Kelly's Reviews > Scaramouche

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
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's review
Jan 13, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, fantasy-and-scifi, owned, goth-goth-baby, tres-francais, 20th-century-early-to-mid
Read in January, 2009

Andre-Louis Moreau is the Scaramouche of fame. I am delighted with this knowledge, as it finally helps me to solve one of the many mysteries of Queen. But more than that, I am absolutely delighted with the work in general. Sabatini's evocation of the heady, tense, uncertain, firecracker days before the beginning of the French Revolution of 1789 is beautifully done. I classified this as fantasy because I believe that it is painted brightly enough to sear into my imagination as much as any Middle Earth would do. This is a swashbuckling adventure novel, make absolutely no mistake about that. (There's a lot more swashing than there is actual buckling, but it is very entertaining swashing about, so I don't take issue with it.) However, the sweeping, majestically romantic story conceals a wonderfully interesting historical document of the events that lead up to the storming of the Bastille, the dissolving of the Estates General, the bread riots, and the march to Versailles. To be sure, it is no mere recitation of events, but for our hero to get from one adventure to the next is dependent upon the historical events of the time. It gives the novel a depth that I was not expecting. The hero and various other characters spend a good chunk of their time reciting the beliefs of the period from all sides and having debates on philosophy. You find yourself getting very involved with their viewpoints, not merely the awesomely over the top insults and duels that follow.

The novel follows Andre-Louis Moreau from his start at comfortable home as the godson of a small-time, hardworking aristocrat and a country lawyer. After the murder of his best friend, a firebrand revolutionary priest, Andre-Louis swears vengeance upon the proud, ridiculously vile Marquis who committed this act. Unfortunately, he ends up with a warrant for his arrest fairly soon on in the novel, and is forced to go into hiding in a number of guises. The most entertaining of these disguises is Scaramouche, the Shakespearean fool character of the commedia dell'arte, a role which he is more or less forced into, but ends up suiting him quite perfectly. There are several very nice 'All the world's a stage' parallels drawn, as people tie on and shed masks of all kinds throughout the novel, sometimes confusing their own identities with the characters they play, sometimes being perceived as those identities by others when really they are absolutely no such thing inside. It is simply much easier and more comfortable to sit in those roles, and so they do. But the revolution will not let Andre-Louis sit still hiding from himself, and he's drawn along through a series of alternately hilarious and gothically awful scenes towards the dizzying end.

I was inclined to give this novel five stars about halfway through. There are several reasons that I did not:
1) Andre-Louis, our hero, is a Mary Sue. He is brilliant at everything he turns his hand to, succeeding first as a brilliant political orator, a playwright, an actor, a fencing master... the list goes on. There is nothing that he is not equal to, and more than that, that he will not be better at than anyone else within a remarkably short amount of time. It didn't bother me for the first 200 pages or so, but then I started really wearying with how in love Sabatini was with his hero the he absolutely /had/ to have every character marvel endlessly at his talent, and moon over his perfection. Sure, they call him heartless, some people are afraid of him, but it is only because he is such a God, you see! They are merely intimidated by his lack of weakness! Yes, I get that this is a gothic adventure novel and characters are projections and fantasies and meant to represent things and not be entirely realistic, but it is hard to really get into the suspenseful, *gasp, shock, awe!* aspect of the book if you never feel the slightest anxiety for the hero's safety. You never even feel the slightest anxiety for a slight embarrassment, because you just /know/ that he'll have the perfect one-liner to get himself out of the situation. The character tries to excuse this Mary Sue-ism in the last ten pages of the book, by saying that he's not really perfect because he's ended up running away from every good situation he's made for himself. But you see, it only makes him even more perfect, because he is troubled! And won't let his honor be compromised enough to stay!
2) The book is just too long for what its trying to be. And if its trying to be something else, then I have problems with it.
3) I felt like the end reveal was really cheap, and undermined one of the great points of the book. Sabatini takes up classism, and the nature v. nurture arguments. One of the cool things about Andre-Louis is that he's largely a self made man (if to an annoying degree), and from the lower classes, and a great example of why Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite should flourish. And then I felt like they took that all away when the big reveal at the end is that he's actually the son of two nobles, and they both make a point of telling him that whatever is good in him comes from them. The main character rejects it verbally, but belies this by his actions when he saves them both, succumbing to that "animal" sentimentality that he worked so hard to stay away from the whole book. Its both touching and kind of irritating. I hope that the point was that his self-made manhood and opinions were what mattered most, but I'm just not sure. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but Sabatini spent far too much time talking about class and the nature of the upper and lower classes for me to not think that he meant something by it.

... anyway, though. Otherwise a greatly enjoyable bit of escapism that I would highly recommend... if you don't over analyze like me.
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Reading Progress

01/09 page 50
13.93% "Okay, this is actually fantastically good, and worth making my dorky British history books wait for a bit."
01/10 page 124
34.54% "Scaramouche is a character from the commedia dell'arte. The awesome funny Shakespearean fool one. This is great." 1 comment
01/11 page 217
60.45% "Scaramouche likes inciting mobs a lot. Especially in theatre houses. This is hard on the furniture."
03/02 marked as: read

Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-12 of 12) </span> <span class="smallText">(12 new)</span>

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message 1: by Rebecca (last edited Jan 09, 2009 12:36PM) (new)

Rebecca Is this the guy from the song?

*pitchy rendition*

I'm currently reading about one of the other name-drops.

message 2: by Kelly (last edited Jan 09, 2009 12:39PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kelly Galileo? Figaro? EDIT: Ah, Galileo. So is that story about "It still moves," true?

... I think it is the guy, yeah. You'd have to ask them that, though.

message 3: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Galileo. I'm kinda opposed to him. Aristotle's dellusions were superior to telescope boy's truths. ;)

Kelly Which is funny since Aristotle was after truth himself. I'm not sure he would have liked being regarded as an air-dreamer. :)

Elijah Kinch Spector Well damn, I guess I really have to go read Jonathan Strange now, huh?

All worthwhile criticisms. As to Andre-Louis being too perfect, I see what you mean, but at the same time I think his being kind of a dick opposes that just a little. (It's been awhile since I read it... he was kind of a dick, right?) But I do certainly see your point.

Still, I'm definitely glad that, for the most part, you enjoyed this.

Kelly Well damn, I guess I really have to go read Jonathan Strange now, huh?

Ye-ah, you do! You don't have anything better to do with your time than read an 800-page mock Victorian gothic novel, right? :)

As to Andre-Louis being too perfect, I see what you mean, but at the same time I think his being kind of a dick opposes that just a little. (It's been awhile since I read it... he was kind of a dick, right?)

Yeah, he's an insensitive prick. He's constantly called "heartless" by everyone who knows him. And yet the author makes this impassioned case at the end that, "Ha, ha! You people thought he was heartless, but really, he's just an unreliable narrator, and you shouldn't believe him! Truly, he feels agonies inside!" Also, the author has him belie that criticism by saving his enemy (SPOILER) father, and being constantly and warmly attached to his guardian, who continually rejected him, etc, etc. So its almost like Sabatini make Andre-Louis a dick to redeem him from perfection.... and then couldn't bear that he not be perfect at the end, so tossed in this explanation.

Ah well. We all need heroes to look up to. And for the most part, he was lots of fun. Again, had the book been a bit shorter, I don't think it would have had the time to bother me. But yes, did definitely enjoy it for the most part!

Elijah Kinch Spector Well, the semester's about to start, so probably no Jonathan Strange for me just yet. I can guarantee that if I don't read it this summer, it'll be a top priority after I graduate (at the ripe old age of 26) in the summer of 2010. I love long books, but I have to make sure I really have the time for them.

Kelly I completely understand. Awesome that you're back in school, btw! I need to get on that. I'll make sure to remind you this summer about it, in case you need some help remembering! ;)

message 9: by Wealhtheow (last edited Feb 02, 2009 12:55PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Wealhtheow I was a bit disappointed by Andre's parentage. Of course I knew from the beginning that there was going to be a Big Reveal about his parentage. No hero stays fatherless for long.

While he was in love with the actress I had hope that he really was just some dude's by-blow, but Sabatini looooves drama too much to ignore a golden opportunity for it. So I wasn't surprised that he was the son of somebody important, and certainly his mother's identity was no surprise. She was not subtle. But then! The Marquis! Omg! For some reason I'd thought he and Andre were around the same age, so it was a double surprise. Then I realized that Sabatini had set it up earlier, by: A)not letting them both have sex with the actress and B)not letting either kill the other.

One thing regarding the Marquis I did like: Andre does *not* accept his excuses for being such a heartless dick. The Marquis is all, "I was just trying to protect my way of life! The nobles are necessary to civilation!" and Andre's like, "um, no." So that was nice.

Kelly Yeah, the Marquis was unexpected forme, too, probably for a number of reasons.

Sabatini did a really good job of leading you with all the rumors about his godfather being his father, and then the reveal of his mother (not the surprise, but at least her story) keeps you distracted long enough to get to the Marquis without it occurring to you.

I thought the Marquis was fairly young, too. Its not just you. For some reason I placed him around thirty. I realized when I finished the book that that was just the image that I had built up in my mind due to the other swashbuckling movies and villains I had seen, right out of central casting. Damn Hollywood corrupting my detective senses!

Also, most importantly, I thought that maybe his fatherless state was representative for the coming of the Revolution. That our hero was "fatherless," in the sense that he came from nobody important to the Old Regime, but nonetheless, he became among the leaders of the new age. One of the reasons I was disappointed with the reveal of the parentage. I thought it brought the story down a few notches from its theoretical heights to a serialized soap opera. Maybe that's the point, too, but, I would have much preferred that Sabatini stick to his other points if that's the case!

Wealhtheow SPOILERS:
Ooh, I like your rationale for his fatherless state--very litcrit of you! His parentage still works, thought, because although he came from nobles, the nobles failed in their responsibilities toward him and so he became his own creature. Perhaps with less of a glorious pedigree to fall back on, but with a freer mind. It works for the Revolution, too: the nobles failed in their feudal responsibilities (which were often framed in a very familial sort of way--king as head of a family, etc) and so the peasants took charge of themselves.

As someone who grew up on the Pimpernell, I was impressed by Sabatini's reminders of the bourgeousie's power. The Revolution always seems to get framed as nobles vs. peasants, but there *were* additional interests involved. This does not get Sabatini off the hook for making both his hero and his heroine be Pure Nobility.

Kelly Ooh, and I like yours. That rationale also works. It had occured to me about the nobles abandoning him, etc, but I decided maybe that was too patronizing of a moral for a 1920s author. But then again, he's writing about 1792, not 1920, and he's quite old fashioned. And it is true. So, you are likely right about the ultimate conclusion. :)

I was also impressed by his complex rendering of the Revolution, especially the bourgeousie, as you say. I liked that he was careful to point out the self-interest of everyone involved, not just the obvious "bettering of the peasants' situation". Even the Marquis gets to make his bullshit self preservation speech.

Also, I liked that he depicted the slow, painful way in which the Revolution happened, in fits and starts, in emotionally rousing moments paired with cowardly prevarication in the face of the old power and mirrored that in Andre Moreau's development into the person he was to become at the end of the novel.

I agree though, hero worshipping your own characters as the paragon of everything is still pretty embarrassing and Narcisscus and the water-like. But! Mostly enjoyable, so. I'll probably still read Captain Blood.

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