revolution is also a great setting for this kind of adventure. You have the combination of impending chaos with fearful authority, so that there is always danger but also always a chance of escape.
I see that Sabatini wrote several other adventure novels, such as The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood. Sigh, one more author to add to my list...