Sunday, April 22, 2018

RAFAEL SABATINI AND THEATRE - 3


Part Three

1925
: Dissatisfied with the limitations that a play enforced on the story, Rafael re-worked THE RATTLESNAKE as a novel, The Carolinian, which he dedicated to J.E. Harold Terry.  Charles Wagner, however, was not giving up!  Release of the novel had begun the year; Wagner’s production of the play – as THE CAROLINIAN – was to round it off.  More of that below.

March: One may choose to imagine Rafael rubbing his hands in anticipation before he drew forward his “Goldoni Book” and pen, folded the pages so as to write in two columns, and embarked on THE KISS OF JUDAS.  1920, states George Locke, on no internal evidence.  It may have been so, but the play that was finally presented was called THE TYRANT.  All on his own, Rafael adapted his own long short story The Lust of Conquest.  Whatever the reader may think of it, Matheson Lang, the eminent actor and manager, the glamorous, the one who filled seats and enthralled audiences, friend of Rafael, adopted the play.  At all events, that was sufficient in the U.K.

Neither collaboration with successful playwrights, nor the criticism in such reviews of THE RATTLESNAKE as the one that appeared in the Times had taught Rafael a lesson regarding his besetting weakness.  THE TYRANT was deservedly criticised for informing theatregoers at tedious length of historical circumstances – Rafael lacked the skill of Shakespeare, who could do this so magically with the Prologues in Henry V.  The swift cut-and-thrust of verbal exchanges, the rapidly moving action, that characterise so many of Rafael’s novels, are missing here.  And Cesare Borgia had become an obsession; certainly Rafael was combative in defending most people’s favourite villain.  That inevitably undermined his play.  Yet it is the only one to be published and so to be available for evaluation.  (Hutchinson in London and Thomas Allen in Toronto published it in 1925, but Houghton Mifflin waited until 1927, appending it to The Nuptials of Corbal, which was the title more likely to be sought.)  How was it published at all?

Matheson Lang was an actor whose face, physique and voice would each have sufficed, married to his acting ability and stage presence, to carry him to the success and fame that he enjoyed.  All brought together in one person, they made him a powerful attraction.  Lang’s connection to Rafael went back a long way – to the Laleham days by the Thames.  Lang evidently saw the possibilities in a flamboyant role in this gorgeous costume melodrama, a grand opera without music (which is what this play is).  In fact, he designed the sets, and instead of the pomander that Rafael assigns to Cesare, Lang carried a red rose.  (Laurence Olivier, in his notorious 1964 Othello at the National, also carried a long-stemmed red rose, but he had no justification for it in Shakespeare’s play.)

THE TYRANT opened at the Royal Theatre, Birmingham, in early March.  At London’s New Theatre (now Noel Coward Theatre), from its opening in mid-March the play ran for 126 performances until early July.  The programme featured Matheson Lang with his red rose, looking devilishly cunning and cruel, a picture that Hutchinson and Thomas Allen reproduced on the dust jacket of the first edition.

Said the Illustrated London News, “Mr. Lang’s admirers do not mind so long as he is provided with a picturesque masquerade and there is the excitement of plots and sword-play [there’s none!], threats of torture, duping of assassins, and love at fever heat.”  However, it noted that Cesare “sees through conspiracies a little too miraculously for the human interest to be kept strong,” and when the chief conspirator, on whom the tables are turned, falls in love with her intended victim, “the sentimental scenes have an air of artifice.”  Two other critics put a finger on the play’s faults.  “If the play marched in a stately way,” said the Manchester Guardian in an entertaining review, “it also plodded upwards and had the unusual quality of a fourth act more potent than the third.”  The Christian Science Monitor gave good advice: “It is probable that, with wider experience of stage requirements, this clever writer of romances will be able to do better still.  He will be less disposed to work in duologue, and more ready to bring upon the stage effective acting scenes.”  Too much action took place “off” and Matheson Lang’s ability in action was neglected, while his part was over-full of “catechising and of love-making.”  From this comment on Lang it is clear that the actor-manager carried an unsatisfactory play to its success: “probably no actor upon the English stage could bring to Cesare so authoritative a bearing, and so supple a massiveness of style.”

Rafael Sabatini frequently cites ‘Fortune’ in his fiction, and Fortune did favour him in giving him three actor-manager friends, each able to take their companies on tour with one of his plays.  After moving to the King’s Theatre, Hammersmith, THE TYRANT went on tour around Britain, to the Grand Theatre, Leeds, the Opera House, Manchester (in mid-August), His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, and the Wimbledon Theatre.

What does reading the printed play script reveal?  There are a few good things in it; passages which demonstrate how much better Rafael could have been as a playwright had he taken instruction.  One notices also the influence of Victorien Sardou once more, this time his Fedora more than La Tosca.  (Both were turned into operas, which tells one something about Rafael’s play.)  Cesare’s outcry at the end of the play – so like Cagliostro’s in THE TRAVELLER – is matched by many such moments in opera.

October: THE CAROLINIAN, presented by Charles Wagner at the Sam H. Harris Theatre in New York, with Sidney Blackmer as Harry Latimer, lasted twenty-four performances.  It was also performed at the Bonstelle in Detroit, and in Boston.  I have no access to reviews at all, or to information about its showing in either of the latter places.  George Locke has a typescript for sale (
£225).

1927: More good friends, a couple in fact, Sir John Martin-Harvey and his wife (whose stage name was Nina da Silva), and their company, threw themselves with gusto into Rafael’s play, SCARAMOUCHE, presented at the Garrick Theatre, London.  It had opened at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, on 4 April, and ran in London for 64 performances from mid-April to mid-June, besides being given at the Prince’s Theatre, Bristol, and possibly elsewhere.  This being a touring company, it went to Canada with the play (among others), a country always welcoming to Sir John Martin-Harvey.  Although he was then 64, playing a character in his twenties, he is said to have looked the part.

Did Rafael revise it after the devastating reviews in New York?  The reviews in England and in Canada took a different line, contrary to that of the critics in New York.  In London, the slightly tongue-in-cheek review in the Times praised Sir John and Gordon McLeod (the Marquis) for making “portraits out of sketches.”  I read that as a side swipe at the playwright, whose main characters are “sketches,” but “swift action, a high romantic colour,” is unequivocal commendation.  Equally unequivocal is Graham Sutton in the Bookman: “The whole theme is admirably handled,” and “the play is both intelligent and well written.” 

George Locke is of no help unless one tries to ferret a choice out of this data, keeping in mind that there are four acts: Typescript One has 52+34+37+approximately 40 pages, bound in cloth, and states that it is typed from the original manuscript; Typescript Two, looking a little worn, has 45+33+54+35 pages and is string-bound in card covers, but has laid into it Rafael’s pencil sketches for stage settings, and the programmes for both productions, in New York and in London.  On so little data I would not venture an opinion.

1928: THE PROMISE by F. Kinsey Peile and Rafael Sabatini had one matinee performance in March at the Scala Theatre, as far as I can find out.  It would appear to have been so insignificant a theatrical presentation that the only reference I could find (and I consider this a lucky chance) was in J.P. Wearing’s The London Stage 1920-1929.  Even there the data is meagre.  It may have been a comedy or even a burlesque, and may have been an entertainment meant for children (an odd turn for Rafael if so), since it was a performance in aid of the Princess Louise Kensington Hospital for Children, and the “Schoolboys” are played by six girls and “Timothy Tomkins” is played by an actress.  No music is mentioned, precluding any resemblance to the style associated with Gilbert and Sullivan.

1930: J. Brooks Atkinson in the New York Times shredded THE TYRANT with savage wit.  The play, he said, lacked glamour, its characters “as solemn as doctors of philosophy,” in spite of everything being draped “in festoons of ornamental verbosity.”  The torture scene “is drowned under a flood of phrase-making,” and he found it the first drama in a long while that “has cut its cloth with so many flounces.”  Like the English critics, Atkinson and Stirling Bowen in the Wall Street Journal deplore the painfully detailed discussion of tactics by the Council in Act I, and the equally slow following through of a plot that is already known both to theatregoers and to the intended victim.  In Act II, Bowen remarks, “there is more than enough swashbuckling and courtesying.  After all, this is not opera, though Meyerbeer could have used it.”  Atkinson is equally sharp: “‘Conduct their notabilities,’ says Cesare to a page, “Mr. Sabatini has conducted his notabilities with a guide’s fearful caution through the lounging rooms of a tediously frescoed play.”

Far from being able to carry the play with his personality and acting, Louis Calhern gave a “perfunctory” performance, “more dashing than sinister,” Macchiavelli was not audible, at the premiere some actors were unsure of their lines, and some were more concerned with their costumes as they moved about heavily over-decorated sets.  And Rafael Sabatini was there to witness this; he had supervised the staging.  THE TYRANT only lasted thirteen performances at the Longacre Theatre, New York.

post 1932: We know of THE BLACK SWAN: Play in 3 Acts by Rafael Sabatini and Harold Simpson because a typescript is being offered by George Locke (for
£850; along with The Head of Tom Leach, which was published as The Duel on the Beach).

In an irony that could have come from Rafael’s own pen, the financial returns from, and the reception accorded by theatregoers to, three of his plays (one in collaboration), mainly because of the actor-managers who each embraced one play, gave Rafael Sabatini a false idea of his ability in writing for theatrical presentation.  Only the catastrophically altered circumstances of his life (when Rafael-Angelo died) prevented him from pursuing a Fata Morgana.

NOTES

Matheson Lang (1879 – 1948) was Canadian-born, a stage and film actor as well as a playwright.  However, his career was chiefly in Britain, and began with Shakespeare, for which he was suited in every way.  Lang and his actress wife, with their company, toured India, South Africa and Australia from 1910 to 1913, mainly with Shakespeare, but presumably also playing BARDELYS occasionally, since he had bought the South Africa rights and probably it was he who bought the India rights.  Coincidences abound in Rafael’s life-story: Matheson Lang died in Bridgetown, Barbados.

John Martin Harvey (1863 – 1944), was knighted as John Martin-Harvey.  He was slim, with an intense look, and first tasted fame as Sydney Carton in The Only Way, a part and a play thereafter frequently invoked almost as a calling card or a label for this English stage actor.  He and his Chilean wife had both begun in Sir Henry Irving’s company.  They and their company regularly toured Great Britain and North America.

F. Kinsey Peile – the little that can be found indicates that he was an actor (played Lane in the premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest) and a playwright mostly of short comedies, accustomed to collaboration and to dramatisation.  His most ambitious effort was the dramatisation of Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, the ms sold at auction in 1935.

Harold Simpson – all that can be found out at present is that he was a song writer who occasionally collaborated on plays.  In 1927 he collaborated in Daisy Fisher’s The Cave Man, staged at
the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth and the Savoy Theatre, London.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

RAFAEL SABATINI AND THEATRE - 2


Part Two

1919
, March: Rafael completed his most ambitious stage work so far, a play named JOHANNA in manuscript, revised and re-named THE SACRAMENT OF SHAME for the typescript – a title more likely to pique interest.  (He altered the name in the list of Characters on the first page of his manuscript from Sapphira to Johanna, but it remains Sapphira in the rest of the document.)  The conclusion of the play in the manuscript version has no part for Kuoni.  (At present I have no information about the manuscript beyond the first and last pages.)  The play called for costly outlay on its production, but its chief drawback was the imbalance of roles between leading lady and leading man: the former was undoubtedly dominant.  In opera that is no problem; in plays of his time, from a novice playwright, it was.  It was also a matter of the existing theatre world.  Neither of Rafael’s friends, Matheson Lang and John Martin Harvey would have accepted the relatively feeble role of Count Arnault, while there was no English actress who had such drawing power as a Sarah Bernhardt in France.  Without a star to fill the theatre, no producer would look at the play.  Charles Kenyon might be an acquaintance, even a friend, but he returned the typescript.

Was it a well written play?  Mine is a personal view.  The chief fault in this play is that in Act I Johanna is impressed by Count Arnault but she is newly married and much in love with her husband; by Act III she can be deeply grateful to Arnault and overcome by his offer, but one cannot believe that she falls in love with him at once.  Arnault is very much ‘a romantic prince’, but in Act I his praise of Johanna to Philip (“purity and wisdom”) on so little acquaintance seems extravagant.  His expressions of admiration in Act III are heard by Duke Charles with understandable surprise followed by scepticism.  In retrospect, at the end of the play, one may wonder if it is not almost cynical to foist on the Philip of Act I the Philip of Act II, even though he has been cruelly tortured by then.  It may almost appear that Philip had to die as he did to bring Johanna and Arnault together legitimately, just as it was necessary for Johanna to love Philip so much that both her sacrifice and her demand for justice stem from her love.  That Rafael recognised these weaknesses is clear from the note he placed in the typescript.  Yet the play would have been well worth saving if he could have obtained some guidance from an experienced playwright.  There are some fine scenes, and the latter part of Act III, after the entrance of Duke Charles, is notably effective.  The depiction of the Duke here, the give and take of dialogue, and the justice he metes out, are in consonance with the story from which the play derived.  It was a story to which Rafael apparently felt a special attachment and, pre-existing in its original form, was better worth this attachment than some others (such as that of Princess Yola)!

How hard did Rafael try to get the play staged?  We do not know.  But we can be thankful that it survives in manuscript and typescript, and that his failure led to his reworking much of it into his novel, The Romantic Prince.

1920s: THE TRAVELLER is a strange piece of work.  Although George Locke assumes that it dates to “the 1920s” he cites no evidence for this.  It was found as a typescript with numerous margin notes by Rafael, but no date nor any indication of whether it was intended for a play or a film scenario.  (One has to remember that in the early 1920s Rafael was active as a co-founder of the Hardy Film Company.)  Whatever his intention, THE TRAVELLER would only have met with rejection and even ridicule. Its demands for scene setting and action were not practical.  To some extent Rafael realised this, and his notes offer alternatives to the arrangement of scenes, but the action required in the Prologue (which Rafael admits is taken from Alexandre Dumas’ novel, Memoirs of a Physician/ Joseph Balsamo) was not going to work in either play or film.

An important detail in Joseph Balsamo Part 1, Chapter 15 is copied in the scene in Cagliostro’s laboratory, when he shows Marie-Antoinette her future.  With so much lifted from the novel one might well ask if this concoction was meant to be a dramatisation of it, but it is not, and it draws even more matter from Rafael’s own writings, The Night of Gems, and The Lord of Time.  Into this he stirred a large helping of the operatic, and a speech in blank verse, with a note that another speech is also to be set in blank verse.  His special new ingredient is Cagliostro’s recognising in Marie Antoinette his soul-mate down the ages, whom he has rescued in certain reincarnations but on this occasion must send to her doom – a familiar operatic element.  “Passionately now he inveighs against the work that Fate has thrust upon him, against the suffering he has caused the Queen, and against what she must yet suffer that her destiny may be fulfilled.”  This has the making of a final aria for the primo tenore in a grand opera!  The final moments of THE TRAVELLER are unmistakably out of opera: the beloved goes to her death while the lover cries out her name and the drums roll before the curtain falls.

THE TRAVELLER as found is a detailed plan for scene setting, motivation of characters, and action for them, interspersed with fully worked out passages of speech for them.  Even a seasoned and successful playwright would have had some difficulty in converting the passages descriptive of action into theatrical interplay that would convince an audience.  The Masonic ritual taken from Dumas is one such case.  In the scenes requiring animated gossip from a crowd of ‘extras’ this cannot be suggested by murmurs of “rhubarb.”  Their chatter is meant to convey to the uninformed audience what has been going on between scenes.  On the whole, reading this work is not advised for an admirer of Rafael Sabatini.

1921: J.E. Harold Terry collaborated with Rafael on a play titled THE RATTLESNAKE.  Rafael’s name took second place, which may reflect the extent of his contribution to it.  First performed in November at the Theatre Royal in York, the city of Terry’s birth, it moved to the Shaftesbury in London the following January and had a modest run of twenty-two performances (according to The London Stage 1920-1929 by J.P. Wearing).  A balanced review in the Times praised THE RATTLESNAKE as full of “picturesque” characters who, naturally, could not be fully developed within the limits of a play, but could be realised by the skilled actors who took those parts.  Praised too, the “critical moments of dialogue” which were “frequent and agreeably stimulating,” and the local colour, which was “fresh and amusing” – citing the “British hauteur, the American earnestness” and the language of the time, which would not be familiar unless one had read Thackeray’s The Virginians.  But, said the critic, there were too many complications which resulted in an excess of explanatory detail that required too much “mental gymnastics” from the playgoer.  However, “that the play was received with every token of favour attests not only its dramatic merits, but the tact with which its authors have contrived to present incidents of British discomfiture without offence.”  (Those were civilised societies!)  There is a copy of the play typescript (presumably) in the New York Public Library.  George Locke has a copy for £335.

1923: Either because he now felt confident of success with a play of his own, or was possessive about his novel, or was persuaded by Charles Wagner, Rafael wrote SCARAMOUCHE.  Wagner was an irrepressible enthusiast all his life and took a special interest in Rafael Sabatini.  He came to London, along with Sidney Blackmer whom he had chosen for the main role, to make sure they got the production and interpretation done as Rafael would have wanted, pressing him to attend the premiere.  Yet, somehow, the play was an artistic failure.  John Corbin in the New York Times described it as a romantic melodrama long past its time, the tinsel having lost its attraction.  In what Corbin found an unsatisfactory part, Sidney Blackmer’s performance had occasional moments of charm, “marred throughout by tricks of slovenly speech.”  The parts of Aline and Climène were also judged “unsympathetic and undramatic.”  Only the production was praised without reservation.  Nevertheless, doubtless riding on the astounding worldwide popularity of the novel, SCARAMOUCHE saw 61 performances at the Morosco Theatre in New York, during the last months of the year.  (Photographs of Blackmer do not suggest an acceptable physique for the role, and at 28 he was slightly older than the character was at the start of the novel.  In the film, Ramon Novarro both looked the part and was the right age.)  George Locke has two undated typescripts but is unable to say, lacking background knowledge, which is the original and which the revised version, or even if they differ at all.  Only someone able to examine them or willing to pay
£3100 for the two would be able to decide.  The story of SCARAMOUCHE the play continues, later.

1924: IN THE SNARE resulted from the keeping of a seven-year-old promise made by Rafael to his long-time friend Leon Lion.  Lion had “given him the story” for the novel The Snare, widely recognised to be eminently suitable for dramatisation.  And this was a promise between the two friends.  But it took long to fulfil.  On this occasion, it was Rafael Sabatini’s name that took precedence over Leon Lion’s.  Whether or not that reflected the nature and degree of each collaborator’s contribution can only be guessed from a copy – of which none has at present been found.  As a writer for stage and screen and an actor on stage and screen, Lion knew his onions, which his old friend had not learned to.  However that may be, it is the more likely that Lion’s influence got the play staged at the Savoy, although the producer was Tom Walls, whose stamping ground was the Aldwych.  It ran for 66 performances and was reviewed by several publications of repute but only the Times’ review is available to me.  That review largely gives away the plot but almost nothing of the critic’s opinion of the play!  The labelling of a collection at the Harry Ransom Center suggests (and material with George Locke supports the supposition) that Rafael designed costumes and sets for the play but, yet again, only examination will deliver a correct opinion on this.

NOTES

If there is a thing that George Locke did right with his priceless Sabatini Hoard, it was to transcribe THE TRAVELLER and publish it in his Researcher’s Companion.

Charles Kenyon (1878-1955) was an actor-manager.  He toured with his own company and produced shows.  Kenyon was wealthy, handsome, and possessed a fine deep voice.  He was generally to be found at the Savage Club, known for its membership from the literary circle and the stage.  He also enjoyed foxhunting and tennis, and was reputed to be one of the best dressed men in London.

J.E. Harold Terry
(1885-1939) was a novelist, playwright, actor and critic, from a family strongly connected to the theatre: he was a grandson of Sir Joseph Terry, and a nephew of Eille Norwood.  He was a member of the Savage Club as well as the Garrick.

Charles Wagner was a renowned concert manager and theatre producer.  It was said of him that “
the mere fact that Mr Wagner will book an artist is accepted by the local managers as a guarantee of the artist's excellence.”  He is remembered for being the one who launched the careers of stars from Allan Jones and Jeanette MacDonald to Walter Gieseking, Alexander Kipnis, pianists, Jussi Bjorling, Amelita Galli Curci, opera singers and Helen Hayes, Walter Huston and Claudette Colbert, actors.

Leon Marks Lion (1879–1947) was an English actor of stage and screen; playwright, theatrical manager and producer.  His successful career on the stage included touring with light opera and Shakespeare companies, regularly performing in London's West End; as well as writing and producing for the theatre.  He was a member of the Savage Club from at least 1917, when he cited it as the address to which to return his copy of The Snare, should it be lost by him and found by another.  (It reflects his sense of humour that in the copy, after the address, he inscribed: All rights reserved and protected.)

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.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

RAFAEL SABATINI AND THEATRE - 1

Part One

Everything in Rafael Sabatini’s earliest years pointed him toward theatre, musical theatre in particular.  His earliest memory of his mother is of her singing opera.  Not any opera.  It was Verdi’s Rigoletto, and that impression was to have a lasting impact, showing its influence over and over again in Rafael’s work until he was 53, fifty years after he had heard Rigoletto.

There are many instances of the power of early impressions on Rafael’s mind to influence subject matter and treatment in his writing.  He did not become an opera singer like his parents, or a composer, not even a producer of operas.  But more than one reader from his early work onwards has discerned an element of the theatrical in his story-telling.

Rafael was happy with his career as writer of stories.  He prospered by it.  Yet deep inside ran a current not always controlled by reason and good sense, as some of his actions and words testify.  It was the passion for theatre.  A passion for writing drama strongly marked by the characteristics of grand opera – itself a style long overtaken by verismo and the ‘modernist’ opera that Verdi would have balked at.  That was Rafael’s weakness, and he seems never to have grappled with it, which is my justification for an earlier remark.

What is the evidence of Rafael’s passion for drama, for making his own contribution to the theatre?

1903: Stephanie Baring, possibly from the Baring family of bankers, (who could afford to finance her forays into acting and writing/collaborating in minor stage works), undertook to ‘collaborate’ with Rafael on the dramatisation and staging of his highly operatic short story, The Fool’s Love Story, as KUONI THE JESTER.  In mid-June it saw what may have been its single performance at the Grand Theatre, Luton.  (It might have done worse; at the Palace Pier in St. Leonard’s on Sea.)  Did it provoke ridicule?  It might well have done!  And it reads so much like the short story that I wonder how much was contributed to the script by Miss Baring.

1904: Undaunted, Rafael himself dramatised his story, The Sacrifice.  It is not a story that lends itself to such treatment, in spite of a dramatic opening sentence.  To open a story, or a novel, with an arresting line of speech is a long journey away from developing a play that catches and holds the attention.  He did realise that his play could at best be a curtain-raiser, although Ben Webster, the actor, suggested that he develop it into a full play.  In any event, not a single trace of this play remains, whose writing was recorded in his diary for 1904-05, the only diary found so far.  Rafael’s script was shown to Webster by the former’s close friend, Harold Lee.  Lee may have been responsible for introducing other theatre people to Rafael.


1908, January: Rafael’s notebook has an entry, later crossed out with no comment, that the dramatisation ofThe Trampling of the Lilies was to be submitted to Johnston Forbes-Robertson, the actor-manager.
September: Constance Stuart was an actress of whom we know that in 1900 she played Rosalind at the Court Theatre hired for E.H. Vanderfelt’s Season, and in 1905 Portia in Edward Terry’s Theatre.  She commissioned from Rafael LOVE AT ARMS, ‘a Romantic Comedy’ for £75, a good sum, with a further £50 to be paid when the play was staged.  There is no sign that it was.  Was it a dramatisation of the novel with that title?  Given Rafael’s obstinate attachment to the original story, of a Princess Yola, which had been transformed, the play may very well have been a dramatisation of that story.

1909: The Stage Year Book describes as a ‘dramatic sketch’ FUGITIVES, that Rafael wrote, most probably from the story with the same title.  Yorke Stephens, the gifted Irish actor who was the first Bluntschli, bought it in January 1910, agreeing to pay £5 a week for the duration of its run.  Since Rafael was paid £25, we may conclude that it ran for five weeks, at the Kilburn Empire Theatre, from 26 June 1911.
Rafael’s friend, Francis Pryor, an occasional writer of plays, bought the option for dramatising Saint Martin’s Summerin collaboration with Rafael, 75% of profits to be Rafael’s.  Part payment (£50) was made and that is the last known of it.

1910: In this year the subject begins to be interesting.  Lewis Waller, the actor whose admirers included women swooning at the sight and sound of him, had somehow become known to Rafael some years previously, after the publication of Bardelys the Magnificent.  By this year Rafael was well acquainted with important persons in the theatre; Oscar Asche and his wife, Lily Brayton were his friends.  That would be a connection to Matheson Lang, who acted Tristram to Brayton’s Iseult and Asche’s King Mark in 1906, a connection which bore fruit later.  It may be how he and Henry Hamilton came to collaborate on BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT, commissioned by the impresario Tom B. Davis.  (Yet, in the end, it was not performed in Davis’ Apollo Theatre.)  George Locke has a typescript (price £650) done in August 1918 and full of amendments in Rafael’s hand.  Was it intended for publication?  Is that why Rafael, perhaps, sought to restore the balance in his favour?  For Hamilton was billed ahead of him and most probably did most of the writing, which is why this play was such a success.  Hamilton was dead the next month.  Waller had died in 1915.  But in 1910 the play, with a fifty-year-old Lewis Waller as Bardelys, fruitfully toured the British Isles.  In February, the play was staged in London, at Charles Frohman’s Globe Theatre, with Waller and Herbert Jarman (playing Louis XIII) as co-producers.  It ran for a very respectable 53 performances.  When it was commissioned, Rafael was paid £50 on account; his half-share of the earnings was close on £400 – as much as two years’ worth of the salary he was entitled to at the end of his ten years as a correspondence clerk!  South Africa rights bought by Matheson Lang (who went on tour that year) for nearly £20, and India rights, about which Locke says no more, added to this sum.  Reviews were favourable, too.  It was most gratifying to Rafael.  Too much so, perhaps.  It convinced him that he was himself a successful playwright. . . . Yet, he was conscious of his debt to Henry Hamilton, to whom he dedicated his new novel, The Lion’s Skin.  Their warm friendship continued.

1911 July: Francis Pryor bought the option on The Trampling of the Lilies to be a collaboration between him and Rafael, the latter to get three-fifths of the proceeds.  Nothing came of it.

1912, July: Rafael sold to Ethel Warwick, the actress, for£25, a played called MILADY’S SECRET, which might have been a dramatisation of the story My Lady Roxton.  That is all we know.

1913, March: Charles Frohman entered into a contract with Rafael for a dramatisation of his long story, The Avenger, paying him £50 on account with 2% of the takings when staged.  There is no more known about this play – or do we have a clue?  In June 1914 an article by Robert Birkmyre was published in the Bookman.  Birkmyre states that Rafael is then engaged in collaborating with Henry Hamilton on a new play.  It does open a possibility.  Frohman sank with the Lusitania in May 1915.  If he had the script with him, it was lost.  But surely there would have been copies with Rafael – and with Hamilton, if it was indeed the collaboration that Birkmyre mentions?  Nothing has been found.  That is a pity, because the story has merit and Henry Hamilton would have done much to make it presentable on stage.

1913-1914, January: Once again, Francis Pryor paid Rafael a total of £100 on account for a play titled THE SEA-WOLF, which they were to write together; with a promise of the larger share in profits after it was produced.  But was it?  Not a whisper, a hint, a scrap is to be found that might lead to news of a production, or of a script.  There was at least one play produced by that name, on the London stage, but not by either man, nor with anything to connect them to it.

1918: From his short story, Intelligence, Rafael made two versions of a play: SECRET SERVICE and INTELLIGENCE.  All that is known about them is that they were written and that Locke has the typescripts for sale!

NOTES

It is a pity that George Locke not only paraphrased Rafael’s diary of 1904 to September 1905, but published only select bits, which – since he was not well informed and lacked a scholar’s mind – were randomly chosen with no idea of the significance of what he left out.  (Locke refers to “a man called X” when the name is of a person who was well known; he does not recognise that “Hugh” is Hugh Dixon; he also misreads Rafael’s handwriting far too often.)  As a result, there is no knowing why Rafael wrote to Lewis Waller about his novel The Tavern Knight, which he did in mid 1904.  Waller liked it, but when he got it assessed by an acquaintance it was found unfit for dramatisation.  This was in October.  However, Waller asked for any new work, and was sent a duplicate of the manuscript of Bardelys the Magnificent.  Understandably, the busy actor could not make his way through Rafael’s handwritten novel and returned it in February 1905, but remarked that he would be interested in any dramatisation of it.  This is what lay behind his enthusiastic involvement with the play in 1910.

The name Harold Lee appears frequently in Rafael Sabatini’s diary for 1904-September 1905.  He owned a houseboat on the Dee, and was a member of the Liverpool Junior Reform Club.  Rafael dedicated his novel, Saint Martin’s Summer, to Harold Lee, with the words: “in some earnest of my regard for his attainments, of my gratitude for his encouragement, and of my affection for himself.”  It seems likely that the unnamed friend in Rafael’s account of how he came to offer his first story for publication was Harold Lee.  It also seems likely that he was a publisher/printer in the firm Lee & Nightingale of Liverpool, which was also a News Service and an Advertising Service.

Lewis Waller (1860-1915) had a background with many similarities to that of Rafael Sabatini: born in Spain; intending a career in commerce, studied languages in Europe; from nineteen to twenty-three worked as a clerk.  After finding his true vocation as an actor, Waller became a theatre manager and manager of a company as well, touring with it all through the British Isles tirelessly, in addition to making full use of his popularity on the London stage.  He also toured the U.S. Canada and Australia.  He was good looking, had presence, and a voice that Hesketh Pearson said “rang through the theatre like a bell and stirred like a trumpet.”  He played Shakespeare as well as romantic plays in costume and with much action that included duelling.  However the introduction came about, it is easy to see the attraction that Rafael’s novel, Bardelys the Magnificent, would hold for Waller.  It may have been his doing that brought about the collaboration between Henry Hamilton and Rafael on dramatising the novel.  He was fifty when he took on the role of Bardelys, and it was at least partly his great popularity which made it such a success on tour.  He wore himself out with tireless touring and acting, dying of pneumonia just before he turned fifty-five.

Henry Hamilton (ca. 1854- 1918) had been an actor before he became a playwright, adaptor of plays (mostly from the French), writer of songs, and critic.  He was well known and his work was successful.  Among his adaptations was Messager’s Veronique - which an out-of-sorts Rafael was not impressed by! – and Sardou’s La Tosca.

Earnings from BARDELYS:
Advance on account             £50
Half-share from tour            £317 16s 10d
-- ditto – London                 £75 8s 10d
Sale of South Africa rights    £18 15s
Sale of India rights               ?

Ethel Warwick (1882-1951) was a woman of parts, one of them being acting.  She was alluring in appearance and manner, was brushed by scandal over her earlier time as a nude model for artists, - and in 1912 was still married to the actor Edmund Waller, son of Lewis Waller.  This may have been how Rafael came within her orbit.

Francis Robert "Frank" Pryor (1862–1937) was an English playwright with only one success, Marigold (1914), in collaboration.  It was also filmed, and apparently turned into a novel.  He was an angler, and it was perhaps from a fishing trip ‘North’ in 1912 that he brought back a tale of English pirates on the Barbary Coast, or at some time going south-west into Devonshire he heard a tale that, passed on to Rafael, sent him sailing from Falmouth in search of the Sea-Hawk.

Charles Frohman (1856–1915), U.S., was a producer of plays.  Frohman also acquired theatres, in England and the U.S. and discovered and promoted stars, chiefly of the U.S. stage.

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.

RAFAEL SABATINI by Robert Birkmyre


RAFAEL SABATINI 
by Robert Birkmyre

The Bookman, June 1914, Vol. 46, No 273, pp 111-112

I

I do not think I ought to have seen Mr. Rafael Sabatini in that dingy office in the Adelphi.  It was quite out of the picture, although romances lay everywhere in profusion, and portraits of famous authors looked down on us reprovingly as we sat and discussed the follies of the hour.  It was not the setting for a man like Mr. Sabatini.  I ought to have waited till he had gone to Paris and then had our little talk over a cigarette, despite the prowling authorities, in a discreet chamber of the Louvre, crammed with relics; perhaps we even might have gone to Versailles, if the weather had been fine, and sat in some pink-and gold boudoir of a duchesse of old France and had a walk afterwards in the trim parterres of the "Tapis Vert" among the sculptured nymphs.  Hélas! We can only be romantic in our dreams.  Fate led me on, drab and grey, to the Adelphi, the haunt of publishers, the abode of Mr. Shaw; and so it was I came to meet the creator of “Bardelys the Manificent.”  I have a slight grievance with Mr. Sabatini.  I had at least expected that he would have worn ruffles and dangled a rapier and “made a leg” to me in the approved romantic manner.  I had thought he might have offered me a pinch of snuff, with an air, from a golden snuff box elaborately chased with the fleur de lys or the crest of the Borgias – I had fed my soul on such romantic politesse – but, no, the Adelphi was too much.  We were too near Mr. Shaw, whose heavy hand has crushed the frail wings of romance.  We were not at Versailles, not even at Vauxhall.  We shook hands in the absurd manner of the twentieth century, I to ponder on my lost romance, Mr. Sabatini to be “interviewed.”

II

There is a type of novelist who must always command our respect and admiration.  Mr. Joseph Conrad is a Pole, who has taught more than one English writer the rudiments of his trade; Mr. Maarten Maartens, a Dutchman, is one of our most distinguished English novelists; and finally comes Mr. Rafael Sabatini, an Italian master of the romantic novel.  These three writers are each distinct in methods and in language.  The greatest of these as a stylist is Mr. Conrad; Mr. Maartens has the most comprehensive group of actualities, the largest canvas for his play of human emotions; but in the rare and peculiar genre of the romantic novel Mr. Sabatini easily bears the palm.  In his hands the thing comes very near to artistic perfection.  He makes the romantic novel the very handmaiden of art.  It is primarily a thing made to please, to lull us into a pleasant forgetfulness, but it achieves distinction and even greatness because the tricks of the novel are in his hands also the graces of the novel.  They are not only welded together by the imagination of the novelist, but by the fine restraint and delicacy of the artist.  “Bardelys the Magnificent,” besides being an excellent story, is as fine artistically as a chastened [sic] goblet.  There is not only the “dash” of Dumas in it, there is also the debonair high spirits of Rostand.  “Bardelys” is on a smaller scale a prose “Cyrano de Bergerac”.

Mr. Sabatini is, as we have said, an Italian.  He was born in Jesi, Central Italy, in 1875: this in itself probably accounts for his fine feeling for romance and for his warm imaginative temperament.  He was educated in Switzerland and Portugal – a cosmopolitan – and coming to this country after a training and experience of the world that could not have failed to equip him admirably for the business of romantic novelist, he settled in Liverpool.  He was for a time on the Liverpool Mercury, then began to write short stories, and now at an age when most men have scarcely crossed the threshold of their career, Mr. Sabatini has reached the meridian of success, and can look back on his busy and triumphant past with pride and satisfaction.  It is a record of work and achievement worthy of sincere congratulation.

Having thus satisfactorily disposed of our facts, let us get back to our fancies and the more important business of criticism.  Mr. Sabatini represents that rare thing in modern fiction, a man with a distinct individuality of method, a light and graceful style and a fine gusto of romantic narrative.  He is no mere purveyor of light literature for the toiling millions – pray do not think so – there is nothing of the “coated lozenge” about his work; besides being a skilful and distinctive novelist he is also a serious historian.  In his pages the whole pageant of mediæval Italy lives and moves before our eyes in a manner that for want of a better word we might call “kaleidoscopic” – but the soul of the thing is there as well as the picture.  It is his supreme art to make history a living and luminous picture on the background of his romantic imagination.  There is here the “dash” of Dumas and something even more precious.  Dumas could write spirited and enthralling romances; none knew better than he the fine art of telling a story; he had a prodigal imagination, a riotous sense of colour and movement, could at least paint a portrait if he could not probe a soul like Balzac and Walter Scott, but he failed signally as an artist.  He was too exuberant, his prodigality was a burden that crippled him and kept him to the earth.  His brain was a garden in which weeds and roses grew in rank profusion.  Mr. Sabatini is not a disciple of Dumas – far from it: occasionally his methods recall those of the French romanticist, but there is something far more subtle in Mr. Sabatini’s work than the dash and braggadocio of Dumas.  There is something more here than the clatter of a cavalcade on a dusty provincial high road, the noisy brawling of cavaliers in a country inn and the melodramatic mysteries of that supreme master of mystery.  Mr. Sabatini says he is not influenced by any of the Latin writers, and I can well believe it, but the spirit and the temperament of the Latin writers are in his blood – he can no more escape it than he can escape his meridional nativity.  There is certainly more than a touch of Dumas in that high-spirited tale of how Bardelys set out to win a wife for a wager and its joyous ending, but there is also the spirit and atmosphere of Boccaccio in that superbly coloured romance of the Lord of Mondolfo, the “Strolling Saint,” went out into the wilderness to purge his soul of a sin of the flesh committed in the heyday of his young blood.  This is Boccaccio to the core: rich, sensuous, delicate; a wonderful tapestry of mediæval Italy, glowing like a prism.  All the myriad threads of romance are here caught up and woven into a perfect skein.  “The Strolling Saint” is a masterpiece of narrative prose, and gives us a minute and detailed picture of Italy and the times that recall the lively paintings of the Umbrian School.  There is another influence still in the work of Mr. Sabatini.  It is brought to perfection in “The Justice of the Duke” – a series of tales woven round the diabolic career of Cæsar Borgia – the Mephistopheles of Italian history.  We pass from the naive charm of Boccaccio and his golden “days” to the picaresque wit and gallantry of Cervantes, not so much the Cervantes of “Don Quixote” as the Cervantes of “Novelas Ejemplares.”  These little novels that Mr. Sabatini has woven round the personality of Cæsar Borgia recall insistently to me this minor masterpiece of Cervantes; but whether they are “exemplary” or not – either these “contes” of Mr. Sabatini or the “novelas” of Cervantes – that is a question that must be left to the discerning reader.  We should not like to venture an opinion.  Mr. Sabatini is such a blend.  He has not studied the masters of Spanish and Italian literature for nothing.

We have come to end of our space without saying one half of what we wanted to say about Mr. Sabatini’s work.  We had intended to touch upon his other novels, such as “The Lion’s Skin,” and his new book, “The Gates of Doom,” and more serious works like “Cæsar Borgia” and “Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition.”  We cannot close without at least one quotation.  It will give one an idea of Mr. Sabatini’s methods of painting a portrait.  It is from that brilliant satire on the folly of human ambition, “Gismondi’s Wage”:

Benvenuto ambled on, cursing the cold and the emptiness of his stomach, and thrusting the numbed fingers of first one hand and then the other into his capacious mouth for warmth.  His garments that had once been fine, were patched and shabby, his boots were ragged, and in places a livid gleam from his sword peeped through the threadbare velvet scabbard.  On his head he wore an old morion, much dinted and rusted, by which he thought to give himself a military air; from under this appeared long wisps of his unkempt black hair, to flutter like rags about his yellow neck.  His white pock-marked face, half-hidden in a black fur of beard, was the most villainous in Italy.

François Villon to the life in an Italian setting.  We must go back to Robert Louis Stevenson for a better portrait.

III

I have not done with Mr. Sabatini.  There are lots more to be said about him and his work.  He is now writing a play in collaboration with Mr. Henry Hamilton, who was part author with him in the dramatisation of “Bardelys the Magnificent,” and when I see him again it will not be in the drab and grey purlieus of the Adelphi, but in some corner of old France, a garden of Italy, and then we shall meet on romantic terms and “make a leg” to each other, remembering Bardelys, and doff our feathered hats as was the fashion in the Golden Age.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

REVIEW OF SCARAMOUCHE ON CANADIAN TOUR

Gordon McLeod Scores Triumph
Calgary Daily Herald, 14 February 1928, p 11

Martin Harvey Company Enthusiastically Greeted at Opening

The French Revolution was the theme of that great play by which Sir John Martin Harvey will always be remembered – “The Only Way” – and it is evident that this popular English actor has found in those stirring days of France’s history the setting for another success of first rank – “Scaramouche.”

The Martin Harvey Company, minus their talented leader, who is not yet back on the stage following a serious operation in Toronto, opened a three-day run with “Scaramouche” at the Grand theatre on Monday evening.

Sir John was missed, as he naturally would be by Canadian audiences, to whom he has endeared himself, but before the performance was over on Monday evening the audience had given Mr. Gordon McLeod a tribute, the heartiness of which his eminent chief might well have been proud.  It was a smaller audience than the play and its performance deserved, but the first-nighters made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in numbers.

Of Rafael Sabatini’s great tale, now dramatised in both movies and on legitimate stage, little need be said.  Nearly everybody has read the story, seen the movie, seen the play or enjoyed it in all three forms.  It is a great story written by a great story teller; written about those hectic days when France bubbled with drama; dipping for its life blood into the rich stream of incident that packs the pages of the revolution’s history.

On the stage it becomes a typical Harvey vehicle.  It is healthy, blood-stirring melodrama – the kind of a
[sic] play that makes a woman weepily happy and draws from a man the comment, “that’s a darn good show!” [Ugh!]

In taking the place of Sir John in the cast, Mr. McLeod starts with a great handicap.  He overcomes that handicap to secure a genuine triumph.  Those who failed to see the play because of the absence of Sir John made a sad mistake.  Playing the daring, impetuous Andre-Louis Moreau, Mr. McLeod gave a performance that brought him back to the stage for many curtain calls between acts and a prolonged demonstration as the final curtain fell.

Miss N. de Silva (Lady Martin Harvey) has perhaps never been seen in Calgary to better advantage than she was on Monday playing the role of Climene, the leading lady in the Binet troupe.  Her scenes with Mr. McLeod, particularly in the third act, were excellent.  Both she and Mr. McLeod were at their best also in the second act, particularly in the scene in the stable, when Scaramouche starts on his tour with the players troupe.

With a melodramatic plot such as that of “Scaramouche,” a play is nothing without a villain, and the fact that the performance is such a success is not a little due to the fine acting of Mr. Eugene Wellesley, who plays the part of Gervaise de la Tour, the arch enemy and last act father of the hero.  He was particularly good in the final dramatic scenes when the denouement takes place and everything is – well, very nearly – nearly to be happy ever after.

Miss Betty Belloc as Aline plays her part charmingly and contributes much to the success of a clever scene between herself and Mr. McLeod in the second act – when she brings forbidden aid to her (then not acknowledged) lover.  The work of Mr. Leonard Daniels as Binet; Mr. John S. Burton in two parts, and Mr Eric Howard as Duroc, all deserve commendation.
****

[Duroc seems to be the first name that came to Rafael Sabatini’s mind whenever he reached into the properties basket for one.]

In order to make it easier to follow the reviews, here is the programme of the Acts and Scenes:
ACT I. The Garden of the Breton Inn at Gavrillac.
ACT II. A Barn near Guichen.
ACT III. Scene 1. The Green room of the Feydeau Theatre at Nantes (morning)
Scene 2. The same (evening)
Scene 3. The Stage of the Feydeau Theatre
(The action of the Play continues through the change of scene between Scenes 2 and 3)
ACT IV. Madame de Plougastel's Salon in Paris.

I have added here an image of Sir John Martin-Harvey as Rouget de Lisle because the period and costume are similar.  There are none that I can find of him or anyone else from his company in Scaramouche.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Review of Scaramouche, the play


ARTISTS ALL
By Graham Sutton
The Bookman, July 1927, pp 247-48

Accident rather than design took me to two successive plays about barnstormers – Scaramouche at the Garrick and When Crummles Played at the Lyric, Hammersmith. The first, true, deals only incidentally with the old tribe. They loom largely: but they are not there so much for their own picturesque sake (though in this respect the author makes good use of them) as to provide an asylum for the hero, a young Monarchist who is induced to espouse the Republican cause for the sake of a private vengeance. The political outline of this play – one might say its ethical outline – is extremely fresh and ingenious. I am no politician; but if I were, I should be tempted to expend the rest of my article on tracing the nice vacillations of public opinion, which have resulted in the balance of this play being poised as we see it. Time was, within fairly recent memory, when the Sans-culotte was the inevitable villain of French Revolution tales. The balance shifting, Aristocrats came in for their share of stage abuse. To-day opinions are so divided that it is no longer safe to put all one’s dramatic eggs in one political basket. So here we have young André-Louis Moreau, a fervent aristocrat, driven against his logical convictions to attack the Marquis d’Azyr on a point of individual tyranny. Moreau proves such a force that he ends as one of the bright particular stars of the new Republican government; after which he sees the error of his ways, and declaring that republicanism will be only the substitution of a new tyranny for the old, resigns his portfolio and goes into voluntary exile. The whole theme is admirably handled, though it is much less stressed than my account of it may imply. I emphasize it here because in our theatre a costume-play with any genuine thought in it is so rare as to be a portent. Most costume-playwrights are content to assert themselves with a few “gadzooks” or “marrys” or “citoyens,” as the period demands, and with a rehash of stock judgements; just as most star managers are apt to insist on plays with no live parts but their own. That is not Mr. Rafael Sabatini’s way – nor Sir John Martin Harvey’s only way, either. The play is both intelligent and well written; and Sir John has surrounded himself with a capable company. Apart from his own performance as Moreau (excellent despite recent illness) there is the Marquis d’Azyr of Mr. Gordon McLeod, the finest rendering of the villain-aristocrat that I have seen since Mr. Malcolm Keen’s de Guiche in Cyrano de Bergerac. Altogether, a sound and worth-while production, which provincial readers will be unwise to miss.

(The rest of the review is about some other play.)

Friday, February 02, 2018

ALEXANDRE DUMAS AND RAFAEL SABATINI

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.

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.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

ROMANTIC PRINCE REVISED EDITION



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.