Rafael Sabatini’s “Scaramouche”

BLOG #9, SERIES 5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #27
RAFAEL SABATINI’S SCARAMOUCHE
February 26, 2014

As mentioned in our January 29 blog, our daughter Michelle suggested we pose one question to our Book Club members each month. By responding (on Facebook), we could thereby get more discussions in motion.

So here is Question #2: As you have journaled your book-related thoughts, what kind of mental dialogue with yourself has resulted? In other words, what do you find is most helpful in enabling you get to the essence of a given book?

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Few historical novels are more beloved than this one. Certainly, it has long fascinated me. In fact, I have now read it around six times down through the years. And that’s unusual for I rarely read a given book more than once.

One reason for my returning to the book again and again has to do with my intense interest in the time period in which Sabatini sets the action: the French Revolution. That disruptive out-of-control time period that separates Louis XVI from the Napoleonic Empire. That French revolution breaking out a scant thirteen years after our American revolution.

Like most historical fiction readers, I’m not much interested in historical novels that are not true to their time period. I guess, in a way, I too like to have my general history reading sugar-coated by excitement and romance based on the author’s prior historical research of the time period.

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Scaramouche has been filmed twice: first in 1923, and second (and more significantly) in 1952. Directed by George Sidney, and screenplay by Ronald Millar and George Froeschel. Star-studded cast includes Stewart Granger, Eleanor Parker, Janet Leigh, Mel Ferrer, Henry Wilcoxon, Lewis Stone, Nina Foch, Richard Anderson, and Robert Coote. The highlight is the climactic sword duel–longest in cinematic swashbuckling history.

The book begins with a famous line: “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”

It takes a little while to get through the scene that triggers the rest of the almost unputdownable plot. But there’s far more to the book than mere action, intrigue, and romance: At the heart of it is this great truth: To know all is to forgive all.

It is not a book to read and forget: rather it is a book that keeps on giving as long as you live.

Rafael Sabatini’s life (1875-1950) was almost as eventful as his action-packed novels. He was born in the then small town of Jesi, Italy, near the seaport of Ancona. Apparently, he was illegitimate [not even a factor today in American when almost half of all children are born out of wedlock]. You will note in Scaramouche that the stain of his own birth gave Sabatini the incentive to dig deep into the issue in his fiction. Sabatini’s parents were well-known opera singers who traveled the world. His mother was English.

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Sabatini grew up in England and Portugal, exposed to many languages. Early on, he fell in love with the borderland between England and Wales. In Porto, Portugal, Rafael attended a Catholic school. A few years later, the Sabatinis returned to Italy, this time to Milan. The son was then sent to a school in Switzerland. Here he added French and German to his linguistic arsenal. He spent most of his teenage years here.

When he was seventeen, his father sent him to Liverpool, England to immerse himself in the business world. But he soon turned to writing romances instead. By 1899, he was selling his short fiction to national magazines such as Pearson’s Magazine, London Magazine, and Royal Magazine. But once he devoted himself to full-time writing, he generally produced a book a year.

During World War I, he became a British citizen. In 1921, it was Scaramouche that catapulted him to world-wide fame; in fact, the book became an international best-seller. In 1922, Captain Blood sold even more copies.

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His novels were set all over Europe, and in the New World as well. If you are anything like me, you will have developed such an addiction to his historical fiction by the time you finish Scaramouche, you will set about tracking down the rest of them for your library. Here they are:

  •  The Tavern Knight, 1904
  •   Bardelys the Magnificent, 1906
  •   The Trampling of the Lilies, 1906
  •   Love-at-Arms, 1907
  •   The Shame of Motley, 1908
  •   Saint Martin’s Summer, 1909
  •   Anthony Wilding, 1910
  •   The Lion’s Skin, 1911
  •   The Life of Cesare Borgia, 1912 (history)
  •   The Justice of the Duke, 1912
  •   The Strolling Saint, 1913
  •   Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition, 1913 (history)
  •   The Gates of Doom, 1914
  •   The Sea-Hawk, 1915
  •   The Banner of the Bull, 1915
  •   The Snare, 1917
  •   The Historical Nights’ Entertainment: First Series, 1918-1938
  •   The Historical Nights’ Entertainment: Second Series, 1919
  •   Scaramouche, 1921
  •   Captain Blood, 1922
  •   Fortune’s Fool, 1923
  •   The Carolinian, 1925
  •   Bellarion, 1926
  •   The Nuptials of Corbal, 1927
  •   The Hounds of God, 1928
  •   The Romantic Prince, 1929
  •   The Minion, 1930
  •   The Chronicles of Captain Blood, 1931 (or Captain Blood Returns)
  •   Scaramouche the Kingmaker, 1931
  •   The Black Swan, 1933
  •   The Stalking Horse, 1933
  •   Captain Blood, 1936 (or The Fortunes of Captain Blood)
  •   The Lost King, 1937
  •   The Sword of Islam, 1938
  •   Master-At-Arms, 1940
  •   Columbus, 1942

If possible, secure a Houghton Mifflin hardback with dust-jacket. However, Bantam sold untold thousands in paperback form.

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Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club — Charles Sheldon’s “In His Steps”

BLOG #34, SERIES #3
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB
CHARLES SHELDON’S IN HIS STEPS
August 22, 2012

Somehow this summer has just galloped away from me! So much so that I forgot July’s Book of the Month, and all but forgot August’s as well. The mere fact that no one jogged my memory about the omission makes me wonder how many of our readers are seriously into reading our selections. So belatedly, here is September’s selection.

“For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also
suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye
should follow his steps.”
1 Peter 2:21

1897 Edition

In 1889, a young minister named Charles M. Sheldon founded the Central Congregational Church of Topeka, Kansas. Profoundly convicted that it was long past time for Christians everywhere to forsake their doctrinal warfare against each other and instead—really study Christ’s example while on this earth: in short, our Lord’s example of humble selfless service for others. The 1890’s produced a veritable explosion of interest in Christ’s Didoche (one is saved, not by doctrine or creed, but by loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind, and unconditionally loving and serving one’s neighbor)—and, of course, by the Cross.

1899 Edition

Sheldon couldn’t help but notice that Story was about the only thing that caused his parishioners to be faithful in their attendance, so he began packaging his Social Gospel sermons in story serializations. Presto! Church attendance swelled. Each chapter would conclude with a fictional cliffhanger of sorts—so people naturally had to show up for the next installment. The core of the story had to do with the question, What would Jesus do? were He faced with the same circumstances and decisions the parishioners were.

As Sheldon read his story to his congregation, a religious weekly of Topeka published it serially, gathering the chapters together in a paper-bound book in 1897. Within two years In His Steps went through five editions. In 1899, ten different publishers, finding a flaw in Sheldon’s copyright, and disregarding the central premise of the book, What would Jesus do?, unleashed a veritable torrent of new editions, not paying its author a dime. It was then pirated overseas as well. But one good thing resulted from all this chicanery: it became one of the best-selling books of all time. 115 years later, it is still selling.

1900 Edition

If you have not yet read it, now is the time! Do let me know what you think of it.

Sources:

Hart, James D., The Popular Book (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963).
Mott, Frank Luther, Golden Multitudes (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947).