What if the French Revolution was actually spurred on not solely by the anger and desperation of the masses, but for the love of a noblewoman? That is the swashbuckling, romantic premise of Rafael Sabatini’s historical adventure Scaramouche. When my dear friend Tasha of Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Books said that this was one of her favorite books ever, I knew I had the “Classic Adventure” category for the Back to the Classics Challenge nailed – but I didn’t anticipate how much fun it would be. I absolutely loved this book!
Andre-Louis Moreau is a young lawyer of uncertain parentage who has been educated by his godfather, M. de Kecadiou. He is in love with Kecadiou’s niece Aline, although considering that everyone in pre-Revolutionary Brittany believes him to be the bastard child of his godfather, he has no hope of ever marrying her. Andre-Louis is particularly disgusted when an older aristocrat of the worst king, M. de la Tour d’Azyr, asks for Aline’s hand in marriage. When Tour d’Azyr kills Andre-Louis’s young priest friend for his speech against the French establishment, the two men are set against each other in a feud that it seems can only end with the death of one of them.
Andre-Louis naively believes that his knowledge of law will bring Tour d’Azyr to justice. But he is forced to confront for the first time the French system in which privilege is more important than justice. At that point, he puts his powerful ability for rhetoric to work for the cause of reform, although it’s by no means clear whether or not he actually believes in the cause himself, or just wants to make trouble for Tour d’Azyr and his kind. From that point on, Andre-Louis goes from adventure to adventure, first as a roadie for a circus troop, and ultimately its star, Scaramouche. From there he becomes a master swordsman, owner of a fencing academy, and ultimately a politician, always guided by the move that will bring Tour d’Azyr the most misery. In a letter to Tour d’Azyr, Andre-Louis reveals the depths of his hatred:
Had you died, had you been torn limb from limb that night, I should now repine in the thought of your eternal and untroubled slumber. Not in euthanasia, but in torment of mind should the guilty atone. You see, I am not sure that hell hereafter is a certainty, whilst I am quite sure that it can be a certainty in this life; and I desire you to continute to live yet awhile that you may taste something of its bitterness. p. 209
Italian-English Sabatini has a real gift for recreating the sensibility pre-Revolutionary France, and I loved how he peppered the novel with historical characters so seamlessly. Knowing the outcome only increased the sense of doom gathering, like watching the guillotine platform being built. I really don’t want to say anything else, because I’m afraid of giving anything away. You simply have to read it! Truly, you must.
So that’s my last review of the year, finishing up one of the few challenges I entered – seems fitting. I really enjoyed all of the books for the challenge:1. 19th century classic: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon 2. 20th century classic : Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons 3. Classic from the 18th century, or earlier: Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos 4. Classic related to the African-American experience: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston 5. Adventure classic: Scaramouche by Raphael Sabatini 6. Classic about an animal, or with an animal in the title: Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
I love the mix of English language and translation, male and female authors and varying time periods that this year’s list represents. My favorite was definitely Their Eyes Were Watching God -- it was an absolute revelation. But it would be difficult to pick a least favorite among the group – I’d recommend any of them. Every author was new to me, which was one thing I hoped to accomplish with this Challenge, and aside from de Laclos (who was apparently a one-hit wonder, literarily) I would definitely read other books by the same authors.
I've finished six titles from my Classics Club list since August, so I am happily ahead of the 10/year pace. Scaramouche, like so many classic titles, was available as a free Kindle download. That means my total for the Classics Club remains at $12.29, or about 2.05 per title! Happy New Year, and Happy Reading, everyone!