Friday, February 02, 2018


Rafael Sabatini was frequently written or spoken of as the "modern Dumas" or otherwise compared to Alexandre Dumas.  Not surprisingly he found such remarks and comparisons annoying.  A writer may himself acknowledge a debt if he chooses, but considering how quickly Sabatini found his own distinctive style, it was neither fair nor tactful of reviewers to reiterate remarks about him and Dumas either to praise extravagantly or, more often, to disparage.

However, Sabatini did not disprize the work of the famous French writer, and his own writing from the earliest short stories up to the first novel clearly reflect Dumas' influence.

Much of the action of The Lovers/ Suitors of Yvonne takes place in the Loire valley around Blois – frequently the setting for action in Dumas' historical novels, and the rest in areas of Paris which are immediately evocative of the early Musketeer novels.  There are more connections capped, of course, by the introduction of that special ingredient, the Duchesse de Chevreuse.

As it is in Dumas' novels so also in Yvonne, the sense of a particular time is strong enough, but in the former the actual dates are often inaccurate.  In Yvonne no date is cited, and indications of a date are thrown off insouciantly.  Dumas' cavalier way with the names of real (historical) people is matched by Sabatini in Yvonne by the conversion of Charles d'Albert, Duc de Luynes, into Albert de Luynes.  Dumas' Musketeer novels are full of tantalising allusions to names draped in veils of scandal and tragedy: Chalais, Cinq-Mars, Vitry, and Concino Concini.  In Yvonne, Sabatini reflected this habit (or formed it independently) in repeated allusions to the Mar
échal d'Ancre (Concino Concini).

Alexandre Dumas did not use the first person narrative mode, whereas Rafael Sabatini did so in four early novels, Yvonne (1902) being the first and The Strolling Saint (1913) being the last.  Among other points of divergence, one pertinent to Yvonne is that Dumas never made his Cardinal Mazarin speak so abruptly or so harshly.

Dumas would seem to give pride of place to history in the two great sets, the Valois novels and the Musketeer novels.  Important, sometimes chief, characters are not merely historical, they are at the centre of history in the selected period, among them being Henri II, Catherine de Medici, Diane de Poitiers, Charles IX, Henri III, the Guises, Marguerite de Valois, Henri IV, Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu, Anne of Austria, Cardinal Mazarin, Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Marie Antoinette.  Since history cannot be rewritten to provide a happy ending where there was only error and death, Dumas' novels have one kind of inevitability.  Sabatini only once wrote such a novel, The Minion (1930), and while his plots may have predictable endings, there is a sense in some that he might just as easily have chosen otherwise were he not mindful of his readership.  In Bellarion (1926) he seems to flirt with the idea of an 'unhappy' ending.

Very sensibly, after Yvonne Rafael Sabatini avoided writing any novel set in the courts of France or England during the same period as that covered by the Musketeer novels.  Short stories, ‘entertainments’ yes, novels no.  True, Bardelys the Magnificent and Saint Martin’s Summer are somewhat of the period in which The Three Musketeers is set, but so written as to avoid mention of Cardinal Richelieu or Anne of Austria, and placing the action far away from northern France.

For Dumas the pleasure of inventive storytelling was not satisfied in the histories of non-historical characters (The Black Tulip's Rosa and Cornelius Baerle).  He invented freely in his saga of D'Artagnan and his friends, which story was more important to him than historical dates and sequences.  In this respect Sabatini gave himself more scope for invention by taking his action only occasionally into direct contact with important historical personages.  Nevertheless, he sometimes dared to take certain liberties, rather skilfully, with his better-known historical characters, and with the far more numerous lesser historical personages he took a great many more liberties, sometimes quite outrageous ones!

To return to the similarities, Dumas was an omnivorous and voracious reader, as was Sabatini, and both were captivated by the theatre, each writing plays but the Frenchman's plays were by far the more successful.  Dumas did undoubtedly instil new life into the French historical novel, which is a claim no one could make for Sabatini in regard to the English historical novel, but the Anglo-Italian writer did do all his writing himself, whereas the Frenchman employed assistants whose work he rewrote.  Both novelists were noted for the excellence of their dialogue.  Sabatini, however, wrote superior accounts of duelling and fencing than Dumas ever did.

After reading the greater number of Sabatini's novels one gets the impression that the writer had well thought-out and - like Dumas - deeply felt views on certain periods of history, on what led to events, what really happened, and what inevitably followed.  Both Dumas, illegitimate and of part African part French aristocratic lineage, and Sabatini the Anglo-Italian descendant of a tailor, a builder-decorator and two opera singers, appear to have preferred a republic to a monarchy, and a meritocracy to an aristocracy.  Yet Sabatini also clearly preferred peaceful – because rational – change to violent destructive change among whose consequences is the near-perpetuation of old evils in a new guise (see the French Revolution novels).

Again like Dumas, Sabatini could be seduced by a king figure (for Dumas, Louis XIV; for Sabatini, Cesare Borgia) who stands in opposition to what each writer was convinced of, yet has a magnetic personality which overcomes their more reasoned beliefs.

Apart from other qualities for which Rafael Sabatini's novels were once admired and should be appreciated again, it is this sense of history in those of Sabatini's novels which are more historical novel than period romance, and which include much of his best work, it is this quality which makes these best of his novels much more than "swashbucklers" or "romances".  The path from that frothy entertainer, The Lovers of Yvonne, led to Scaramouche, Bellarion, The Marquis of Carabas, King in Prussia and The Gamester, among others.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


The Revised Edition of Romantic Prince by Ruth Heredia, a study of Rafael Sabatini and his writings, is now offered as a gift to anyone who is interested in the writer.

The PDF files may be obtained by request on this blog,
and may be printed only for personal use. Please do not make commercial prints of these books and do not substitute another name for mine or in any way alter a single letter, word or punctuation mark in these files, or make commercial use of the photographs which only I have permission to use, as is clearly stated in my books, nor upload the photographs or any part of my book. In plain words, please respect my copyright. That copyright covers even the writings of Rafael Sabatini printed in Part Two of my book. My editing of them gives me copyright.

If these terms are respected, knowledge of Rafael Sabatini and his writings will spread and everyone will be happy.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Rafael Sabatini Book Covers

- and other mixed results

On 23 March 2015 I posted a piece here about the paintings used in covers of Rafael Sabatini’s books as published by House of Stratus.

At that time there were seven covers for which I had not traced the paintings that were their sources.  (I do not find the remaining five of any interest.)
Now I have three more sources, including an intriguing result, and an instance of frustration – a case familiar to me in the past eleven years.

Bellarion – Gerard Terborch – Gallant Conversation aka Parental Admonition, detail Photoshopped cleverly.
Love-at-Arms - Giovanni Mansueti – Miraculous healing of the daughter of Benvegnudo da San Polo (detail)
Turbulent Tales - Abraham Jansz Storck - Battle of Zuidersee, October 1573
The last took a great deal of time and effort to track down, especially as there are two paintings of the same date, and almost identical.  Who copied whom?  The one by Storck is in the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin. There the date given to this painting is 1663.  
Another with the same subject is so alike it might be a copy.  But is it?  This one is by Jan Theunisz Blanckerhoff, at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.  And the museum gives it the date – 1663.
The Sea-Hawk – The only image I can find online that exactly matches, has no source, and is part of a book cover or a poster.
By far more disappointing is the result reported by Stephen Wainwright of England.  He is no relative of Rafael Sabatini, but related to Rafael’s first wife through her mother.  Last October he visited the house in Maghull that once belonged to Rafael Sabatini’s grandfather, John Jelley, and is now No 1 Station Road.  A house in which the boy Rafael spent about four years as a child, and an unspecified time on his return to England at seventeen.  The present owners were friendly – then – and showed him the upstairs bedroom which had been Rafael’s as a youth.  When renovating the house the owner had found a few letters and documents written by Rafael, a cane with his initials on it, and in the stables outside some childish graffiti which it is claimed he wrote regarding a "Captain Blood".  The owners said Stephen Wainwright could organise a date with them to view all this properly.  (Quoted almost verbatim from his e-mail to me.)
But when he did try to arrange a viewing, they refused it.  The impression he got is that they feared he might “lay claim to bits and bobs”.  Quite inexplicable, and a sad ending.
What would compensate amply would be for someone to gain access to the correspondence between Rafael Sabatini and Houghton Mifflin that is housed in a Harvard library, especially the correspondence from 1929 to 1939.  One aim would be to look for any mention of his plans for the continuation of the Scaramouche story: any mention of the planned trilogy, of the immediate story following André-Louis’ escape over the border along with the Kercadious; of reading about François Chabot and de Batz, of the last days of the Venetian Republic, of Quiberon.  This is a matter that buzzes in my mind like an obstinate bumblebee.

In January 1930, Rafael was planning a novel taking André-Louis to Venice.  That same month he walked out on his wife and by May he was in Paris.  In November he said he had been reading about the French India Company affair.  In April 1931, the first part of Scaramouche the Kingmaker appeared (as a serial).

What options did French history offer Rafael?  By April 1794 the self-proclaimed Louis XVIII was in Verona, a part of the Venetian Republic.  He remained just over two years, and in May 1796 had to leave.  The final year of the Republic’s life offered scope for a story of adventure – but suitable for André-Louis?  What could he be doing from August 1792 until May 1796?  It is true that the disastrous landing at Quiberon Bay took place in June 1795, but Rafael would have to give it scant attention if he was to take André-Louis zigzagging across Western Europe to both Quiberon and Venice.  Besides, Venice was a byway, whereas Quiberon effectively extinguished realistic hopes of a restoration of absolute monarchy in France.

Rafael, footloose and fancy-free in Paris during the early months of 1930 (and undoubtedly in May) could spend time in the national library or in the bookshops.  The Apologia of François Chabot, the many books by G. Lenotre, were all to hand.  Is that how he found his continuation of André-Louis’ story?  Yet, at the end of this continuation, André had to return to Hamm in search of the Kercadious.  There could be no further involvement in the French Revolution’s course.  However, there remained two tempting episodes to explore: the taking of Venice, and the landing at Quiberon.

In January 1930 it was Venice that Rafael had been looking to.  And after Scaramouche the Kingmaker, in November 1931, Rafael was already telling an interviewer that there would be a third book.  Almost at once, his imagination had turned back to Venice, although in a different period.  Nevertheless, the dreaded secret tribunal had a place in his long story, together with the informers/ spies.

The novel about the French Revolution in Venice, so to speak, was ready for serial publication in August 1933.  This is where the correspondence with Houghton Mifflin would be so valuable.  It might tell us when he had first thought of writing about Quiberon.  It seems to me significant that the disaster at Quiberon comes into the beginning of Venetian Masque.  It is almost too much to expect that Rafael wrote about his plans for The Marquis of Carabas.  Yet Ferris Greenslet was a very close friend, and Dale Warren, if not as close, was another friend.
Dreams, dreams.  If only someone could try to read that correspondence.....
Meanwhile, it is worth reading straight on from the end of Scaramouche into the first few chapters of Scaramouche the Kingmaker.  André seems to carry on from what he had become by the end of the first novel; Aline appears to slip back to what she was before the ‘revelation scene’.  Then, noticeably only if one is looking close, else without a hiccup, they change into the characters they are required to be for the new story.  Or so I have found.

Friday, June 30, 2017



Two pretty bulbuls
Built a little nest.
With dry stalks wound
In and out, round and round,
They shaped it and set it
In a fine ferny pot;
Well hidden it was
In a safe spot.

Lady bulbul she laid
Three eggs so sweet,
Sat upon them a week
With nothing to eat.
Crack, crack – on a morning,
Bony and grey,
Came three tiny bulbuls,
Beaks open all day.
Fed them fat and warmed them,
Did the mother so careful,
While father danced and sang,
Of his duties forgetful.

So the little ones grew,
Balls of fluff, very sweet,
And one day they flew,
Gone – to be a crow’s treat?

©2017 Ruth Heredia

Bulbuls in the Balcony

Printed in Knowledge News during the early 1960s

For eight years red-whiskered bulbuls (Pycnonotus jocosus) have visited our six plant-filled balconies, and sometimes ventured into the adjacent rooms.  They have disported themselves just as they pleased: bounced about and swung on plants, swung on clotheslines, flown directly into the glass panes that separate room from balcony - over and over again on purpose, and they have built nests.

They are accustomed to the monsters who inhabit this flat, perching on the grille bars, and cocking their heads as the monsters make strange but not hostile sounds addressed to them.

Four years ago, a pair built a nest in a particularly long, fairly wide balcony, the best of the six.  They chose a collection of dry branches stored in a cachepot at a height.  The balcony was not then enclosed with bird netting.  That story ended in tragedy.  As soon as the fledglings dare to attempt a hopping flight, the parents evidently turn frantic.  They chivvy the little ones, and dive-bomb a monster even if she is only chasing away the waiting crows.  Within a few hours of their first feeble flight, those poor wee three in 2013 were forced out of the balcony – straight into the beaks of waiting crows.  It was over in a couple of minutes.

In May 2017, another pair came scouting for a place to nest in the same balcony, now greener than before, and protected by netting.  What followed is told in pictures below.

The Nest – left & centre: after it was vacated and removed carefully; right: before the eggs were laid
Bye bye birdies
Photographs by Berenice and Naomi da Gama Rose ©2017
Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Morning


His mother was at prayer;
a sword run through her heart
sharp with words remembered:
Be it done to me –
Do as he says;
Into thy hands –
It is accomplished.

The sword, on a sudden,
became a ray of light:
her son stood before her, silent,
as when at first he came to her.
“Hail Mary,” his hands said,
a smile impending on his lips -
as on hers amid tears.
“Behold,” her own hands spoke,
“the handmaid of the Lord.”

©2017 by Ruth Heredia

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Easter Carol


Who comes down the hill, radiant as dawn?
Jesus our Lord, the Father’s Only Son.

Ring bells, light lamps, and flowers strew,
Good souls, put on your garments new,
Christ our Lord is risen today,
As to his friends he did say.

Alleluia! Christ is risen;
Satan’s power is overthrown.
Alleluia! From Death’s prison
Jesus mounts his rightful throne.

Long time it was Darkness reigned,
Held poor souls, each one, in thrall.
Christ for us has freedom gained,
Gates of Heav’n opened to all.

Sleepers awake, it is morning;
See how Light breaks a New Day.
For all sinners hope is dawning,
Love and mercy shall hold sway.

©2017 by Ruth Heredia

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Edward Bulwer Lytton on the Historical Novel

A National Journal of Politics, Literature, Science and Art
Volume 1: March-June 1838

LONDON: Longman & others

THE CRITIC – No. I [pg 42]

The Novelist has three departments for his art: MANNERS, PASSIONS, CHARACTER.
The delineation of manners embraces both past and present; the Modern and the Historical Romance.

The Historical [pg 43]

We have a right to demand from the writer who professes to illustrate a former age, a perfect acquaintance with its characteristics and spirit.  At the same time, as he intends rather to interest than instruct us, his art will be evinced in the illustrations he selects, and the skill with which they are managed.  He will avoid all antiquarian dissertations not essentially necessary to the conduct of his tale.  If, for instance, his story should have no connection with the mysteries of the middle ages, he will take care how he weary us with an episodical description that changes his character from that of a narrator into that of a lecturer.  In the tale of Notre Dame de Paris, by Victor Hugo, the description of the cathedral of Notre Dame is not only apposite, but of the deepest interest; for the cathedral is, by a high effort of art, made an absolute portion of the machinery of the tale.  But the long superfluous description of the spectacle with which the story opens is merely a parade of antiquarian learning, because the Scholars and the Mysteries have no proportionate bearing whatever in the future development of the tale.

The usual fault of the historical novelist is over minuteness in descriptions of dress and feasts, of pageants and processions.  Minuteness is not accuracy.  On the contrary, the more the novelist is minute, the more likely he is to mar the accurate effect of the whole, either by wearisome tameness or some individual error.

An over-antiquated phraseology is a common and a most inartistical defect: whatever diction the delineator of a distant age employs, can never be faithful to the language of the time, for if so, it would be unintelligible. ..... The language of a former time should be presented to us in the freest and most familiar paraphrase we can invent.  Thus the mind is relieved at once from the task of forming perpetual comparisons, and surrenders itself to the delusion the more easily, from the very candour with which the author makes demand on its credulity. [At this point Bulwer Lytton takes his illustration fromany story of ancient Greece” but what he says could be applied to another place and time.]  The author will, therefore, agreeably surprise the reader, if he adopt a style as familiar and easy as that which a Greek would have used in common conversation; and show the classical spirit that pervades his diction, by the grace of the poetry, or the lightness of the wit, with which he can adorn his allusions and dialogue.  .....  instead of selecting such specimens and modifications of human nature as are most different from, and unfamiliar to, the sympathies of modern times, he will rather prefer to appeal to the eternal sentiments of the heart, by showing how closely the men of one age resemble those of another.  ...  The reader will be interested to see society different, yet men the same; and the Manners will be relieved from the disadvantage of unfamiliarity by an entire sympathy with the humours they mask, or the passions on which they play.

Again, if the author propose to carry his reader to the times of Richard the First or of Elizabeth, he will have to encounter an universal repugnance from the thought of an imitation of Ivanhoe or Kenilworth.  An author wo was, nevertheless, resolved to select such a period for his narrative would, accordingly, if an artist of sufficient excellence, avoid with care touching upon any of the points which may suggest the recollection of Scott.  He would deeply consider all the features of the time, and select those neglected by his predecessor; - carefully note all the deficiencies of the author of Kenilworth, and seize at once upon the ground which that versatile genius omitted to consecrate to himself.

To take the same epoch, the same characters, even the same narrative, as a distinguished predecessor is perfectly allowable; and, if successful, a proof at once of originality and skill.  But if you find the shadow of the previous work flinging itself over your own – if you have not thoroughly escaped the influence of the first occupant of the soil, - you will only invest your genius to unnecessary disadvantage, and build edifices, however graceful and laboured, upon the freehold of another.

An author once said, “Give me a character, and I will find the play;” and, if we look to the most popular novels, we shall usually find, that where one reader speaks of the conduct of the story, a hundred readers will speak of the excellence of some particular character.

The passion of Love is not represented by a series of eloquent rhapsodies, or even of graceful sentiments.  It is represented, in fiction, by its effects on some particular character: the same with Jealousy, Avarice, Revenge, &c.  Therefore, in a certain sense of the word, all representations of passion in fiction may be considered typical.  .....  in the novel, as in the drama, it is in the struggle of emotions that the science of the heart is best displayed.

The Sentiment that pervades a book is often its most effective moral, and its most universal charm. It is a pervading and indescribable harmony in which the heart of the author seems silently to address our own.  ...  Of all the qualities of fiction, the sentiment is that which we can least subject to the inquiries or codes of criticism. It emanates from the moral and predominant quality of the author the perfume from his genius: and by it he unconsciously reveals himself.

What if Rafael Sabatini’s historical fictions, long and short but chiefly long, were to be evaluated by the views expressed above? (There are many more in this article, on other aspects of writing prose fiction.) His earliest short stories, (reprinted in ROMANTIC PRINCE: Part Two: READING RAFAEL), would have been torn to shreds by Bulwer Lytton! It is also interesting to refer to Rafael’s own views on writing historical fiction. These are set out in Chapter V – The Artist’s Studio – of ROMANTIC PRINCE: Part One: Seeking Sabatini.