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Scaramouche is an historical novel by Rafael Sabatini, originally published in 1921. A romantic adventure, Scaramouche tells the story of a young lawyer during the French Revolution. In the course of his adventures he becomes an actor portraying "Scaramouche" (a roguish buffoon character in the commedia dell'arte). He also becomes a revolutionary, politician, and fencing-master, confounding his enemies with his powerful orations and swordsmanship. He is forced by circumstances to change sides several times. The book also depicts his transformation from cynic to idealist.
The three-part novel opens with the memorable line: "He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad." This line was to become Sabatini's epitaph, on his gravestone in Adelboden, Switzerland.
Andre-Louis Moreau, educated as a lawyer, lives in the village of Gavrillac in Brittany with his godfather Quentin de Kercadiou, the Lord of Gavrillac, who refuses to disclose Moreau's parentage. Moreau has grown up alongside Aline, Kercadiou's niece, and their relationship is as cousins. Because he loves her as a cousin, he warns her against marrying the Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr; however, she is ambitious and wishes to marry high, so she ignores him. A peasant, Mabey, is shot by the gamekeeper of the Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr, on the Marquis's instructions, for poaching. The idealistic Philippe de Vilmorin, Moreau's closest friend and seminarist, denounces the act as murder. While pleading for justice with the Marquis, Vilmorin is provoked to a duel with the Marquis and killed for his "gift of eloquence", which the Marquis fears would set the Third Estate against the privileged estates. Moreau then vows to avenge the death and sets off from Gavrillac for Rennes to the King's lieutenant in Brittany to see justice done. After being brushed off by the arrogant official, who refuses to act against a man of the Marquis' status, Moreau discovers a large political gathering where one of the speakers against the nobility's excesses has been assassinated. Much to the surprise of his peers (who thought him on the side of the aristocracy), he delivers convincing rhetoric, using Vilmorin's arguments. Moreau goes on to Nantes and, using the name "Omnes Omnibus", whips up the crowds there. These events set the stage for the French Revolution and make Moreau a wanted man.
To hide from the law, Moreau joins a troupe of travelling Commedia dell'Arte actors under M. Binet. He takes on the role of Scaramouche, the scheming rogue. He discovers an aptitude for acting and writing, which propels the troupe from near-poverty to success which eventually takes them to the Feydau theatre in Nantes. Binet, who plays "Pantaloon", grows ever more resentful of Moreau and his influence in the troupe. Moreau becomes engaged to Binet's daughter Celimene, but after Andre-Louis' revelation that he is not of noble birth, she (to her father's delight) accepts a proposal from the Marquis to become his mistress. Aline learns of the affair and, furious with La Tour d'Azyr for carrying on with Celimene while he is supposed to be wooing her (Aline), breaks off relations with him. The Marquis, now notorious for brutally quelling an uprising in Rennes, is lying low in Nantes. When the Marquis attends a performance, Moreau reveals the latter's presence to the audience and sparks a riot. When Binet, furious for being ruined, attacks him, Moreau shoots him in self-defence. Binet is wounded, and Moreau escapes. It is later learned that during Binet's recovery, his entire troupe deserted him and actually thrived without him, and that both he and his daughter (who had been "dumped" by the Marquis following the riot) are both completely ruined.
Moreau is now forced to go into hiding. Arriving in Paris, he finds a fencing academy seeking "a young man of good address with some knowledge of swordsmanship". Moreau manages to convince M. Bertrand des Amis, the Maître en fait d'Armes (Master at Arms), to hire him; later, des Amis, finding that Andre-Louis shows promise as a swordsman, makes him his apprentice. Over time, Andre-Louis develops his own style of fencing, based on calculations of different moves, and the school begins to prosper. With the outbreak of the French Revolution, M. des Amis is killed in a street riot and Moreau inherits the school. When he is established at the now-thriving school, he attempts and, thanks to Aline and Mme. de Plougastel, a relative of his godfather whom he has seen only once in his life but who has taken an almost maternal interest in him, succeeds in a reconciliation with his godfather. The reconciliation, however, is brief when Moreau's friends convince him to take a seat in the Estates-General of 1789 when they find out about his swordsmanship. They face the scourge of spadassinicides, aristocratic senators who have been provoking the inexperienced republicans to fight duels and then wounding or killing them, just as the Marquis did to Vilmorin, and indeed La Tour d'Azyr is the chief spadassinicide. Andre-Louis turns the tables and succeeds in killing or seriously wounding all who challenge him. Finally, Moreau manages to goad the Marquis to challenge him to a duel; at last, he can confront the murderer of his childhood friend Vilmorin. Having heard of this, Mme. de Plougastel goes with Aline to stop the duel. They do not arrive in time, seeing the Marquis leaving the duel wounded, though not fatally. Andre-Louis becomes a full-time member of the National Assembly, while the Marquis becomes a counter-revolutionary.
In 1792, Paris is up in arms and the Tuilleries are stormed by a mob. Mme. de Plougastel and Aline are in grave danger, as the former's husband is a counter-revolutionary. Moreau, returning from an errand in Brittany, is informed that his godfather is in need of travel permits to leave Paris and goes to Gavrillac to visit Kercadiou. Kercadiou tells him of the plight of Aline and Plougastel in Paris. Moreau agrees to rescue Aline, but does not agree to help MMe. de Plougastel until Kercadiou reveals to Andre-Louis that Mme. de Plougastel is his mother. Moreau secures and brings the needed travel permits to the women. However, before he arrives, La Tour d'Azyr, on the run from the mob, seeks shelter in the same apartment as the women. He and Andre-Louis draw pistols on each other. Mme. de Plougastel is forced to reveal that the Marquis is Moreau's father. While refusing to reconcile with the Marquis, Andre-Louis nevertheless decides to end his feud with La Tour d'Azyr and gives him one of the travel permits; it is learned that La Tour d'Azyr crossed safely to Austria and took service with the King of Austria. Because of his recent actions, Moreau knows that he can't remain in Paris or even in France, so he decides to cross the border with the women and his godfather. After safely escaping from Paris and relatively safe back in Gavrillac, Andre-Louis and Aline unravel the misconceptions about their feelings for each other and declare their love.
Scaramouche the Kingmaker
The book continues the adventures of Andre-Louis Moreau, beginning where the original Scaramouche ends, as he conceives, then with Baron de Batz masterminds, a plan to destroy the Revolution and restore the monarchy through a campaign whereby the Revolutionary leaders, hitherto thought of by the French populace as incorruptible patriots, will be accused of and exposed as corrupt and profiteers. However, while Andre-Louis is in France working for the restoration, unknown to him in Germany the Regent of France attempts to seduce Andre-Louis's fiancée Aline de Kercadiou.
Scaramouche was adapted into several works:
- A play by Barbara Field
- After a trip to the United States, composer Darius Milhaud wrote a theatrical piece, Scaramouche (1922), for saxophone and orchestra.
- A feature film, Scaramouche (1923), starring Ramón Novarro
- A remake, Scaramouche (1952) with Stewart Granger, which includes one of the longest swashbuckling sword-fighting scenes ever filmed.
- "Niklāvs Strunke, who often resided in Italy from 1923, was considered the connoisseur of commedia dell’arte in Latvia." Osvalds Lemānis helped to choreograph the Latvian adaptation of Scaramouche, with renowned performer Rudolfs Saulē, performing the role as an itinerant violinist who had wandered into Leilon’s castle. Obsessed by the striving to subdue other people, the musician “destroys the harmony of souls creating a devilish atmosphere of anxiety and foreboding”.
- Scaramouche at Project Gutenberg
- Scaramouche – Audio Book – Free, public domain, Librivox audio recording of Scaramouche (complete text)