Review: Scaramouche

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish I could come up with an opening line to a review (or blog) as good as “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” So opens Scaramouche, something of a swashbuckling adventure novel set in the French Revolution. Andre’-Louis Moreau, whose parents are unknown to him, grows up under the care of godfather M. de Kercadiou in Brittany. He trains to be a lawyer and makes good progress along these lines until the day his divinity student friend Phlippe de Vilmorin is lured into a duel of swords with the Marquis de La Tour d’Azyr, a master swordsman who easily kills him. From then on, Moreau and the Marquis become mortal enemies. First, Moreau takes up Vilmorin’s cause of revolutionary advocacy until his success in arousing the crowds makes him most wanted. He escapes via a traveling theatrical company and becomes the character Scaramouche, a roguish mask-wearing clown character, discovering in the process that he is Scaramouche.

Meanwhile, the Marquis courts Kercadiou’s daughter Aline who was Moreau’s childhood playmate, and thus further infuriates Moreau. When the Marquis comes to the theatre to see the troupe, (and in the process seduces la Binet, the actress Moreau had pledged to marry) Moreau seizes the opportunity in the character of Scaramouche to incite the crowd against the Marquis, who barely escapes the ensuing riot with his life. He then flees to Paris, becomes a fencing instructor and so perfects his technique that he becomes a formidable swordsman. When the Marquis uses the same technique he used against Vilmorin to dispatch other enemies of his in the Third Estate, Moreau ends up becoming a Representative in place of one of the slain, setting up the climactic confrontation.

Behind all the swashbuckling runs a political commentary on the relative merits of the status quo of ruling class-dominated rule versus the radical republican ideas of the Revolution that raises the interesting question of “can a society exist that does not have a governing class?”

Sabatini keeps this from becoming overly heavy through the interplay of characters, the intrigue, and the romantic interest that everyone but the title character sees between Moreau and Aline. Well-written and great good fun!

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